Candidate Addresses Willets Point Plan at Public Advocate Forum

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez discussed the Willets Point development at the candidates forum.  Eagle  photo by Naiesha Rose.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez discussed the Willets Point development at the candidates forum. Eagle photo by Naiesha Rose.

By Naeisha Rose

In the desperate race for public advocate, development projects are typically discussed through the smudged lens of Amazon’s Long Island City deal, an opaque process that circumvented traditional city land use review.

Amazon — or, in the parlance of several candidates, #Scamazon — has been a frequent punching bag in the race for public advocate, but another Queens development project entered the campaign conversation at a candidates forum Thursday, less than three weeks before the special election on Feb. 26.

Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez called for more affordable housing to be included in the Willets Point development plan, a project next to Citi Field that has been delayed for more than a decade, during a forum at CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism in Manhattan.

"I was there with the residents in Queens asking for the area at Willets Points to be dedicated to building affordable housing," Rodriguez said. "Left behind communities desperately need affordable housing.”

Rodriguez joined a coalition of local community organizations in denouncing high-profile proposals for Willets Point in December. The group, known as Nos Quedamos, has demanded thousands of additional units of truly affordable housing and opposed development projects like a stadium, a LaGuardia Airport parking lot or shopping mall.

“This community of hard-working families is speaking loud and clear and they’re saying they’re tired of being pushed out of their own community by developers who continue to make millions by taking what isn’t there’s,” Rodriguez said in a statement in December. “These families deserve affordable housing not for their community to be sold for one dollar! We need to build the affordable housing that was already promised to this community.”

The Willets Point Plan entered a new phase last month when the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) released two formal redevelopment proposals submitted by the Willets Point Task Force, a group co-chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilmember Francisco Moya that formed in 2018 to create a plan for a 17-acre “Iron Triangle” next to Citi Field.

The total site, which NYCEDC has leased to the Queens Development Group — comprised of The Related Cos and Mets owners Sterling Equities — covers 23 acres. The first phase of development, regardless of which proposal is selected, will include construction of 1,100 units of affordable housing on six acres, according to the NYCEDC.

The first proposal for the remaining 17 acres calls for creating “a true, high-density, mixed-use district” that is “primarily residential” and features housing at different levels of affordability, a new high school, retail space, a fire station and a health center, according to the NYCEDC.

The second proposal would create a 270,000 square-foot soccer stadium with capacity for 25,000 seats. The stadium would share parking with Citi Field and Katz and Moya have both publicly supported the project.

Nos Quedamos says the 1,100 units of affordable housing in the first phase are not enough to meet the needs of Central Queens, however. The coalition hosts a town hall meeting tonight at St Marks' AME Church located at 95-18 Northern Blvd. in Corona.

In 2008, the City Council approved a Willets Point plan that would designate 35 percent of 5,500 units — 1,925 units — as affordable housing for families who earn less than $99,840 a year, including 800 units for families who earn less than $38,400 a year.

Councilmember Rafeal Espinal of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Michael Blake of the Bronx each discussed development projects more broadly but did not specifically address the Willets Point Plan. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan left the event early.

"I think there needs to be an increased community engagement, something that we didn't see in the Amazon deal, something we need to understand before things get finalized and know what the process is,” Blake said. “You have to make sure it is a transparent process.”

Espinal said the public advocate is the voice of the community in any land use deal.

“At the end of the day, the job of the public advocate is to have their finger on the pulse on all these land use deals and all these conversations and really be a voice for the people in those communities,” Espinal said. “As public advocate I will be their voice and show that if there is a project being built, I'm reflecting what they like to see.”

Additional reporting by David Brand