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City drops bid to condemn Willets property: Lawyer

The city has dropped its attempts to use eminent domain to acquire certain properties in the Iron Triangle. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Property owners in Willets Point are rejoicing after the city dropped its bid last week to use eminent domain in the Iron Triangle, but the decision does not mean the city is turning its back on redevelopment.

The decision came as a surprise to Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing property owners in Willets Point, who was fighting the eminent domain case in court. The city had launched a legal bid to condemn property in the Iron Triangle to make way for the first phase of the $3 billion Willets Point Redevelopment Project, which would take the place of the auto shops and pockmarked streets in the neighborhood.

The project, a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration, would eventually have created a 62-acre commercial hub including a school, movie theater and possibly a convention center across the river from downtown Flushing, although it is not clear what Bloomberg’s plans are now since the city could reopen another eminent domain bid.

“We won,” a jubilant Rikon said May 2.

The city confirmed May 2 that it had dropped its current court case, but said some sort of project was still moving ahead.

“We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic progress we’ve already made there,” said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Today’s action ensures that our plan will comply with the site’s myriad technical and legal requirements.”

Reports in The Wall Street Journal indicated that the city altered its plan for the first phase of the project, a 12-acre strip across the street from Citi Field, to include more retail at the behest of Related Co. and Sterling Equities.

The exact nature of the plan could not be independently confirmed, but a source said Related Co. and Sterling Equities were selected to build a mall on the site. Related is headed by Manhattan developer Stephen Ross and Sterling by the Wilpons, who own the New York Mets and Citi Field across from Willets Point.

Rikon signed a document May 2 indicating that the city would be dropping its bid, he said, therefore putting the original project on hold unless property owners were to sell their land to the city so it could continue with the development.

But the stipulations in the document would not prevent the city from attempting to use eminent domain on the property in the future, Rikon said.

Rikon was set to contend in court this week that the city violated the rights of property owners by not providing Spanish language translators at a public hearing. He also argued that the $3 billion redevelopment was not a valid public use.

It was unclear at press time Tuesday evening exactly how the city would proceed with the development, but any new projects would require another public review process.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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