Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Judge Dismisses Flushing Meadows Park "Willets Point West" Lawsuit - Group Vows To Appeal

A scheme hatched by the Bloomberg Administration and the City Council aims to hand over 47. 5 acres of Flushing Meadows - Corona Park worth as estimated $ 1 billion dollars to The Related Companies and Sterling Equities to build a 1.4 million sq. ft. mall known as Willets Point West. They are attempting to push the massive project through without receiving any approvals or even a vote. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) 


A New York State Supreme Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed to prevent dozens of acres of public parkland from being developed into the city's largest shopping mall.  The group vows to appeal.     

Justice Manuel J. Mendez  dismissed the lawsuit which challenges the give-away of 47 acres of public parkland in Flushing Meadows Corona Park worth an estimated $ 1 billion to The Related Companies/ Sterling Equities to build "Willet's West," a 1.4 million square foot mega-mall adjacent to CitiField.  (full decision below)

A coalition of area residents,  environmental groups, business and home owners, and State Senator Tony Avella filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court in February demanding the City halt its illegal handing over of mapped Parkland to build a mega-mall.

The suit also asks the Court to nullify actions taken by the Planning Commission, and approved by the Council in October of last year, to permit construction of parking facilities in Willets Point in lieu of the affordable housing and supportive facilities called for by the 2008 plan.  

The complaint alleges that the project cannot proceed without approval by the State Legislature under the “public trust” doctrine that protects all parkland throughout the State against non-park uses without the consent of the Legislature which was not requested or obtained.

The City and developers claim entitlement to the land based on a 1961 law which authorized the construction of Shea Stadium.

The suit claims that the 1961 law never granted the defendants the use of the premises for these purposes.  

During the oral arguments on July 30th the developers and the City spent most of the time talking about the alleged benefits their project and very little time addressing the legal issues before the Court.  The Plaintiffs argued that the defendants were brazenly violating State law and the City Charter's land use provisions. 

“Most of their response, in their argument, had actually nothing to do with the issue at hand," State Senator Tony Avella commented after the hearing last month.

"The issue is that they still have to get the necessary approval from the State Legislature and undergo the City’s land use process before being able to develop on-site. As things stand right now, the developers are illegally taking away parkland and the City is letting them!" the Senator said.

Related Companies and Sterling Equities are attempting to build a 1.4 million square foot mall on 47.5 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. 

The oral arguments also  provided some colorful moments.  Former Chief NY State Supreme Justice Judith Kaye, counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom representing the developers  explicitly inferred that shopping was a "recreational use." 

Plaintiff's include State Senator Tony Avella, City Club of New York, Queens Civic Congress, several members of Willets Point United Inc., and nearby residents/business owners, and NYC Park Advocates. 

"The decision flies in the face of the Public Trust Doctrine and ignores long-established case law, " said NYC Park Advocates, president Geoffrey Croft, a plaintiff in the suit. 

"Equally troubling is it bestows the powers of the former Board of Estimate for  land-use decisions to one person, the Mayor.  This is ironic considering the Board was declared unconstitutional because it violated the "one man, one vote"  provision of the Equal Protection Clause  which was determined to be un-democratic.  This is an issue that every NYC resident and elected official should be greatly concerned with," Croft stated 

"Plaintiffs believe that the decision misunderstands the common law doctrine that prohibits any nonpark use of parkland without the specific and explicit approval of the State Legislature,"   the plaintiff's attorney John Low-Beer said in a statement.  

"The State Legislature, when it passed the 1961 law permitting the construction of Shea Stadium, did not intend to allow construction of a shopping mall.  That law did not allow the construction of anything except a stadium and related facilities on the site.  Plaintiffs will appeal, and believe that this decision will be reversed on appeal."

"It was disheartening to learn of Justice Mendoza's decision today in respect to the Willets West lawsuit," NY State Senator Tony Avella, who represents the 11th Senatorial District, and a plaintiff in the lawsuit stated. 

"We made some very good legal arguments and strongly believe that we are in the right on this issue. I look forward to submitting an appeal alongside the other plaintiffs and feel confident about a future positive outcome."

The proposed  1.4 million square foot retail and entertainment development was approved by the City Planning Commission on Wednesday.

Rendering of the $ 3 billion dollar Willets Point projects.

Read More:

New York Daily News - August 21,  2014 - By Eli Rosenberg

Despite win, Willets Point developers are cautious
Crain's NY Business -  August 21, 2014 - By Joe Anuta 

New York Daily News - August 4, 2014,  By Tony Avella & John Low-Beer 

A Walk In The Park - February 11,  2014 

City Limits - November 1, 2013 - By Patrick Arden

Legal Questions Emerge About Citi Field Mall

City Limits - July 30, 2012 - By Patrick Arden


  1. . . . so de Blasio's just Bloomberg Jr.?

  2. Tons of greenspace to the south. This is a transit rich location and increased density will make new retail very desirable at this location.

  3. As a member of the Plaintiffs, I am sorely disappointed with this decision. This giveaway of public land to a private, for profit entity will devastate FMCP for an unnecessary mall which will create unbearable competition for dozens of nearby small businesses. Meanwhile, the mall was never contemplated in the original plans for Willets Point and despite the possible enormous profits from the mall, the promised and desperately needed housing and affordable housing will not be seen for decades.
    Mayor de Blasio, please stand up for parks, get behind small businesses in Queens neighborhoods, demand compliance with Land Use and Parks Alienation rules.
    Richard Hellenbrecht, President, Queens Civic Congress