Willets Point Community Faces off with Developers

Community advocates met with construction contractors and representatives in Woodside, Queens to voice concerns over the future of Willets Point, as they see priorities going towards commercial properties rather than helping the community already in place. (Photo by Javier Castaño via Queens Latino)

“The people in this community earn between $17,000 and $22,000 a year. What type of affordable housing could you offer us based on these salaries?” Angélica Chaica asked the contractors who will be building hotels and apartments in the area surrounding the Mets baseball stadium in Queens.

“The truth is that I don’t know, although we’ll have housing at the lowest prices in New York City,” replied Jesse Masyr, a lawyer with the firm Wachtel Masyr & Missry LLP, who represent Related and Sterling Equities, the owners of the CitiField stadium where the Mets team plays.

The meeting was attended by 150 community, mostly Latinos, although there were also Arabs, Chinese, and Koreans. There were threats. “We behave well, we don’t cause an uproar and we don’t make accusations, or these gentleman stand up from the table and leave the meeting,” said Iván Contreras of the Queens Housing Coalition and Catholic Migration Services.

Masyr’s team of lawyers consisted of eight people seated at the front of the room at the St. Sebastian Parish in Woodside, where the meeting was held.

They discussed everything, but they didn’t mention what will happen to the nearly 2,000 workers, mainly Latinos, that fix cars in the Willets Point neighborhood next to the CitiField stadium. The city of New York abandoned the area almost a century ago, leaving it without a sewer system or paved streets.

Marcos Neira, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, stands up for what he sees as an eviction of local residents waiting to happen. (Photo by Javier Castaño/Queens Latino)

“We’ve been working in this neighborhood for more than 50 years, and now they’re going to evict us without offering us a resettlement plan,” said Marcos Neira, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee. “The unions are going to take all the jobs and because we’re undocumented, nothing will be left after so many years of sacrifice.”

Consuelo Ortiz questioned where the politicians have been all these years, “allowing the contamination and that people get sick.”

The primary concern of the immigrants who came to the meeting was whether there will be access to affordable housing.

“Why do we have to wait 12 years, until 2025, for them to build apartments in this zone? This isn’t fair,” said Lourdes Vintimilla.

Activist Luis Antonio Livia also asked why they will build hotels and shops before building apartments.

“We won’t be able to start construction until we clean up the contamination in Willets Point. When the city of New York approved our project in 2008, one of the requirements was that we have to decontaminate the area before building schools, day cares, senior centers and clinics,” said Masyr. “The school will serve 1,000 students.”

“We understand that you, the private investors, aren’t to blame…We’re frustrated with Mayor Bloomberg for using Flushing Meadows Park without consulting with the community, and we also s pay taxes,” said María Julia Alvarez of the organization Make the Road New York.

Ethan Goodman explains construction plans at Willets Point, saying it won’t affect Flushing Meadows Park, which is located nearby. (Photo by Javier Castaño/Queens Latino)

“Please keep in mind that Willets Point and the area where the stadium is located isn’t part of Flushing Meadows Park,” said Ethan Goodman, manager of the project. He elaborated on the stages of construction in the neighborhood.

“Our project won’t touch this park that you all love so much, and we won’t take away community spaces, either,” he said.

Goodman was referring to Major League Soccer, which is planning to build a soccer stadium in the area surrounding the synthetic playing fields in Flushing Meadows Park. There’s a lot of opposition from the community, especially from the organization Fairness Coalition of Queens.

Goodman, leaning against the wall on which images were being projected, said the project will have private investment worth $3 billion. They will clean up 23 contaminated hectares of land and build 5 million square feet of storage space, as well as 2,500 apartments, of which 874 will be low income.

“Twenty five percent of the jobs are for women and minorities,” said Goodman. The project will also bring 12,000 construction jobs for unionized workers and 7,100 permanent jobs once it is finished.

“During the construction, the city will receive $310 million in taxes. Afterward, every year, the city will receive $150 million in taxes,” Goodman added.

The project will have five phases: Cleanup, putting Willets Point on the map with the construction of 200 hotel rooms and 30 shops, promoting Willets Point as a tourist attraction with stores and entertainment centers, opening up points of access to the freeway in order to integrate residents, and developing a neighborhood with housing, a school, more commercial space, and apartments.

“An environmental evaluation was done on September 27 of last year. This spring, the public and the city will review the project, and at the end of this year, we’ll have everything approved,” Goodman concluded.

“Why don’t they start with the construction of housing and then, the commercial center?” asked Iván Contreras. To which Masyr said: “First we have to clean up the contamination in order to build housing afterward.”

“I don’t understand,” said Dania Joaquín. “The contamination blocks them from building apartments, but not hotels.”

The only resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone, 80, attended the meeting and said: “What contamination are they talking about? I’ve lived my entire life in Willets Point and I’m still here, I’m not dead.”


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