Will the City's Willets Point Plan Ever See Liftoff?

As a new lawsuit and a press conference loaded with critics yesterday suggest, things don’t seem to be going all

As a new lawsuit and a press conference loaded with critics yesterday suggest, things don’t seem to be going all that great for the city at Willets Point.

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The clock is ticking for the Bloomberg administration’s agenda, and officials are eager to realize its dreams of ousting the chop shops and industry by Shea Stadium for a multi-billion dollar mixed-use community.

But like an airplane leaving from Newark Airport, the project has been stuck on the taxiway for far longer than planned or scheduled, unable to take off as of yet.

Liftoff for the project would mean a rezoning of the 61-acre area, the first major approval needed. Property acquisitions, the possible use of eminent domain, and the selection of a developer would follow.

However, there apparently hasn’t yet been enough support for the city to start the seven-month rezoning approval process, which would end with a City Council vote. The city was days away from starting that process in February when local council members, led by Hiram Monserrate, became vocal in opposition to the project as planned. The city then backed away from its late February start date and now it’s been almost two months since the council members spoke out, with no new date set to start the rezoning.

Yesterday, even more council members climbed into the criticism camp.

David Weprin, Diana Reyna, Eric Gioia, Leroy Comrie Jr. and James Sanders Jr. joined Mr. Monserrate and Tony Avella at a press conference yesterday to criticize the plan for its effects on the business and landowners, with many expressing outright opposition to any plan that included the use of eminent domain (Mayor Bloomberg has strongly supported the potential use of eminent domain in the project.)

Local council members often weigh in very heavily in rezonings, and if the Council were to go against their will, it would likely need substantial arm twisting by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has yet to stake out a public position on the matter.

The major landowners’ group for the area yesterday sued the city for not providing basic services to the area (there aren’t sewers there, for one), an action that seems highly unlikely to be the last lawsuit should the plan move forward. The group’s attorney, Michael Gerrard, was involved in the defeat of Westway, and worked to oppose the West Side Stadium.

All of this comes amid the withering economy, criticism from advocacy groups for a lack of affordable housing specifics, and negotiations between the city and unions, who are seeking wage guarantees and other concessions.

Of course the plan does have its supporters—U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley, Borough President Helen Marshall and Assemblyman Mark Weprin (David Weprin’s brother) among them. But it is the Council that has the final say, so until the Bloomberg administration feels confident it can survive a vote, it seems unlikely that the rezoning will proceed.

A spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corp. said in a statement that the city is working with the business and landowners for relocation options, as the whole site needs to be cleared for remediation.

Will the City's Willets Point Plan Ever See Liftoff?