Willets Point, also known as the Iron Triangle, is a 13-block area located near the Flushing and Corona neighborhoods in Queens consisting largely of auto repair shops, junkyards, and other industrial and small businesses. As of the 2000 census it had a population of one. Given its prime location near Citi Field, the new home of the Mets, as well as its access to a variety of transit options, the City is targeting Willets Point for major redevelopment. The City’s plans, led by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), call for a $3 billion development over 62 acres, including over one million square feet in retail space, a hotel, and a convention center.
Although the area has few residents, local businesses are being affected by the redevelopment plans. The City is in negotiations with area business owners about relocation and will consider the use of eminent domain if agreements cannot be reached. The displacement of these businesses, and the potential use of the eminent domain, has been a major point of contention between city officials, members of Community Board 7, and other elected officials.
In response to workers and businesses’ concerns, the City has designated LaGuardia College in Long Island City to develop an educational program for the estimated 1,300 workers in the area to help train and place them in the new jobs that the redevelopment will create. The program, officially called Willets Point Worker Assistance, has had limited enrollment in its early stages despite $2.75 million in funding from the city. Another significant concern is the dearth of affordable housing that the City has included in the plans.
Despite some delays and vocal opposition from many City Council members and other interested parties, the City’s public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), began in April 2008. As part of the ULURP process, the plan was approved by Community Board (CB) 7 and the Queens Borough President.
In September of 2008, the City Planning Commission (CPC) approved the plans for redevelopment. As the seven-month ULURP process continued, various business owners reached relocation settlements with the City. By early November 2008, the City was in control of 40% of the land (about 39 of 62 acres) in the redevelopment area. By May 2009, the City controlled 65% of the property (about 40 of 62 acres).
On November 13, 2008, the City Council voted 45-2 in favor of the City’s plan for the area. Over half of the members of the Council had voiced their concerns with the plan throughout the ULURP process, specifically calling on the City to take the use of eminent domain out of consideration.
However, ultimately City Council voted in favor of the plan without this guarantee, likely because of a deal that was reached that would increase the number of affordable housing units to 1,925 and include a $3 million fund to help businesses relocate. City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has vocalized strong opposition to the City’s plan to relocate 5 businesses to a nearby corporate park in College Point, though CB 7 approved the relocation in April 2009. It remains unclear how the City will proceed with the remaining landowners who have yet to reach relocation agreements in the redevelopment area.
In March 2009, Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse (a coalition of 20 business and landowners) filed suit against the City claiming that the City did not follow all state requirements in its completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The group also contends that the City’s plans are too vague to allow the use of the eminent domain.
Recognizing the changing economic and political times from when the redevelopment was first proposed, the City has changed its strategy for Willets Point. New plans call for the area to be built in three phases with the southwest corner of the site, adjacent to CitiField and the 7 train line, to be developed first. Bids for this section could be issued in 2009. The City will also issue a bid in 2009 for major infrastructure work that is needed before any new development occurs.