Against Council's Wishes, City Pushing Ahead on Willets Point

The Bloomberg administration is plowing forward on its plan to redevelop the industrial area next to Shea Stadium, as it intends to start the rezoning process on Monday despite objections from the City Council.

“We have asked them not to certify Monday,” said Melinda Katz, chairwoman of the City Council’s land use committee. “My feeling is that there are a lot of outstanding issues.”

The plan for the 61-acre site, Willets Point, calls for a large mixed-used community with up to 5,500 units of housing, up to 1.7 million square feet of retail, up to 700 hotel rooms, a public school, and possibly a modest convention center. The decision to jump into the seven-month approval process without the blessing of the Council suggests a rising anxiety among members of the Bloomberg administration, which has 18 months left in office and a slew of large development projects left to implement.

The vast majority of rezonings that start the approval process make it to the conclusion with approval from the Council, and should the city ultimately see defeat on its Willets Point plan, it would surely be a high-profile rejection.

Of course few of the major rezonings ever start with consensus, and virtually all see changes from the Council before the process is over.

More than perhaps any other major project in the pipeline, Willets Point has a long list of groups that are seeking concessions and threatening to hold up the process. Housing advocacy groups want a large proportion of the units to be affordable; labor groups want unionized hotel provisions and other wage guarantees; the landowners want good deals if they are forced to relocate; the workers and tenant-business owners want relocation assistance; and members of the Council want eminent domain taken off the table.

While many involved in talks report progress, none of these issues have yet been resolved, and no deals have been made with landowners, at least publicly. Thus the city seems to be of the mind that by pushing ahead, with a deadline of November before the City Council must approve or deny the plans, they can hasten a resolution of the outstanding issues.

“The administration has taken the position that they just want to start the clock and get the progress moving,” said Councilman Hiram Monserrate, who represents the area.

Both Mr. Monserrate and Ms. Katz have a long list of concerns with the plan as it stands right now, and neither professed confidence that they could all be resolved in the next seven months. Chief among them, in addition to the use of eminent domain, is affordable housing—the city has committed to mandate that 20 percent of the apartments be affordable, though the Council and advocates want more. Also at issue is the selection of a private developer—by rezoning the area first, the Council allows the city to select a developer of its choosing, without any oversight from the Council.

The site has long been eyed for redevelopment, yet has proved, decade after decade, to be surprisingly resistant, warding off attempts by numerous mayors and master builder Robert Moses.

In a statement, a city spokesman expressed confidence that the issues would be worked out in the coming months. “We look forward to working with its members and local elected officials on finalizing the best possible plan to make it happen during the upcoming public review process,” said the spokesman, Andrew Brent.

Against Council's Wishes, City Pushing Ahead on Willets Point