Plans Change for Willets Point as City Nears Deal

The city is revising plans for development of Willets Point, a small industrial neighborhood in Queens, and backing off — at least temporarily — plans to seize local properties through eminent domain.

The 61-acre strip of land, also known as the Iron Triangle, is home to some auto repair shops, and is prone to flooding. It’s also become the focal point for a three part redevelopment plan, first floated by the Bloomberg administration in 2008.

“We’re pleased that the steam roller has ground to a halt,” said Michael Gerrard, an attorney representing eight small business owners in Willets Point who were fighting the forced sale of their properties. “But we’re apprehensive about what comes next.”

A hearing on the eminent domain case had been scheduled for May 7. But on Wednesday, there was an apparent change of course. In a letter to the New York State Supreme Court, a city attorney wrote that the city “will not proceed with the Phase 1 plan as described” and therefore “will not proceed with the acquisition of certain properties.”

The first stage of the redevelopment plan was originally supposed to create 5,000 mixed-income housing units and “millions” of square feet of retail space and commercial space.

The Mayor’s office indicated the project was still moving forward.

“We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood,” Julie Wood, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in a statement. “Yesterday’s action ensures that our plan will comply with the site’s myriad technical and legal requirements.”

She could not be reached for further comment on what — if any — changes to the original development plan had been made.

Developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities are reportedly partnering on the first phase of construction, though neither party would confirm their involvement.

The city’s decision not to move forward on seizing properties and Phase 1 as it currently stands likely means the city will have to go through the rezoning and permitting process, including environmental studies and public hearings. This could delay the process for several years.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean Willets Point small businesses are safe.

With uncertain futures, Gerrard said his clients aren’t able to grow or invest in their businesses.

“The business owners would like some assurance that that the city won’t come back in a few years and try to seize their property again,” he said.