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City Council members pan mayor’s Willets Point plans

The city released an exhaustive 1,050-page document detailing its controversial vision for the redevelopment of Willets Point Monday, an action which kick-started the seven-month approval process and drew the immediate disapproval of all but two members of Queens' City Council delegation.

Just under a year after the plan was announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in May 2007, the city Economic Development Corporation is now seeking the City Council's approval of a rezoning that would set the stage for a massive redevelopment of the 60-acre site best known as the "Iron Triangle."

The EDC officially submitted its Environmental Impact Statement to the City Planning Commission Monday afternoon, meaning the public approval process, or ULURP, has officially begun. Over the next seven months Community Board 7, Borough President Helen Marshall and the City Planning Commission will get the chance to issue their recommendations on the proposal before it goes before the City Council for a final vote, expected sometime in November.

CB 7 has 60 days to issue its recommendation and is scheduled to hold its first committee hearing on the topic May 5.

Within hours of the EIS being released, however, 28 members of the City Council sent a letter to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, condemning the city for starting the approval process and calling the plan in its current form "unacceptable."

The letter, written by City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), slams the city for not more thoroughly addressing details of the plan, such as the relocation of the 260 businesses that employ an estimated 1,700 workers at the site and a guarantee that a substantial amount of housing for families earning $25,000 or less be included in the proposal.

"If the plan does not meet basic standards of public benefit, there can be no justification for this broad use of public authority and funds, and we will not allow the redevelopment to take place," the letter reads.

Twelve members of the Queens Council delegation signed the letter. Land Use Committee Chair Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), who has also been critical of the plan, and City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) did not sign.

The EDC, which crafted the plan, said the city hopes to begin demolishing the existing structures in Willets Point to begin on the ambitious multibillion-dollar project as early as October 2010. The agency said plans for the 13-square-block site adjacent to Citi Field include 5,500 mixed-income housing units, 1.7 million square feet of retail space, 500,000 square feet of office space, a 400,000-square-foot convention center and a 700-room hotel, all of which will be designed with environmental sustainability in mind.

The EDC said virtually all rezonings involve changes, improvements and resolutions during ULURP, and given the complexities involved with Willets Point, it expects that this project will continue to benefit from community involvement and comment.

While the EDC said final details of the plan would not be hammered out until after a developer is chosen, which would occur after a City Council approval, the EIS lays out the city's vision with unprecedented detail.

In addition to rezoning the area for commercial and residential uses, the city proposes the formation of a special zoning district, which would provide a framework for the project the chosen developer would have to adhere to. The zoning district would specify aspects of the development such as building height, street placement and the location of different uses within buildings on the site.

The EDC said the Willets Point EIS will be available in its entirety on their Web site at www.nycedc.com.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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