At the heart of the matter is a set of ramps that will connect the city's plan for a new mixed use/residential neighborhood at Willets Point in Flushing to the Van Wyck Expressway. Last year, lawyers for the city told Judge Joan Madden that the project would not proceed if approval for the ramps was not granted.
The city has still not received approval for the ramps, but is moving ahead with phase one of the development, focusing on 12 acres of land on the southern portion of the 61 acres of land slated for redevelopment.
Willets Point United, a group of business and land owners located within the project, is asking Madden to reopen its lawsuit challenging the city's initial environmental impact statement, arguing that the city misled the judge when it said it could not proceed with the project without approval of the ramps.
“It was an important part of the decision [to dismiss] that the project wasn't going forward unless the approval for the ramps were obtained,” Madden told Chris Reo, a lawyer for the city.
But Reo told the judge that the city determined through a technical memorandum that a smaller level of development could proceed without the ramps.
“The city in its technical memorandum came up with a smaller phase of development,” said Reo. “It's 12 acres.
But Michael Gerrard, an attorney with the law firm Arnold & Porter, which is representing Willets Point United, argued that the city deliberately misled the court when it claimed it could not go forward without the ramps, and instead began eminent domain proceedings and began moving forward on phase one without the approval.
“It should not be without consequence when the city makes a promise to the court and it violates that promise,” Gerrard told Madden.
Gerrard also argued that the city could complete phase one, and then not be able to finish the rest of the project because it never obtains approval for the ramps, a scenario which was never taken into consideration in the initial environmental impact statement.
“If phase one of the project goes forward now, and the ramps are not approved, who knows what the impacts will be,” he said. “The technical memorandum said what happens at the end of phase one, but it does not say what will happen after that.
“It doesn't say what will become of the rest of the project in the years that follow the completion of phase one,” Gerrard added. “That was nowhere analyzed.”
Reo said that the ramps still remain integral to the project. However, he said that the city would still plans to go forward with the entire project even if the ramps aren't approved, but admitted it could take on a different scope than was originally proposed and studied in the environmental impact statement.
“If the ramps aren't approved, the city would have to determine how to proceed,” Reo told the judge.
Reo said that would certainly require additional review, but that the project as a whole hasn't necessarily changed.
“This is not a separate project your honor, this is the same project and it develops under the same approvals that were given by the City Council,” he said.
However, Madden questioned Reo's argument.
“But if the entire project isn't built because there is no approval for the ramps, then it's not the same project,” she said, to a smattering of applause from the Willets Point business owners who attended the hearing. “There has to be a difference if only the smaller project is built as opposed to the larger project.”
Madden is currently considering the arguments. There is no timeline for when a decision on whether to reopen the case will be made.
Note on the Video: The recording was produced by Robert LoScalzo of LoScalzo Media Design LCC (assisted by Corey Kaup), a Telly-award winning business media production firm and consultancy. Since 2007, LoScalzo has been independently producing a comprehensive, scholarly video documentary that will examine all aspects of the proposed Willets Point development and its far-reaching impacts. LoScalzo has recorded interviews with elected officials, decision-makers, and scores of Willets Point business and property owners.