Hundreds Rally Against Willets Point Project

3A Willets

BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Staff Writer

Close to 500 residents, community, faith and clergy leaders marched from Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Corona to the redevelopment site at Willets Point on Sept. 29.

Together they protested against the proposal put forth by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies Inc., to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall on parkland, across the street from Citi Field.

“This was the biggest manifestation that I have ever seen in Queens,” said Ivan Contreras, community organizer for the Queens Housing Coalition.

“While NYC could greatly benefit from equitable development, the proposal to build a massive 1.4 million square foot shopping mall inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a poster child for everything that is wrong with development in our City,” said Msgr. Thomas Healy of Our Lady of Sorrows Church.

Executive Director Joseph McKellar for Faith in New York said residents living in neighborhoods surrounding Willets Point want to call the attention of the City before the City Council votes on the development project on Oct. 9.

“The City Council needs to vote ‘no’ on this project because it is a bad deal for the community,” McKellar said. “Voting ‘no’ will buy us more time to see a better deal.”

According to a community survey administered by the Fairness Coalition of Queens, which collected the opinions and concerns of more than a 1,200 local residents, 71 percent of the respondents feel left-out of the decision making process that would fundamentally change the character of FMCP.

The survey concludes that 70 percent of the respondents disapprove the project without a guarantee of affordable housing. Overall, 83 percent of the respondents do not feel another mall is needed in the area.

McKellar recalled the broken promises Bloomberg and the Economic Development Corporation made in 2008 while finalizing the Willets Point development project. Some of the big promises included close to 2,000 units of affordable housing at Willets Point and a relocation site for all of the auto shop owners.

According to projections of the project, the phase of building affordable housing will start in 2025, which is contingent upon the City building ramps off the Van Wyck expressway.

Some of the recommendations put forth by the Fairness Coalition of Queens in a report titled, “A Bad Deal,” state the need for equitable economic development that combines protections for existing workers and local small businesses. Other requirements include an accelerated timeline for a permanent number of affordable housing units, a mitigation of traffic impact by installing more public transit options and more parkland.

Jose Lopez, lead organizer at the Make the Road New York, said residents living in Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside and Flushing echo a similar message, “we cannot build a mall without affordable housing at the same time.”

Lopez said the community is not opposed to economic development in the area, but they want to see a better deal.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said before she votes next week, she understands the project must address the priorities of the local workers and residents. “I am in on-going negotiations over the proposed Willets Point redevelopment.”

Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, tsakhuja@queenstribune.com, or @Tsakhuja1.