Last week, opponents of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to redevelop Willets Point found themselves cheering a move by the Mayor. The Administration withdrew its legal request to utilize eminent domain in the 12-acre Queens neighborhood.
In 2008, the area – which currently and historically has been used for automotive and industrial uses – was rezoned. Mayor Bloomberg’s vision was a mixed-use neighborhood with retail, residential, hotel and other uses. Adjacent to the new Mets ballpark, close to the subway and several highways, the vision for the neighborhood was quite grand. As with all major (and minor) projects, there was opposition to this redevelopment plan. The group Willets Point United was formed to advocate on behalf of the existing businesses.
The group fought hard, but was unsuccessful in stopping the rezoning and the development plan continued. The Administration purchased properties and sought proposals from developers. They started a court action to condemn and acquire additional properties through eminent domain.
Last week, however, all that came to a screeching halt. The selected developer – a partnership between Related and Sterling – put forth a proposal that appears to have been beyond the scope of the EIS. While it has not been made public, it appears that the developer was not able to put forth a viable plan that was within the parameters of the EIS and/or the zoning.
The consequences of this are that the project will require an additional environmental review and possibly another rezoning. This sets back the project timeline by approximately two years. Hence the withdrawal of the eminent domain request.
With the clock on the Bloomberg Administration literally ticking, it seems unlikely that any ground will be broken on this project before January 2014.
Which then begs the question, how will the next mayor approach Willets Point?
And with the urgency of getting in the ground before Bloomberg leaves office now no longer an issue and additional environmental review a reality, perhaps this presents a rare opportunity to further refine the plan. Perhaps the City can devise a development scheme that doesn’t alienate the local property and business owners.
While this recent development is certainly a setback for the Bloomberg Administration, the overall development of the neighborhood might ultimately benefit. It is also possible, however, that last week’s announcement will be looked back on as the first day of the slow death of the redevelopment of Willets Point.
Keep an eye on the how the Bloomberg Administration moves forward and – perhaps more importantly – the mayoral race for clues as to the fate of Willets Point.