City should take back Willets land: activists 1

Irene Prestigiacomo of Willets Point United is calling on City Hall to take back two acres of land in the Iron Triangle owned by the Queens Development Group. Although the de Blasio administration said it’s planning to take back the property, it’s unclear when it will follow through.

Under the Bloomberg administration’s 2012 plan for Willets Point, the Queens Development Group was supposed to get 23 acres of city-owned land for $1.

But the firm had acquired only slightly more than 2 acres of the land before the state’s highest court last year killed the last plan for the Iron Triangle. The mall and a parking garage — planned Phase 1 of the defunct project — were supposed to be built on the 23 acres.

It ruled that a lynchpin of the 2012 plan, a 1.4 million square-foot mega-mall, was illegal because the land on which it would’ve been built, the Citi Field parking lot, is technically parkland.

Earlier this year, the de Blasio administration revealed its own vision for six acres of Phase 1 land; the plan includes affordable housing and an elementary school. The six acres, which the city owns, will be leased to the QDG.

City Hall does not yet have a plan for the other 17 acres of Phase 1. A task force chaired by Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) and Borough President Melinda Katz has in recent months been taking recommendations and input from various stakeholders about what should be constructed on the 17 acres, which include the QDG-owned acres.

Queens Development is a joint venture between city real estate titan Related Companies and Sterling Equities, a firm controlled by the Mets.

It has not been contracted for work on the 17 acres. No company has — no plan exists for the city to hire a developer to work on.

But nonetheless, the QDG still owns the two acres. And while the de Blasio administration can take them back, the clock is ticking.

A call option in the city’s contract with the joint venture allows it to take back the land. But the deadline for the city to exercise the option is just months away: Dec. 20.

The two acres owned by the QDG are composed of two separate, small chunks of land. One is a composite of tax lots on 35th and 36th avenues between 126th and 127th streets. The other is also between 126th and 127th streets, though its lots are on 37th and 36th avenues.

The stakeholder group Willets Point United released a video and blog post last Monday calling on City Hall to exercise the call option.

“If the city does not act by December 2018, we will forfeit the right to reclaim that property — which is not in taxpayers’ interest,” WPU member Irene Prestigiacomo, who owns land in the Iron Triangle, said in the video. “There is no reason that Queens Development Group should get away with owning those two acres, since it can’t implement the specific project that was the sole basis for it to receive the property in the first place.”

The city Economic Development Corp. told the Chronicle it does plan on exercising the call option. But when that will happen is not clear.

“It’s too early in the process to give a specific timeframe,” an EDC spokesperson said in an email.

The Queens Development Group acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide a statement prior to deadline.

Whitestone resident Robert LoScalzo, who made the Willets Point United video with the activist group, is skeptical of the city. In an email, he said it “doesn’t exactly inspire confidence” that the call option has not been exercised despite more than a year having passed since the state Court of Appeals decision last year.

“And in all that time, when City representatives have attended quarterly update meetings with the community board, they have never affirmatively announced that the City will take back the two acres,” LoScalzo explained.

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