A recent Land Use hearing hosted by Borough President Helen Marshall regarding the redevelopment of Willets Point did not pass last Thursday without fanfare and a bit of a turf war, as the specter of a second community board’s involvement was not enough to sway an adamant Marshall, who repeatedly noted the dilapidated state of the Iron Triangle.
“The fact is Willets Point is a mess and has been one since I took office,” Marshall said at one point during the proceedings.
At the heart of the kerfuffle rests Community Board 3, which was granted permission by the city to weigh in on the proposal to create a 1.4-million-square-foot mall in what is currently Citi Field’s parking lot, as well as a mix of retail, hotel, and affordable housing. The board ultimately voted against the plan 33-1, and submitted its recommendations during the Land Use hearing.
But the Department of City Planning, as well as the developer and city’s Economic Development Corporation, have contended the portion of the Willets Point redevelopment that falls into CB3 territory — the mall — is an as-of-right project, meaning it does not require public input. City Planning allowed CB3 to weigh in due to its proximity to the project.
But its vote is not enough to induce a Borough Board meeting, where the project would have faced further scrutiny and another vote. Community Boards 3 and 4 have both found themselves confused at not having a place at the table.
“CB’s 3 and 4 have been disenfranchised from the continuing special Willets Point discussions,” wrote an exasperated CB 3 member Ed Westley in an email exchange.
He has been a vocal opponent of the mall project and pushed to get the board’s vote included in the ULURP process.
“CBs 3, 4 and 7 were involved in the 2008 vote approving the Special Willets Point District but this time around only CB 7 was involved,” he added. “The question is was this legal for the City Planning Council to arbitrarily exclude them?”
Marshall contends it was. City Planning’s determination that the proposal only falls within the bounds of CB 7 nixes the chances there will be a full Borough Board hearing.
“The borough president will take the views of all interested parties into account before making her recommendation regarding the Willets Point application,” wrote BP spokesman Dan Andrews in an emailed statement. “The proposed Willets West shopping mall, although located within CB3’s district, can be built ‘as of right’ and is not formally part of the Willets Point ULURP application now before the borough president.”
During the hearing, Marshall had trouble acknowledging CB 3’s full stake in the proceedings.
“I would love to have Board 3 involved in this,” she said, even after Westley had reiterated the result of the board’s vote, going so far as to combine it with CB 7’s vote to assert the final tally of all community board members who voted on the Willets Point plan was 48-23 against.
The proposal will now move on to Marshall’s desk before moving on to the City Planning Commission.