Top court kills Mets mall-on-parkland plan dead, everybody goes back to drawing board

The plan by the New York Mets owners and their developer pals at Related Companies to build a mall in the Citi Field parking lot, which was shot down by an appeals court in 2015 because the parking lot is still technically city parkland, was shot down for good yesterday by the state’s top court, which ruled, yup, city parkland, what were you thinking?

The justices rejected arguments from the city and the developer that a 1961 law that authorized the construction of Shea Stadium at Flushing Meadows Park also allowed the development of the mall.

“The text of the statute and its legislative history flatly refute the proposition that the Legislature granted the city the authority to construct a development such as Willets West in Flushing Meadows Park,” Judge Rowan Wilson wrote for the majority.

As my Village Voice colleague Max Rivlin-Nadler explains, the Mets and Related were trying to get around the law that parkland must be preserved for a “public purpose” by arguing that they were also going to build housing and a school on a different, non-parkland parcel on the other side of the stadium — the Willets Point land that was recently cleared of auto shops under threat of eminent domain — and besides which:

In an almost surreal moment during the arguments, a city lawyer said that if the Mets were losing a game, fans might be able to go enjoy the rest of the day at the mall. The state, for its part, argued that the “rooftop farm and greenhouse” on top of the mall would compensate for the loss of parkland.

Hard to believe that six out of seven court of appeals judges thought this was ridiculous, right?

What happens now is anyone’s guess: The Mets could still try to develop the parking lots with something that they can sneak in as a “public purpose” (Islanders arena, maybe, if someone actually offers to pay to build it — though Max assures me there’s no political support for that), or could just leave the parking lots as parking lots and build exclusively on Willets Point proper. Which, incidentally, looks like this right now (or the last time I went to a Mets game, anyway):

This whole process in both Willets Point and “Willets Point West” (aka the parking lot) has been a giant mess, with the city letting developers drive the planning process instead of actually figuring out what might make the most sense (and public benefit) on the land around the Mets stadium, much of which is publicly owned. Which is all par for the course in New York City politics — I wrote a whole book about it, after all — but still disappointing. Here’s hoping that now that the courts have rebooted the process it will be done better next time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


16 comments on “Top court kills Mets mall-on-parkland plan dead, everybody goes back to drawing board

  1. After housing the auto related businesses for 50+ years, one would think the Willet’s Point land would require significant environmental cleanup to be considered for housing.

    I can see the real estate agents trying to sell it: “look at Flushing Meadows park, right over there. Pay no attention to the highways or planes taking off from
    LaGuardia.”

  2. Caring more about real estate development schemes than the quality of one’s sporting product…..cause that worked wonders for the Islanders……ugh…..

  3. As Neil was saying, the chances of NYCFC stadium or an Islanders arena remain SLIM. The land could probably be used for an arena under the current law, but that would displace the Mets parking lot. The parking lot would have to be moved to the Willets Point site, where it was going to go if the mall was built. However, the de Blasio administration, which was never a fan of the mall plan (and only went along with the appeal to appease the city council and likely knew it was doomed) want housing now and realize that the developer was going to use the same “green bonds” to remediate the site that the city or another developer would have used, so the whole idea of the mall as a funding mechanism was BS. Just a Bloomberg-era cash-grab. So unless the Mets can find another location for their parking lot, which wouldn’t come at a space cost to possible affordable housing or a school, then another stadium (in a very small area that already has four!) just won’t happen.

    • Mr. Neil didn’t mention NYCFC , he did mention the NHL team who are looking for government to build them an arena and MLB to make it happen. NYCFC would privately pay for their stadium , so obviously there will be opposition to that.

      • They’d still want the land, though, which was already a non-starter once. With Julissa Ferreras-Copeland leaving the council that could conceivably change, but it’s unlikely for all the reasons Max outlines above.

    • Islanders Arena in Willets Point remains slim, but a better chance for a new one in Belmont, with the Governor’s backing.

      http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/hockey/islanders/islanders-submit-bid-new-arena-belmont-park-article-1.3086422

      They’re not going back to that reduced sized, asbestos contaminated, money losing building they used to play at in Nassau County.

        • Unless the city or state really wants the MSG land for Penn Station or another cause and lets the owners transfer the sweetheart tax abatement, the Rangers and Knicks will keep renovating the Garden.

          • Heh. You’re 100% right I just find it funny people crap on the Coliseum for asbestos when the Garden also had an asbestos scare around the same time.

            Sorry for going severely off topic.

        • I think losing money at the Coliseum, believe it or not, was a bigger problem than the asbestos for Charles Wang.

  4. A “public purpose” isn’t good enough for using parkland. Whatever gets built on parkland has to serve a park purpose. Remember: The Giuliani administration was rebuffed when it tried to build the water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park without alienating the parkland first. Bloomberg had to get alienation legislation passed in Albany, and then, as part of that deal, promise to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix up parks in the Bronx. The Mets can’t build anything there — not even another sports stadium — unless the parkland gets alienated outright by the state legislature. If that were to happen — and the state alienates the parkland — the city would then face the prospect of replacing the acreage, and it’s a lot of land. This is why the city instead tried to weasel out of its obligations by citing as justification the 1961 law that permitted Shea, but that law did not allow for anything else to be built on the parking lot. It permitted the city to issue bonds to build Shea and it allowed the Parks Commissioner to rent out the parking lot for periods of up to one year. Anything longer than that was supposed to go to the Board of Estimate, which, of course, no longer exists. Maybe de Blasio could offer hundreds of millions to fix up Queens parks. No doubt the local elected officials can be bought off, but the cost of putting anything on that parkland will be high.

    • Wait, Pat, if that’s true, how is it that the Mets have been allowed a long-term lease on those parking lots?

      • Bloomberg’s people told me the mayor took the place of the Board of Estimate.

        As you know, Neil, to challenge Bloomberg one had to go to court. That bullying was the thing that upset me the most about him: He was always forcing communities and small businesses to sue the city if they didn’t like his plans. If you know anyone who wants to challenge the legality of the parking lot deal, I will support you 100%, but I suspect it would be a heavier lift since the land use hasn’t changed. Arguing against the shopping mall was a slam dunk.

        By the way, my favorite part of the three Willets Point trials came when Judith Kaye — the retired chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals — argued as an attorney for the Mets and Related that shopping was a recreational use. It was surprising, because Kaye had led the court’s rejection of the water treatment plant in Van Cortlandt Park. But her argument showed she understood she had to justify the mall as serving a recreational purpose, too.

        • This doesn’t mean the city won’t try to build there again, but it now looks more difficult. As far as “Willets East” is concerned, any plan will take a while to be realized. Isn’t that where Cuomo wants to build the train to LaGuardia? Its construction will require some kind of staging area, I imagine. I drove by there a week or two ago and was amazed to see half of Willets Point plowed over and empty. All of those quonset huts — and their thousands of jobs — gone.

        • When we were fighting the zoning in Coney Island, the city constantly told us that shopping was a recreational use. So this is an established part of the playbook. I think it’s filed under, “if you say it enough times, it’s true!”

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