BY JOE MARVILLI
A New York Supreme Court judge threw out a lawsuit from opponents of the Willets Point mega-mall redevelopment project, rejecting claims that it violated State law.
The plaintiffs, State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and City Club of New York, said that the City had violated the law with its plan to lease parkland to developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities. The lawsuit said that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure was not properly conducted.
The suit, filed in February, challenged the transfer of 47 acres of property, which qualifies as parkland, from the City to Related Companies/Sterling Equities. The land will be used for the construction of Willets West, a 1.4-million-square-foot mall next to Citi Field. The plaintiffs said that handing over parkland to a developer was illegal and the project needed approval by the State Legislature under the Public Trust Doctrine. This law protects all parkland throughout the State against non-park uses without the consent of the Legislature.
The City Council approved the project in October 2013 but it never went to Albany for a vote.
The Hon. Judge Manuel Mendez disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument.
“It has been established that ULURP does not apply to the development plans and review of the business terms for the disposition of the parkland formerly used for Shea Stadium,” he wrote in his decision. “These powers have devolved to [Mayor Bill de Blasio], who has approved the development plan.”
The plaintiffs were disappointed with the judge’s decision and stated their plans to appeal the verdict.
“It was disheartening to learn of Justice Mendez’s decision today in respect to the Willets West lawsuit. We made some very good legal arguments and strongly believe that we are in the right on this issue. I look forward to submitting an appeal alongside the other plaintiffs and feel confident about a future positive outcome,” Avella said.
Park advocate Geoffrey Croft, a plaintiff in the case, said that the decision grants too much power to the Mayor and goes against longstanding State law.
“The decision flies in the face of the Public Trust Doctrine and ignores long-established case law. Equally troubling is it bestows the powers of the former Board of Estimate to one person, the Mayor,” he said. “This is an issue that every resident and elected official should be greatly concerned with.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.