In February of 2014, I filed a lawsuit along with the City Club of New York, Queens Civic Congress, members of Willets Point United Inc., NYC Park Advocates, and nearby residents/business owners, challenging the “Willets West” mega-mall proposal. The proposal would have resulted in the giveaway of 47 acres of Queens parkland, worth an estimated $ 1 billion, to build a 1 million sq ft retail and entertainment complex adjacent to CitiField. The suit sought a declaratory judgment to invalidate approvals already granted to the project, as well as a permanent injunction to prevent the construction of the megamall on City parkland without the proper State legislative authorization or proper zoning. The Supreme Court of New York ruled against Petitioners and me, and we appealed last August.
Appellate Court reverses the lower court's ruling
However, in early July of this year, petitioners/appellants and I learned that the appellate court had reversed the lower court's ruling, deciding in our favor. In a unanimous decision, the appellate court granted injunctive relief and declared that the development can go no further without state legislative approval, which would need to be preceded by a formal Uniform Land Use Review Procedure involving hearings before 6 community boards, the Queens Borough President, the City Planning Commission, and a vote in favor by the New York City Council, plus signature of the Mayor.The decision sent a message loud and clear – our parks are not for sale. The fact of the matter is that this land was intended for parkland, not the development of a shopping mall. In a city where public land is in short supply, simply handing parkland over is a betrayal of the public trust. This ruling also sent a message to our elected officials. Although this outrageous giveaway of parkland was initiated by the administration of a previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the current administration had continued to defend it. But the affirmation by the Appellate Division illustrated to Mayor Bill de Blasio that gifting this parkland to private developers would be a complete failure to protect public interests.
City Will Not Appeal Decision
The city administration has decided not to appeal the Appellate Division’s unanimous and well-reasoned decision. I want to thank them for seeing the flaws in this plan and choosing not to continue this indefensible fight. Unfortunately, the developers, by filing their appeal, have refused to see the fundamental flaws in the Bloomberg plan in all its variations that would take away city parkland, displace small businesses without just compensation and fail to make substantial commitments to provide affordable and market rate housing. Instead they are demanding a giveaway of millions of dollars of taxpayer money without any real public benefit being given back to this city.
In a momentous decision, the court has affirmed what we have been fighting for all along. I am thrilled to see the verdict of the Appellate Division come down on the side of justice, and am pleased to see the City of New York respect the will of the court and of the public.