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Willets Point Deal Approved With More Housing, Rooftop Farm, $17M for Park

By Katie Honan | October 9, 2013 5:42pm
 Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras spoke at a press conference before the council voted to pass the special permit to allow the Willets Point redevelopment to more forward.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras spoke at a press conference before the council voted to pass the special permit to allow the Willets Point redevelopment to more forward.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

NEW YORK CITY — The city council approved the special permit necessary for the massive and controversial redevelopment of Willets Point, with adjustments that the local councilwoman said will be a "win" for the surrounding communities including affordable housing, a rooftop farm and millions in funding for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The measure passed Wednesday afternoon and will allow the plan from the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and the Related Companies, to move forward.

The plan to turn a heavily-polluted portion of Willets Point from a stretch of auto-body repair shops into a massive retail and residential destination was first proposed in 2008.

The latest version of the plan was passed with the support of Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras.

Ferreras — who said she began working on negotiations four days after giving birth to her son a month ago — said the redevelopment plan is a "project that is going to make sense for everybody."

Under the new deal, struck in recent days, the developer will provide up to $17 million to the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance, which was formed this summer under the deal to expand the USTA, according to the councilwoman.

An additional $15.5 million will be provided by the city to pay for the relocation, moving expenses and support for the tenants from Willets Point.

Housing will also be built sooner than originally planned, which Ferreras said was made possible by securing of $66 million in the city budget to design and build new ramps for the Van Wyck Expressway necessary to accommodate the housing.

The original plan called for housing to be built after commercial development.

There isn't an exact start date or timeline for the construction of housing, since the land still needs to be detoxified. In order to speed up the availability of affordable housing, Ferreras said they negotiated the construction of 300 units of affordable housing in her district but away from Willets Point.

"This deal was years in the making," Ferreras said. "After many long years of reviewing this proposal and taking my district's needs into account, I am confident that this development will be a win for my constituents, a win for Willets Point and a win for the great city of New York."

A 5,000-square-foot rooftop garden and farm will be also built on top of the upcoming Willets West Mall and will provide produce to the community.

Some parks advocates applauded the plan, saying it was a "historic day" for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

"This funding will have a game-changing impact on the most popular park in Queens for decades to come," said New Yorkers For Parks Executive Director Holly Leicht.

But not all business owners were happy with the passing of the bill.

"I'm really hurt," said Tana Quillubangui, 16, who lives in Corona and who's mother owns an autobody shop in Willets Point.

"The councilwoman did help us get more money, but for us we never wanted to leave Willets Point. That's our second home."

Quillubangui said her mother, Martha Gualltuna, 53, will be paid a year's worth of rent for her shop on 37th Avenue — which comes out to about $14,000.

"The compensation the city is giving is nothing," Quillubangui said. "Rent elsewhere is much more than at Willets Point. It's unfair."