In the End, Bloomberg Gets His Way on Willets Point

Apparently, all land use fights do, in fact, have the same conclusion.

After months of negotiation, lobbying, threats, protests, counter-protests and a fair bit of grandstanding, the Bloomberg administration has reached a deal with key members of the City Council to approve a redevelopment of Willets Point, the industrial area by Citi Field in Queens.

The Willets Point plan, which calls for the development of 5,500 apartments in the place of a district filled with car repair shops, had been one of the few major developments marked by legitimate uncertainty over whether or not the Council would give its approval. The local councilman, Hiram Monserrate, had been strong in his opposition to the administration’s plan, vowing he would vote against it without major changes to the affordable housing numbers and a hike in the number of land deals with the existing property owners.

But earlier today, Mr. Monserrate, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilwoman Melinda Katz and affordable housing group ACORN all reached a final accord with the Bloomberg administration on a housing plan for the site that requires nearly 2,000 below-market rate units. With a deal also in the works between the city and the 62-acre site’s largest landowner, Tully Construction, Mr. Monserrate and the others gave their thumbs up to the plan, which requires a vote by the full City Council tomorrow.

“We have gotten to a point where I believe the vast majority of my colleagues will stand with myself” on the issue, Ms. Quinn, who endorsed the plan, said at an afternoon news conference.

And thus the plan, in the end, has a similar narrative to the rezonings of Hudson Yards, Greenpoint/Williamsburg, 125th Street, the Con-Ed site on the East Side and even to the Atlantic Yards project. All faced resistance from the community but ultimately won the support of key elected officials after a deal on affordable housing and other concessions.

The resistance on Willets, mostly on the part of the ever-negotiating Mr. Monserrate, had long revolved around the subjects of the housing plan and the potential use of eminent domain to take the land from the existing landowners. Mr. Monserrate had previously said he was fully against the “wholesale use of eminent domain” and wanted the administration to make deals with a large number of the owners.

The administration has indeed made deals since Mr. Monserrate first threatened to vote down the plan, and should an agreement with Tully mature, the city claims it would control about half of the private property. However, the number of landowners with deals is only a fraction of the total at the site, as the city focused its efforts on a few large properties. As of this afternoon, the city had agreements with 13 owners, leaving another 61 without any deals.

With housing, as with the swaying elected officials, the administration seemed to be reaching further than it had in the past. The city paid $250,000 to a group intended to lobby the community board and elected officials on the project, and Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber, Economic Development Corporation president Seth Pinsky and, eventually, Mayor Bloomberg all lobbied elected officials personally on the subject.

The housing deal reached today is notable for its high ratio of below-market rate units. Thirty-five percent, or around 1,900, of the total 5,500 apartments will be required to be at rates considered affordable to those making 60 percent or below of the area median income, or $45,000 for a family of four. At the low end, about 250 of those apartments would be available to those making 30 percent of the area median income, or $23,000 for a family of four, according to figures from the Council.

In the End, Bloomberg Gets His Way on Willets Point