Thursday, October 10, 2013

Related Co. Strikes Gold As City Council Approves Park Land Grabs Deals - Willets Point West & Ruppert Playground Development Approved

"The mall is something that the developers and the administration believe is necessary to be able to support the build-out of Willets Point."  -  Julissa Ferreras

Delivering The Deal.  Big Winners. A beaming Related Companies' Charles  J.  O'Byrne, Queens City Council member Julissa Ferreras,  Jeff Wilpon - New York Mets COO and the executive vice-president of Sterling Equities and son of New York Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon, and Glenn  A. Goldstein - president of Related Retail and registered lobbyist, pose shortly after the vote. (Photo: William Alatriste /New York City Council)


By Geoffrey Croft

Step Right Up For the Great Land Giveaway.

As expected the Bloomberg administration-friendly Related Companies made out like bandits yesterday afternoon as the City Council  voted nearly unanimously to approve two controversial projects involving the use of park land.

The City Council is handing over 48-acres of Flushing Meadows - Corona Park in Queens for Related Companies and Sterling Equities 1.4 million sq. ft. mall known as Willets Point West without having to approve or even vote on the project. 

Yesterday the City Council approved zoning amendments to the Willet's Point plan,  allowing a multi-phased development and temporary parking on part of the Willets point site.  These amendments however do not permit the building of a massive 1.4-million-square-foot shopping mall much less a massive 1.4 million square foot shopping mall on mapped parkland.  

The Bloomberg administration and the City Council are attempting to bypass land use procedures including the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP),  and without seeking State Alienation legislation as is required under state law to use parkland for non-park purposes.     

Mayor Bloomberg claimed all land use powers of the former Board of Estimate as belonging to him, clearly a violation of ULURP.  

The City Council approve the proposed Willets Point West Mall location. Related Companies and Sterling Equities are looking to build a 1.4 million square foot mall on 48 acres of mapped parkland in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, west of Citi-Field stadium.  This represents the largest public parkland giveaway in recent history. The proposed project would allow the seizing of the public parkland to be used exclusively for non-park purposes without first getting State Alienation approval as is required under the law.  The construction of such a mall on public parkland would be unprecedented. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

The City Council also approved a text change that would allow the powerful development company the right to build a 36-story luxury building on a beloved community park on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan.

There are also number of legal issues surrounding both of these projects.

Willets Point West Mall Project on Park land

The mall project is part of the proposed $3 billion Willets Point megadevelopment. The majority of the land would be taken from the public parkland.  

Not surprising the parkland connection to the Willets Point West development was never mentioned during the public hearing.

The first City Council committee vote began three hours late as last minute details were feverishly being hashed-out behind closed doors between the applicants and  administration officials.  Members of  the Related team were seen repeatedly disappearing into the Executive side of the building. 

When the dust settled the Borough of Queens lost  48-acres of public parkland to one of New York’s biggest real estate developers so they can built the city's largest mall on public parkland.

In exchange for the approvals  the developers agreed to give $15.5 million to the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance,  a public-private conservancy  Queens Council member Julissa  Ferreras is currently in the process of creating with the help of New Yorkers For Parks.   

Sign Of the Times.

Eight million dollars will go towards capital improvements for the park and the rest will be distributed over 25 years the Council woman said afterwards.

The money will initially be handled by the City Parks Foundation until her Alliance is set up.   

Julissa Ferreras delivered the deal and thanked the groups that helped make it possible, Make the Road,   Queens Fairness Coalition and New Yorkers For Parks.    

Moments after the Full Land Use committee vote a proud and jubilant Ferreras did a victory lap in the new renovated Council Chambers where she was greeted by a host of well-wishers. 

One of her first stops was a mutually congratulatory visit to the Related Companies and Sterling Equities team who were sitting up front.  She posed for a photograph with a beaming NY Met's COO and executive vice-president of Sterling Equities Jeff Wilpon, who had been sitting with Related executives Charles  J.  O'Byrne - senior vice president ,  Glenn  A. Goldstein,  president  of Related Retail and registered lobbyist, and Related Companies' go-to land-use attorney Jesse Masyr. 

Ferreras made her way to the back of the room where she chatted with a glowing Holly Leight, a former Bloomberg administration official and current executive director of  the Parks Department partner group New Yorkers For Parks. 

Land use Chair Leroy Comrie said he wanted to,  "especially thank all the advocates that came and made sure the projects were done to their concerns. They were heard and listened to as part of process," he said with a straight face. 

Staten Island Council member Vincent Ignizio tried his best to stick up for his colleagues. 

"I also want to point out that very often the media portrays this body in a negative light but what you see here today is the hard work of council members who stood up for their principles, stood up for their community and ultimately got a great deal,"  Ignizio said during the Subcommittee on Zone &  Franchises vote.  

The proposed mall on parkland property was never part of the original Willets Point development that was approved in 2008. 

The most telling and disturbing comments relating to lack of accountably and desire to protect the 48 acres of public parkland however came after the vote,  and after an hour and half delayed press conference.  

Council member Ferreras attempted to justify and explain why the public parkland was now part of the deal and was given away - the developers and the Mayor wanted it. 

"The mall is something that the developers and the administration believe is necessary to be able to support the build-out of Willets Point,"  she said.

"Willets West is what its known as, the mall and entertainment center.   It's currently on a parking lot and that is through the lease with the New York Mets, who is also part of the joint venture,"   Ferreras said, being careful not to refer to the property as parkland.  

"I really do believe that we're going to have a wonderful new community at Willets Point."

Calling it a "real park investment," the Councilwoman also mentioned the other deal she recently negotiated with the USTA. That deal allows the tennis giant the right to take additional parkland and destroy up to 400 trees in exchange for $ 10 million dollars, with only  $ 5 million in "expense" dollars to be spread out over 20 years. That deal too will also eventually be administered by the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance. 

No announcement was made however on the city allocating proper funding for the park.

The Related Companies and Sterling Equities just got approval to build this mall on the western parking lot of Citi Field. 
Proposed Nightmare - Willets Point West.   The Related Companies and Sterling Equities just got approval from the City Council to build a 1.4 million square foot mall as part of a 48 acre project in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

This Alliance model,  as it has been repeatedly pointed out,  relies heavily on commercial businesses exploiting the park as a major funding stream. 

Critics of the Willets Point West plan argue that if the mapped parkland being proposed for mall use are no longer needed for Citi-Field parking then it should revert back to its original recreational use.   

There are also number of legal issues surrounding the attempted disposition of this public land.

"I'm really angry and disgusted," said Richard Hellenbrecht president of Queens Civic Congress,  which represents a coalition of more than 100 civic and other community organizations throughout the borough of Queens. 

"I am angry, disappointed and upset that the City Council so easily agreed to turn public land, indeed mapped parkland, over to private interests for profit-making development through some behind closed-door deals and buy-outs.  In just one month the current administration will be lame duck and a new set of eyes can consider what's best for the city, our communities and especially our precious parkland.  There should be no need to rush through a deal that will permanently remove 48 acres of parkland and create unnecessary competition to hundreds of small businesses in central Queens.  The reasonable issues and concerns of numerous civic, parks and business advocacy groups have been ignored to offset promised development costs.  Let's see that happen in Central Park!"

Only three Councilmen — two from Queens,  Daniel Dromm, and Dan Halloran, and another from Brooklyn - Charles Barren  — voted against the plan. 


Meanwhile Yorkville residents blasted City Council member Dan Garodnick's decision to sell out the community and allow the Related Companies to build on a beloved park.

"Let me in." Children in front of the locked Ruppert Playground.   Ruppert Playground - located between East 92/93rd Street btw. 2nd & 3rd Avenues.  Community Board 8 is the city's most densely populated community and ranks dead last in publicly accessible open space. 

The City Council,  lead by area councilman Garodnick,  voted nearly unanimously to approve a text change that would allow Related Companies to build  a 36-story luxury building on a neighborhood park.  

Community Board 8 is already the city's most densely populated community and ranks dead last in publicly accessible recreational space. 

Ruppert Playground. The City Council approved voted to allow the Related Companies the right to replace a beloved park with a 36-story luxury building.   Previously Related Companies did not have the legal right to build on the popular playground located in Yorkville.  The law states that any proposed development on the park requires the consent of surrounding buildings in the original Ruppert Urban Renew area.  Despite vehement community opposition local City Council member Dan Garodnick backed the Related Company.  

The use of Ruppert Playground CAN NOT be changed unless a previous-approved Large-Scale Residential Development Plan under the Ruppert Brewery Urban Renewal Area is amended which Related did by asking the City Council for a text change. 

The law states that any proposed development on the park requires the consent of surrounding buildings in the original Ruppert Urban Renew area. The Related Companies is attempting to take away that right by applying for a "text change"  without getting the consent of the other property owners within the boundaries of the original Large-Scale plan.

"The technical question before the Council today was whether Related should be required to obtain consent from every owner within the large scale residential development area in order to use its development rights, " Dan Garodnick said is a prepared statement.

Apparently he didn't they had to.   

Despite vehement community opposition City Council member Dan Garodnick backed the Related Company and approved the text change.

The community has waged a three-year battle to prevent Related from building on the park.

The nearly one acre park, which opened in 1978 using Federal Community Development Block Grants,  is located on E.93rd street.

"It is with great disappointment that after years of supporting the community and they him that Council Dan Garodnick has chosen not to side with his constituents when they needed him the most," said Oscar Fernandez of Save Ruppert Playground.     

"I worked closely with Dan over the last few years and he always seemed like a person that would put his community first but in this case he did not and that is most disappointing of all.     Dan always asked us to put together a sound legal position for being able to vote no to the text change and the team at much effort did so however he has still falling on the wrong side of the law in preserving this treasured open space for his community." 

"If Related had an absolute and unquestioned right to develop on this property as they saw fit, why was any vote required?  Please explain this to me,"  Yorkville resident Scott Usiak wrote to Garodnick.

"You are still my council member. Now that you have voted "yes" to the text amendment, can you at least provide us with some clear and specific steps you intend to take to make our lives better," he asked.     

Mr. Usiak called the letter he received from the Council member explaining his decision, "disingenuous and misleading."    

"Given your frequently stated position that the area suffers from population density issues and a lack of open space, what will you do to demonstrate that anything you said was genuine, rather than material for press releases and local news interviews?" 

The application passed the City Council today by a vote of 44 to 2, with future Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer voting against it - she came through on her promise. Brooklyn's Charles Barren also voted against it.   

Dan Knows Best. City Council member Dan Garodnick addressing the crowd in Ruppert Playground in 2011.  The law states that any proposed development on the park requires the consent of surrounding buildings in the original Ruppert Urban Renew area.  He disagrees.  Yesterday Dan voted to give Related Companies  a "text change"  which gives the developer the right to build without getting the consent of the other property owners within the boundaries of the original Large-Scale plan.   

Dan Garodnick addressing the crowd in front of the locked Ruppert Playground.

 Where Are They Now. Still standing with the Communty?

Read More:

Related Co. Expected To Win Big Today At City Council Land Use Votes

A Walk In The Park - October 9, 2013 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - August 9, 2013 - By Geoffrey Croft   

A Walk In The Park - September 30, 2013

Save Ruppert Playground



  1. Shameful:"a public-private conservancy Queens Council member Julissa Ferreras is currently in the process of creating with the help of New Yorkers For Parks. " talk about orwellian names.

    And Garondnick is a slimy crook! One of his staff asked or donations from us at one of the meetings before he dropped out of the comptroller race!

  2. Bloomberg's Henchman Dan Doctoroff gangsters

  3. This is a horrible mess. How can anyone consider this Coucilwoman Ferreras for higher office when she cares so little for the displaced businesses, the lack of low income housing so very needed NOW and the obvious fact that they are invading a huge chunk of Queen's premiere parklands to accomplish this deal. The thousands of jobs promised are a JOKE. What about the displaced businesses? Bloomberg and his crew are criminals.

  4. The Bloomberg administration is citing a 1961 law to justify building the mall in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, but this article shows the law does not permit that:

    Once again, the mayor believes he is above the law.