Willets Point Accord Gets Complicated

The deal to redevelop Willets Point may not be quite the clean, easy victory for the city as was portrayed yesterday, when officials and members of the City Council announced an agreement.

The Bloomberg administration has agreed to leave in place—at least temporarily—the three largest businesses, Tully Construction, House of Spices and Fodera Foods, a move that would substantially decrease the size of the site to be bid out to a developer.

The deal, brokered primarily between Tully and the city, was done in part to placate Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s concerns, according to people familiar with discussions. We’re still sorting out details, but the businesses, located on the eastern portion of the triangle-shaped district, would stay in place for an unspecified amount of time as remediation and then development begins on the rest of site.

The concession would certainly save money for the city in the short term—it wouldn’t have to buy all of the land—though it would certainly decrease the dollars received from the designated developer, which would place great value on a large, contiguous site.

The agreement seems to contradict statements repeatedly made by the city, which stressed that the district, which it considers highly polluted, needed to be redeveloped in its entirety for environmental reasons. Otherwise, the city previously argued, pollution from some existing sites would seep into the redeveloped land. (There are a large number of automotive repair businesses located on the eastern end of Willets Point, next to these three businesses.)

The deal announced this morning also seems to directly contrast with statements Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber made to reporters yesterday following an afternoon press conference. I asked him whether or not he expected the site would be developed in one large chunk, or if the city would rather do a multi-phased plan where the properties on the east were not initially redeveloped, as studied in the Environmental Impact Statement (the EIS studied a “staged acquisition alternative,” which, more or less, is very similar to the plan announced today). He said he expected the city to proceed with the entire site.

The EIS noted the challenges of the two-phased approach:

“[The alternative approach] could require additional safeguards to ensure that existing hazardous materials contamination on the eastern portion of the District would not migrate to the western portion of the District subsequent to the remediation of the western properties. It could also require a more complex stormwater management plan, since new storm systems put in place prior to 2013 would need to ensure adequate retention and discharge of stormwater in the western portion of the District, and after 2013 would need to be integrated with new stormwater systems put in place in the eastern portion of the site to ensure efficient District-wide stormwater management.”

Here’s the statement from the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, and we expect to have more later today.

“The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA) today announced it has successfully negotiated with New York City to reach important agreements related to the Willets Point Development Plan. While all 62 acres of Willets Point will be rezoned, the agreements will allow the three largest landowners – Fodera Foods, House of Spices and Tully Construction to have an opportunity to remain in operation on their existing sites for a period of time as the development progresses, and, ultimately, have an opportunity to sell their sites at the up-zoned value directly to future developers. The developers would be required to build in conformity with the Mayor’s plan, and today’s agreements will allow the overall timeframe of the City’s redevelopment plan to go unchanged. The WPIRA is continuing to negotiate with the City and is confident we will reach deals for the remaining landowners and encourage the City to negotiate relocation deals for the other business owners.”

Willets Point Accord Gets Complicated