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Queens’s Willets Point megaproject could be stalled indefinitely after court decision

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The decision might be a ‘fatal blow’ for the ambitious mall and housing complex plan

In the foreground is an empty lot. In the distance is a sports stadium. Max Touhey

The New York Court of Appeals is upholding a decision to block the development of Willets West, a planned $3 billion mixed use development adjacent to Citi Field, without the approval of the state legislature (h/t TRD). The decision has been a long time coming, and stems from a debate over the use of public parkland for private gain.

Here’s the gist: Queens Development Group—a joint venture comprised of Sterling Equities, controlled by the Wilpon family who also own the New York Mets, and Related Companies—advanced plans to build a 200-store mall on a parking lot east of Citi Field, on the former site of Shea Stadium. The site is technically parkland belonging to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, as established by longterm lease to the Mets signed in 1961.

State Senator Tony Avella, who represents the district of Queens in which this site sits, sued the city and the developers in 2014 arguing the project required legislative approval before it could move forward. The New York State Supreme Court threw out the case, but an Appellate court decided in July 2015 that the 1961 lease only allowed the construction of a stadium, and could not be extended to the Willets West complex. That decision was upheld in Tuesday’s ruling. The Times says the decision may be a potential “fatal blow” to the revitalization of the blighted area.

“The text of the statute and its legislative history flatly refute the proposition that the Legislature granted the city the authority to construct a development such as Willets West in Flushing Meadows Park,” Judge Rowan Wilson wrote in his decision, as quoted by the Times.

The decision is only pertains to Willets West, just one slice of the redevelopment plan, but will likely stifle plans for the rest of the development including 2,500 market rate and affordable apartments.

The decision isn’t a death blow, per se. The state could pass legislation to allow building—but at this point, it just doesn’t seem likely.