Judges on the New York State Court of Appeals made the right decision on Tuesday by ruling against the Willets West plan that aimed to construct a shopping mall at a spot in Willets Point that has long been designated as parkland.
The ruling was made in response to a 2014 lawsuit filed by state Sen. Tony Avella, community groups and local advocates arguing that the site should remain as parkland. The city had attempted to prove the legality of constructing a mall at the site by referencing a 1961 law that was passed in order to build Shea Stadium and included guidelines for what else could be constructed in the area. But all but one of the judges on the Court of Appeals rightly disagreed with the city.
For decades, the city has debated numerous proposals on how to develop Willets Point, which have included everything from a sports stadium to a convention center with retail space and schools. Plans for the area have long included an affordable-housing component, with as many as 2,500 units proposed for the location.
In his summary of the court’s decision, Judge Rowan Wilson wrote that “the text of the statute and its legislative history flatly refute the proposition that the legislature granted the city the authority to construct a development such as Willets West in Flushing Meadows Park.”
Both the court and the community who has long fought this battle deserve credit for this victory. Although the future of Willets Point remains uncertain, the original intent for the area clearly did not envision a shopping mall.
In ruling against the Willets West development, the Court of Appeals has set a precedent should, at any point in the future, the city or private developers attempt to encroach on parkland in a city desperately in need of open space. We commend its decision.