By a vote of 42 to 2 with one abstention – councilmen Charles Barron and Tony Avella were the two “no” votes – the Council okayed the city’s $3 billion redevelopment of Willets Point, also known as the Iron Triangle, a sewer-less and gritty section of Queens directly across the street from the new home of the New York Mets.
The vote paves the way for the city to use eminent domain to seize the land of business owners in Willets Point if it is unable to reach agreements to buy the property.
The use of eminent domain was one of the major obstacles standing in the way of the plan’s approval, but one day before the vote the administration was able to convince one of the proposal’s most outspoken critics, Councilman Hiram Monserrate, to get on board with plan.
Monserrate cited several relocation agreements that would limit the potential for the use of eminent domain - including one provision that would allow the area’s three largest landowners to remain in Willets Point during the early phases of development - as one of the main reasons for his change of heart.
“This new and improved plan reflects the true potential of large-scale development projects,” said Monserrate. “It proves that we can include the best long-term planning and the smartest allocation of resources while keeping our moral responsibility to the families and workers affected.”
In addition to making efforts to reach fair deals with property owners in the area, the proposal also includes workforce retraining and tenant relocation programs to help the approximately 250 small businesses and their employees, many of them in the auto repair industry, that rent land at Willets Point.
While a developer has not been selected, a Request For Proposals (RFP) will mandate, among other things, an 850-seat public school, open space, offices, and a convention center.
The RFP will also require any developer bidding on the project to insure that 35 percent of the estimated 5,500 units that will be created be affordable to families and individuals making less than 60 percent of the area median income, or, in other words, less than $45,000 per year.
The affordability aspect of the Willets Point project was commended by affordable housing advocates.
“At Willets Point, the housing gains for struggling families are substantial, unprecedented, and set a standard for future projects,” said Josefa Castro of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, speaking on behalf of the Queens for Affordable Housing Coalition.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the Willets Point project had become even more important with the recent financial crisis.
“As we confront such hard economic times, these important projects will create jobs, generate revenues, and help keep our city moving forward,” she said.
(All Renderings Courtesy of NYCEDC)