Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Board Gives Seal of Approval to $3B Willets Point Plan

Queens Community Board 7 voted to approve a $3 billion plan to turn the contaminated Willets Point site into a 5-million-square-foot mixed-use neighborhood developed by Sterling Equities and Related Cos. The project has gone through the city's land-use review process before, but has since added a 1.4 million-square-foot mall next to CitiField, home of the New York Mets. The end result is expected to turn the former ash dump into a new “unified district,” according to the city.

The board's land-use panel initially rejected the massive proposal over concerns over whether affordable housing would play a large enough role in the development. But after discussions with the city and developers and a long, often heated debate, the plan moved on to the borough president.

The Bloomberg administration had been planning to redevelop the contaminated area in Queens for years, but the project was continually stalled by the economic downturn, zoning issues and concerns about the cost of cleanup and sustainable building at the site.

The land will have to be remediated and cleaned of its toxins before construction can begin, officials said. The environmental impact study, which analyzes the consequences of construction including transportation, air quality and noise, weighed in at over 2,000 pages.

Cleanup is in progress at the property — a floodplain contaminated by petroleum, paint, cleaning solvents and automobile fluids — but nearby residents have expressed concerns for months about the environment at the site and the state of the potholed roads that lead to it.

With the changes to zoning certified, the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and the Related Cos., hopes to begin the remediation of the area in February 2014.

In 2008, the city gained approval for 9 million square feet of land to be developed, before any developer was attached to the project. A joint venture between the Related Cos. and Sterling Equities was designated as the developer of a 23-acre parcel of the site

The joint venture will be responsible for 5 million square feet of new development — a mix of retail, entertainment and housing.

The Proposal

The proposal, as laid out by the City Economic Development Corp., aims to expand on the City’s November 2008 Willets Point Redevelopment Plan, which created the Special Willets Point District and called for the development of a mixture of uses, including commercial, residential and publicly-accessible open spaces, along with 5,500 residential units, 35 percent of which would be designated as affordable housing.

The $3 billion project announced in June by Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a joint venture of Related Companies and Sterling Equities Inc., the investment arm of the Wilpon family, which owns the New York Mets. After the remediation, the first phase of the project will create retail, restaurants and a 200-room hotel on 126th Street.

Bloomberg said during the announcement that the project would create 12,000 union construction jobs and more than 7,000 permanent jobs once the project is completed. He cited the project as an example of the City’s recovering economy.

Community Board 7 has 60 days to mull the project and form its advisory opinion.

Next, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall gets to stake out her stance on the project.

The City Council will be the final leg of the land use review process, and has the final say on whether to approve construction of the sweeping project.

The Willets Point proposal would create 9 million square feet of new development, including 2,500 housing units, 875 of which would be allocated as affordable housing.

Not everyone is pleased with the proposal, however.

A business coalition, Willets Point United, is in a fight against the city over its eminent domain claim, there are eight businesses in phase one that have yet to cut deals with the city on their properties, and many of the larger holdouts remain in the later phases of development.

Officials with the city Economic Development Corp. said the decision is a landmark step toward revamping the Iron Triangle.

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[see ElectricWeb | Blogger, May 9, 2011]