Lawyers for the developers of a proposed mall on a parking lot at Citi Field that has been designated as parkland argued this week that the project adheres to the guidelines for developing Willets Point. However, several Court of Appeals judges on a panel of six questioned whether the mall would serve the public in the manner that was intended for the site.
The hearing was held to debate a 2014 lawsuit filed by state Sen. Tony Avella, community groups and local residents. The suit’s argument revolves around a 1961 law that was passed in order to build Shea Stadium that included guidelines for what else could be constructed in the area.
Queens Development Group, which would oversee the project, has said that it is committed to cleaning up Willets Point. But community leaders are rightfully outraged that the site—which was long ago dedicated as parkland and where more than 1,900 affordable housing units were planned—would provide space for a mall, a plan that Mayor Bill de Blasio originally said he wouldn’t support before changing his mind.
For decades, the city floated redevelopment ideas for Willets Point, from a stadium for sports teams to a proposal for a convention center with retail space and a school. Although plans for the site have long included affordable housing, community groups have argued that the current plan provides clauses that would allow the developer to opt out.
If the proposal for the site moves forward and the developer decides to drop this component, the city will have turned away from forcing the developer to provide affordable housing and allowed for a blatant grab of parkland. It is inexcusable for any elected official or community leader to support such a project. It would be a giveaway, plain and simple. Promises have been made to the public for affordable housing in the area and they are now at risk of being reneged upon.
We commend the Court of Appeals judges for being skeptical as to whether a private entity— such as a mall— would provide a public benefit, other than offering places to shop before a ballgame. Affordable housing is a higher priority for Queens residents than a new shopping mall—and the stakeholders involved in the development of Willets Point should recognize this and act accordingly.