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Suit Seeks to Quash Willets West Mall Project

By Katie Honan | February 11, 2014 3:21pm
 A suit filed Monday says the approval for the Willets Point redevelopment project should be revoked.
A suit filed Monday says the approval for the Willets Point redevelopment project should be revoked.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

WILLETS POINT — The multimillion-dollar plan to create a massive shopping mall on a parking lot next to Citi Field violates a state law that protects park land, as well as a decades-old provision that was created to build the original Shea Stadium, according to a lawsuit filed Monday, which is looking to put the brakes on the project.

The suit was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by state Sen. Tony Avella, a vocal opponent of the Willets Point redevelopment project, as well as good government group The City Club of New York, New York City Park Advocates, community groups, local businesses and residents.

The lawyers named various city agencies, the developers and Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as the owners of the Mets, in the lawsuit.

The "Willets West" project, which is part of a larger renovation for the Iron Triangle and the area around Citi Field, is slated for what is now a parking lot just west of the ballpark.

The lot was the former site of Shea Stadium, which was built on what used to be a portion of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park under a 1961 law that gave the Mets a dispensation for recreational uses.

The suit claims that the Willets West project violates the intent of that provision.

“The 1961 law was intended to allow a stadium and uses directly related to a stadium, such as parking, concessions and other commercial activity typically incidental to a professional sports arena," said lawyer John Low-Beer, who is representing the plaintiffs.

A mega mall doesn't serve the public recreationally, according to the lawsuit, and therefore violates that law.

They also argue the project violates the "public trust" law, which protects parkland from private development.

And the suit claims that the site was not rezoned properly, meaning that it would have to go through another Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

The project from the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and the Related Companies, was approved by the City Council in October.

The suit is looking to to invalidate the City Council and City Planning Commission approvals, which the suit called "arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law."

Avella, whose district borders Willets Point, said that parks should "serve the people" and provide open space and an escape from the "hordes and noise of a busy commercial city."

"We have a wonderful law that is supposed to assure all of this, known as the ‘public trust doctrine,'" he said.

"I’m outraged when the people who are supposed to administer parks for everyone turn them over to private interests without seeking the State Legislature's consent as the public trust doctrine requires."

A spokesman for the city's Law Department said the agency "will review the lawsuit when it has been served."

The Queens Development Group called the suit "baseless" and "simply another attempt to stand in the way of a transformative neighborhood redevelopment moving forward," according to a spokesman.

"This project will not only clean up a toxic site that has been severely contaminated for generations, but it will create tens of thousands of jobs while providing the surrounding communities with much-needed amenities that will contribute to the area’s bright future.”