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Willets developers tout affordable housing at forum

Ivan Contreras, Queens Housing Coalition coordinator (l.), translates a question during a meeting about affordable housing at Willets Point. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Lawyers representing the developers of the $3 billion Willets Point project answered questions about why a shopping mall and hotel are scheduled to be built in the Iron Triangle before affordable housing Tuesday night during a presentation to the Queens Housing Coalition.

Jesse Maysr and Ethan Goodman, of the law firm Wachtel Masyr & Missry, showed a presentation to a crowd of about 100 gathered at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church Parish Center, at 39-60 57th St. in Woodside, stressing that their project will eventually bring about 2,500 units of housing, some 875 of which will be affordable, to the area, along with a school and millions of square feet of retail and thousands of jobs.

The Queens Development Group is made up of Sterling Equities, owned by the Wilpon family, which also owns the New York Mets, and Related Cos., run by development mogul Stephen Ross. The partnership won a bid to develop the first phase of the controversial Willets Point transformation, which eventually seeks to replace the entire area of about 60 acres, occupied by auto shops and junk yards, into a new neighborhood.

The first phase of the project includes a 200-room hotel and retail along 126th Street to the east of Citi Field, parking behind those buildings and a 1.4 million-square-foot mall called Willets West on a portion of the parking lot to the east of Citi Field. These projects are slated to be completed in 2018, while the housing and additional retail components of the project are scheduled to be built between 2024 and 2028, according to a draft environmental impact statement for the project.

Many who attended the meeting wanted to know why the affordable housing portion was being pushed back. One man from Flushing named Ky J. Kim said he would probably not live to see the affordable housing completed.

The partnership contends that retail, restaurant and small business anchors are needed to make the area livable first.

“You can’t just build the housing,” Maysr said. “You have to build schools and you have to build services.”

City-built ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway are needed to accommodate the predicted extra traffic associated with major housing construction, he said, but they are not scheduled to be built until 2024.

If the affordable housing was built today, the developers would be required to build 366 units that a family of four making at most $33,200 could afford, 157 units for a family making $49,800 and 348 units for a family making $107,900, according to the project’s request for proposals.

But those numbers are based off the average median income of the city, which can change annually, and the percentages are set to be subdivided further.

Goodman stressed that the plan is exactly what was voted on by the City Council in 2008. Indeed, the total amount of affordable housing remained about the same, and even slightly increased.

But the time frame in which it will be built was not envisioned by the 2008 Council. A year after the plan passed, the project was split into two phases by the city. The second half of the project, which will be put out to bid in a separate request for proposals, contains the other half of the housing and is not slated for completion until 2032, and the Willets Point project has already seen lengthy delays.

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

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