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NYC council OKs $3B development near Mets stadium

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NEW YORK (AP)

A $3 billion plan to turn a blighted 23-acre ''valley of ashes'' next to the New York Mets' stadium into retail, hotel and residential space won city council approval Wednesday.

The New York City Council vote was the final step in a land use review process for the project in Queens' Willets Point neighborhood and allows the Queens Development Group to move forward. The group is a joint venture between Sterling Equities Inc. and Related Companies.

The neglected, polluted neighborhood has to undergo environmental testing and cleanup before work can begin. New construction would start following the demolition of existing structures.

Redeveloping the area, currently home to auto repair shops and junkyards, has been a longtime priority for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called the council vote a ''critical milestone in the history of Willets Point, which for generations has been known as a contaminated `valley of ashes.'''

''In the process, this historic redevelopment will remediate 100 years of environmental degradation, link this district to modern infrastructure, establish a new commercial destination, create 7,100 permanent jobs and 12,000 construction jobs, and generate billions in economic activity,'' he said.

But not everyone is enthralled by the idea. At a public hearing before the City Planning Commission in July, opponents warned that local businesses would be pushed out in favor of large developers. The city has said it will put $15.5 million toward supporting Willets Point businesses, for expenses such as relocation and moving costs.

Under the plan, a parking lot next to the stadium would be converted into a mall with 200 stores, a movie theater, restaurants, entertainment venues and a 2,500-space parking garage.

The project would also include the creation of 2,500 housing units, a portion of which would be affordable housing, as well as several acres of open space and a hotel. The developer also agreed to provide more than $15 million in funding for improvements and upkeep at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

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