City Limits published a long piece on the lessons of Willets Point and how it may look differently under a new mayor. The article points out the limits of ULURP, noting that under Bloomberg most negotiations took place before the public process even began. That meant, as City Limits puts it: “The public hearings become theater. People might turn out in droves to ask questions and to testify… but the plans don’t fundamentally change.” The three proposals for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park — the Major League Soccer stadium, an expansion of the National Tennis Center and the mega mall at Willets Point — all propose to take away parkland without replacing it, despite it being a requirement under state and federal laws. As for Willets Point, the new plans recently presented to the City Council scaled back on affordable housing, and the plans for the mega mall were not included in the ULURP process.
As urban planning professor Tom Angotti says of all the major development plans approved before Bloomberg’s departure, “It really does seem that Bloomberg is trying to make it difficult for the next mayor to take a different path.” Bill de Blasio looks likely to win on an anti-Bloomberg campaign, but he has supported many of the controversial rezonings and has significant ties to the real estate industry. City Limits wonders if the only way to guarantee more affordable housing from private developers will ultimately mean “drawing from the same well of tax breaks, free land, and other government giveaways that were a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration.” It’s also unclear how de Blasio envisions the community role in the ULRUP process, although he has promised to bring communities into the process early. Right now, neither the community boards nor the borough president have any official say in ULURP, and advocates for its reform say this may be a good step in a new direction.