The (Forever?) Iron Triangle

Eldad Gothelf, LEED AP Urban Planner, Herrick's Land Use Group | May 10, 2012 in Eminent Domain,Litigation,Planning | Comments (1)

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.

Photos courtesy of the New York Times.
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One Response to “The (Forever?) Iron Triangle”

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  1. Comment by Benjamin — May 22, 2012 at 11:18 pm  

    Maybe I have missed a certain component of Willet’s Point process and discussion, but it seems to me the best way to avoid such an incredible drain on fiscal resources and municipal planners time would be to hold off on issuing an RFP until you can get adequate feedback from the private sector as to what they would be willing to commit to a given site. Mr. Bloomberg is a visionary, and his 115 rezonings in 10 or so years are a testament to this, but patience is a virtue. Willet’s Point has been incredibly ambitious from the get-go, and maybe sending out a request for vision initiative would have been a better call. I am sure the same smattering of retail, hotels, etc, would have come back to the administration, but I am also sure the private sector would have had the opportunity to present unique ideas the administration hadn’t thought of for the area. Maybe then, after a more fine-tuned RFP went out and a more encompassing EIS was done to accommodate the unique ideas, would the private sector been more willing to rally around the administration’s vision for the area. Just a thought.

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