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CB 7 tackles Willets plan

Members of Community Board 7 held the first of several committee meetings on the redevelopment of Willets Point Monday, bringing several prominent voices from Queens and the city to the table to discuss the controversial project.

After a presentation by the city Economic Development Corporation, which is spearheading the project, the plan's projected impact on the area's traffic and parking became the main issues discussed in the nearly three-hour meeting at Flushing's Union Plaza Care Center.

The city is lobbying for the board's approval on its $3 billion plan to turn Willets Point into a sprawling mixed-use development that would feature up to 5,500 housing units, 1.7 million square feet of retail space, 500,000 square feet of office space and a 400,000-square- foot convention center. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan June 23.

EDC Vice President Tom McKnight said the city plans to foot the bill for nearly $400 million in infrastructure costs to support the project, a large portion of which would be put toward new ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway and widening the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge to cope with the increased traffic it would likely bring to the area.

McKnight also said the city would require the developer, when chosen, to actively monitor traffic in the area and work with the city to mitigate any problems, but stopped short of saying the project would not increase traffic in and around Willets Point.

The EDC's analysis of the project's potential impact on the area, released last month, said the on and off ramps on the Van Wyck, Grand Central and Whitestone expressways in the vicinity of Willets Point would become "very congested" during peak hours, decreasing the average vehicle speed to "about 2 mph for the [Van Wyck] ramp from westbound Northern Boulevard."

CB 7 Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian said he is worried the developer would not be as committed to traffic mitigation as the city envisions.

"This is a wonderful line item, but we're just concerned about that translating into reality," he said.

Asima Jansveld of the EDC's Planning Division said the city's outline for the project would require the developer to provide at least 6,700 parking spaces for the project, and added that the city would also encourage the developer to utilize innovative parking solutions like car sharing and valet tandem systems.

Jansveld also said the New York Mets have been "receptive to shared parking" at nearby Citi Field, but the city believes the 6,700 spaces will be adequate.

"We don't rely on the Mets parking at all," she said.

McKnight said parking rates would likely be set by the developer, although a non-market rate pricing system was not out of the question. Apelian, however, compared the notion to the city's plans for redeveloping Municipal Lot 1, which stalled after Flushing-based developer TDC Development said reduced rate parking may no longer be possible due to rising construction costs.

"We've had precedent of a problem with that, and we haven't even resolved that yet," he said.

The next scheduled CB 7 meeting on Willets Point will be held at Union Plaza Care Center at 7 p.m. on May 19.

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

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