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NYCFC stadium faces final wave of community board scrutiny

The stadium faces an important Queens Community Board vote. We spoke to one of the board's leaders about the approval process.

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The Willets Point redevelopment that includes New York City FC’s soccer stadium is about to face a vote of approval or disapproval from members of Queens Community Board 7. 

The board has been on the clock to review and assess the proposal since the project officially entered New York City’s uniform land use review procedure, ULURP, on October 16. 

One Willets Point-focused meeting was hosted by the board’s land use committee on November 15, with a second and final committee meeting to take place tonight, November 29. 

Those two committee meetings will set the stage for a critical vote among all members of Community Board 7 to either approve or disapprove of the changes and special permits needed for the second phase of new Willets Point construction, NYCFC stadium included, to occur. 

That vote will come at the regularly-scheduled monthly community board meeting scheduled to take place on Monday, December 4. 

Hudson River Blue spoke to Queens Community Board 7’s first vice-chairperson and the chair of its land use committee, Chuck Apelian, about the board’s assessment of the Willets Point phase two project, and what parts of the plan he and his fellow board members still want information on as their time evaluating the proposal draws to a close. 

“There are three things we still want to hear in regards to the stadium,” Apelian said. “Clarification about the hotel, to give us the parking agreement with the New York Mets, and, we want a new police precinct.” 

Police precinct still the top priority 

Apelian was adamant that plans for the creation of a new police precinct must be made in order for the board to approve the stadium-and-housing Willets Point development. 

“It’s the only request we have, as a community, in exchange for an approval,” said Apelian. “We don’t have a laundry list of ten items, we’re not asking for millions of dollars spent on infrastructure. One thing, the one thing on the table, is get us a precinct.” 

Both phases of planned Willets Point redevelopment include the construction of thousands of new units of affordable housing, and NYCFC would also add a 25,000-seat (all-electric, it turns out) soccer stadium to that mix. 

The stadium site falls within the New York Police Department’s 110th precinct, but also borders the much larger 109th precinct, an area that has long had local elected officials publicly calling for the creation of a new precinct.

Will Apelian and Community Board 7 get their precinct wish? An influential local member of the City Council, Vickie Paladino, has cast doubt on the likelihood of a new precinct opening in the area.

When asked about Apelian and the board’s precinct request, Paladino told the Queens Chronicle in late October that “I do understand Chuck and I do understand CB 7. Is it going to happen? I highly doubt it.” 

When asked about Paladino’s doubts, Apelian remained confident a new precinct would materialize, repeatedly saying to “stay tuned” while expecting more formal plans to be discussed or revealed at one of the remaining two board meetings focused on Willets Point.

NYCFC execs front and center 

The first of these in-person community board meetings about the NYCFC stadium included surprise NYCFC executive guests. 

Brad Sims, NYCFC’s president and CEO, and Jennifer O’Sullivan, the club’s COO and chief legal officer, attended the November 15 meeting, sitting in the first row of seats and lasting the duration of the over-three-hours-long meeting on the NYCFC stadium and its associated development.

“I was not aware that Brad and Jen were coming, I’ve been dealing exclusively with Marty Edelman [vice chairman of NYCFC and member of City Football Group’s board], so I was pleasantly surprised to see them,” said Apelian. 

Apelian lamented that, despite their presence, neither member of the NYCFC front office spoke at the November 15 meeting, saying “there was some disappointment that they were sitting in the front row but then had a lobbyist get up and talk about the stadium.” 

That comment refers to Dan White of the lobbying firm Geto & de Milly, a group that NYCFC has long retained to help in its soccer specific stadium search. White spoke at the November 15 meeting mainly about how the NYCFC stadium will function as a resource for the surrounding community.

Ahead of the November 29 meeting about Willets Point, Apelian now says Jennifer O’Sullivan will represent NYCFC and give a presentation at the meeting, which the club has also confirmed to Hudson River Blue.

Apelian said he expects O’Sullivan to provide “Clarifications about the size, the space, and some misquotes that were put out there, some mumbling in the background.” 

We provided real-time coverage of the November 15 board meeting on the social platform formerly known as Twitter, which you can catch up on in the below embedded post, and we’ll do the same during the November 29 and December 4 meetings. Follow us over on that once-thriving website to keep up with what’s said about the NYCFC stadium at the two remaining Community Board 7 meetings. 

Will the NYCFC stadium pass the vote? 

Police precinct is priority one for Apelian and his community board, and their other two areas of remaining concern seem unlikely to pose threats to the progress of the massive Willets Point redevelopment project. 

At the November 15 meeting, it was revealed by Ethan Goodman, an attorney who represents the Queens Development Group, that there is a “memo of understanding” in place between the New York Mets and the developers of Willets Point phase two over NYCFC match attendees being able to park in the lots that surround Citi Field. 

Mets owner Steve Cohen, as you may remember, was reportedly using negotiations over Citi Field parking lot sharing as leverage in his quest to redevelop the lots to include a new casino.

No actual agreement between the Mets and the Willets Point development teams has been shared with the community board yet, but Apelian remained confident more clarity would arrive prior to the big vote on December 4. 

Cohen and the Mets recently unveiled ambitious development plans for the parking lots, but Apelian says those plans have no bearing on the Willets Point deliberations under way among the members of Community Board 7. 

“It’s a concept, it’s got a lot of stages and hurdles to get through to the point where it becomes something we consider,” said Apelian. “If it was real and a couple weeks away, or months away, then we’d have to put some thought to it—but the casino they’re proposing, it still has so many hurdles.” 

As to the hotel planned to open adjacent to the NYCFC stadium, Apelian said the board is looking for clarification and assurances around the type of hotel that will be opening—potentially which hotel chain will operate it, what amenities the hotel will offer, and that it won’t end up being utilized as an option for relocating unhoused people or migrants, which he said was a concern among his board members. 

What to expect when some or all of the 50 existing Community Board 7 members vote to approve or disapprove of the second phase of Willets Point redevelopment? It must be repeated that the community board’s role in the ULURP process is purely advisory, so their vote to approve or disapprove of the NYCFC stadium project is nothing close to a be-all, end-all. 

“We have a pretty important role, yes it’s advisory, but our board has established itself over years through its expertise and leadership,” said Apelian. “People recognize that, and rather than shying away from us, it’s more a dialogue around ‘How do we do this?’, ‘How do we work together?’—I don’t want to say we partner, but we work together with them.” 

Apelian also said that he and the board were “Very comfortable with the plan. There was consensus for this. In 2018, Borough President Melinda Katz had a task force, with four or five meetings over the summer, to discuss ‘What do we want to do in Willets Point phase two.’ Stakeholders from all over, every walk of life, building, housing, everybody, said they didn’t want big box retailers, everybody said they wanted housing and local retail, while a third option was for housing, local retail, and a soccer stadium.” 

While much remains to still be finalized and clarified, Apelian continuously struck a confident tone about the future of the project in his comments to Hudson River Blue, saying “I’m expecting that we should get what we’re looking for,” while also hinting at the December 4 public meeting being something of a pro-NYCFC spectacle. 

Apelian says he thinks the club will be sending “a full compliment of fans, players, and team executives” to the decisive public hearing, so get ready for a big to-do when community board votes get counted next Monday night.