After a somewhat fiery debate at Community Board 4’s February meeting regarding the ongoing Willets Point saga, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) appeared at Tuesday’s session to discuss the project, as requested last month.
A number of Willets Point advocates also appeared, speaking harshly about Ferreras during the public forum portion of the meeting and emotionally about the project that has impacted hundreds of business owners.
However, Ferreras had left the meeting almost an hour before her critics could speak out against the proposed shopping mall, the subject of a new lawsuit filed by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), activists and Willets Point business owners.
“She is here to put over her own views on this, and to frankly create the false impression that people should love this project,” Robert LoScalzo, a documentary filmmaker covering the Willets Point plan, said after the meeting. “The elephant in the room was the open question of why this community board did not get any say in evaluating or approving the actual mall on the parkland. The councilwoman came here tonight and discussed everything but that.”
Speaking for approximately 20 minutes, Ferreras highlighted her work in getting the $3 billion retail, residential and commercial project through the City Council, while getting financial compensation for the more than 100 businesses being forced to relocate.
“One of the last things I’ve heard is that relocation is not enough. The original deal that was voted on was $3 million for the entire acreage of Willets Point,” Ferreras told CB 4. “In the new deal, I was able to get them $15.5 million to relocate. This is a real package where they are able to gain a subsidy.”
However, at a press conference at Avella’s office last week, some business owners claimed they had yet to receive any money from the city, despite vacating the area by the Nov. 30 deadline.
Ferreras did not speak about the upset owners, the mall or the lawsuit, angering Ben Haber, a Willets Point advocate who spoke during the public forum.
“Are you aware that in regard to the 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall, that you had no say? It was never part of [the Uniformed Land Use Procedure] and was snuck in through the back door,” Haber told the board. “How many people think [the mall] is a good idea? You were deprived by your City Council member of any say in the matter.”
One board member out of the nearly 30 present raised his hands in response to Haber’s question.
Many Willets Point owners have been upset with what they see as Ferreras’ hands-off approach in regards to the litigious project, but in a phone interview on Wednesday, she defended her actions, saying she has always been supportive of those impacted by the massive undertaking.
“Why would I avoid something that I have spent so long working on? Last night I was able to respond to the community and hear their responses to me,” she said. “No one is able to deliver or change things without some backlash or complaints, and I take every one of those complaints seriously.”