Thursday, March 27, 2014

Read Brian Ketcham's Daily News op ed

Brian Ketcham
The following is an excerpt from Brian Ketcham's recent op-ed in the Daily News:

"The folks at Willets Point United hired me to investigate the traffic and transit implications of this project. I’m a transportation and environmental engineer with decades of experience. What I found was that the project would generate so much traffic that it would gridlock local access roads and surrounding expressways. I also found that the EDC environmental impact statement was replete with erroneous assumptions, bad data, and outright falsehoods.

The project has gone ahead nonetheless, and the EDC handed over the development rights — behind closed doors — to Sterling Equities, a $4.6 billion real estate company and owner of the New York Mets. Sterling Equities teamed with The Related Companies, one of New York’s richest and most powerful developers, to form the Queens Development Group, which became the final recipient of the development rights for Willets Point.

The project has required massive public subsidies: $250 million for 23 acres of land at the site; $35 million for sewer construction; more than $66 million for the construction of new highway ramps; almost $100 million in a grant of taxpayer funds to the Queens Development Group; $42 million in direct financial assistance to the developer-a total of $536 million ponied up by taxpayers.

Today, the threat of redevelopment and eminent domain seizure has already driven out many of the businesses that once thrived in the Willets Point neighborhood. Few of the displaced businesses have successfully relocated.

For this reason 33 owners of Willets Point businesses filed suit in February 2014 against the EDC, Sterling Equities, The Related Companies, and the Queens Development Group. The lawsuit alleges that “there was no lawful relocation plan for current commercial tenants,” that “the relocation assistance has been ineffective,” and that the city’s failure to implement a legitimate relocation plan is a violation of federal law.

Eliminating taxpayer support for a billionaire’s boondoggle like the Willets Point Project will not make much of a dent in the level of extreme inequality in New York City. But it would make a statement that it is time to take a stand and help the working poor defend against the depredations of the rich."

Rally against the Willets West shopping mall on public parkland


Video of full speakers' statements at last Saturday's rally opposing the "Willets West" mall on parkland. Provided by LoScalzo Media Design LLC; copyright 2014

Read about the rally at the Queens Chronicle's website.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fact-Checking the Wall Street Journal

Today's Wall Street Journal has a puff-piece announcing that certain Willets Point tenant businesses – members of the "Sunrise Cooperative" – will be relocating to a site in the Bronx.

What's interesting is that nowhere in the lengthy WSJ article is there any mention of the fact that Sunrise and its members had to resort to filing a lawsuit on February 4, 2014 against the City, NYCEDC and the developers, in order to force the City to assist as necessary in the Bronx deal. (Our take on that lawsuit is here.)

The Sunrise lawsuit asserts, among other things, that the City's failure to implement a meaningful relocation program violates federal law. The suit also argues that the court should "order the IDA to withdraw its financial award to the Developers since it failed to comply with its Uniform Tax Exemption Policy." The amount of that IDA financial award? A cool $43 million. It's easy to see why the Sunrise lawsuit focussed the City's attention and forced it to the table. Without the threat posed by that lawsuit, there would be no Bronx relocation.

As Sunrise leader Marco Neira recently told the Times Ledger newspaper: "We have to go through the court to get a settlement with them."

We think it's disingenuous of the WSJ to publish a lengthy article concerning the Sunrise relocation – including an excerpt of an interview with Sunrise's legal counsel – without reporting that a lawsuit was the necessary catalyst to the relocation deal.

Moreover, the WSJ states that "a group of 40 to 60 businesses has signed a lease" to move to the Bronx. And yet, the Sunrise Cooperative identified only 33 Sunrise members within the court papers filed for its lawsuit. And of those 33, several that we spoke with today said that they have NOT agreed to relocate to the Bronx, and that they were NOT informed that Sunrise signed any lease for a site in the Bronx.

We understand that last year, NYCEDC established a Co-Relocation Fund that offers up to $45,000.00 to each Willets Point tenant business that relocates together in a group of five or more to a common site. It seems to us that powers-that-be may be intending to pool funds that would be available to each Sunrise business under the Co-Relocation Fund, and use the combined amount to afford the Bronx lease deal. If that is the case, then it is significant that Sunrise members with whom we spoke today have not agreed to relocate to the Bronx, and have not agreed to pool any $45,000.00 to which they may be entitled. The slightest research by the WSJ or its reporter, Laura Kusisto, would have revealed that before going to press.

As with most Willets Point things, it seems to us that there is more going on here than meets the eye, or than has been reported by the WSJ. Other news outlets and the public are warned not to parrot everything they read, without questioning its accuracy.

We must add that, even presuming that 33 members of the Sunrise Cooperative would relocate to the Bronx, that is only a fraction – a third or less – of the total tenant businesses in Willets Point Phase One that need to be relocated. Relocation services provided to the Sunrise Cooperative, helpful though they may be, provide no relief whatsoever to the other tenant businesses, including members of the Willets Point Defense Committee led by Arturo Olaya – which recently held a news conference with New York State Senator Tony Avella to draw attention to the lack of relocation and ongoing evictions.


State Senator Tony Avella and members of the Willets Point Defense 
Committee hold a news conference concerning lack of relocation, 
February 28, 2014.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Willets Point Tenants Sue the City, NYCEDC and Developers

Sunrise Cooperative court Petition, cover page;
filed in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, February 4, 2014.
Thirty-three owners of businesses that are tenants at Willets Point, plus the Sunrise Cooperative umbrella group to which they belong, have sued the City of New York, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the New York City Industrial Development Agency (IDA), Sterling Equities, Inc. (Sterling), The Related Companies, Inc. (Related) and Queens Development Group, LLC (QDG).

The tenants' court Petition describes a very disturbing reality that contrasts with the rosy visions that NYCEDC and City Council member Julissa Ferreras have sought to put over on the public. Like the rally held by a different tenant business group on November 20, 2013, this lawsuit should help to set the record straight concerning many unpleasant aspects of QDG's proposed Willets Point / Willets West development.

In their lawsuit, the Sunrise Cooperative tenants state that "there was no lawful relocation plan for current commercial tenants," that "the relocation assistance has been ineffective" and that the City's failure to implement a legitimate relocation plan, including viable relocation properties, is a violation of federal law specifically, the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (the URA).

The lawsuit notes that the New York Daily News reported on September 3, 2013 "that only ten out of the approximately 110 businesses in Willets Point, or only 9 percent, had been successfully relocated." Burnishing the point, the lawsuit continues: "Despite receiving testimony from the Urban Justice Center and others stating that the relocation plan was inadequate, the EDC and Developers have not provided meaningful assistance to the Petitioners."

Here, we remind our readers that NYCEDC hired Cornerstone Group – and paid it taxpayer funds totaling $700,000.00 – to provide five years' worth of relocation services that have turned out to be "ineffective" and not "meaningful", as told to the court. We also remind everyone that State Senator Tony Avella called for a federal investigation of Cornerstone in relation to Willets Point, during a press conference held with another tenant group, the Willets Point Defense Committee, on November 20, 2013. Senator Avella did so again on February 28, 2014, as discussed below.

Event organized by the Sunrise Cooperative, August 2, 2013.
Sunrise Cooperative is now suing the City and developers.
The Sunrise Cooperative lawsuit also attacks the IDA's approval of tax credits in the amount of $43 million for developers Sterling, Related and QDG, alleging that IDA overlooked "the requirement that a project is only eligible for financial assistance from the agency if the assistance is needed to induce the developer into completing the project," which was not the case for these developers and the Willets Point / Willets West project. We remind everyone that then-Comptroller John Liu voted against the $43 million tax credits as a member of the IDA board. Our thoughts on those tax credits – and our list of the other significant project costs that are rarely reported – are here.

The Sunrise Cooperative Petition also argues that NYCEDC and the developers did not disclose to the City Council, prior to the Council's October 9, 2013 vote to approve special permits necessary to the project, that the developers were seeking tax credits totaling $43 from the IDA – and that as a result, the Council's decision to approve the permits "was made before the full cost of the project was apparent", and therefore unlawful.

Finally, the tenants' court papers echo many of the same arguments made by other Petitioners in the separate lawsuit filed on February 10, 2014, concerning the fact that Sterling, Related and QDG intend to construct a 1.4 million square foot shopping mall on 30+ acres of property that is actually parkland, within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park – without obtaining state parkland alienation legislation, without any public review of the sacrifice of parkland for the mall, and without obtaining City approvals of the same.

Considering the significance of all those allegations and what is at stake for the Sunrise Cooperative Petitioners, we have to wonder: Why did they file their lawsuit on February 4, 2014, and then essentially keep it a secret for the past month? As of right now, no newspaper has yet reported on the tenants' lawsuit. It has only been mentioned in an online article published on February 14, 2014, written by Patrick Arden. We know first-hand that at least one big daily newspaper is aware of this lawsuit, but has deliberately backed away from publishing anything about it. Could it be, that the Sunrise Cooperative is merely attempting to leverage its lawsuit, to compel the City, NYCEDC, Sterling, Related and QDG to pony up substantial funds to facilitate relocation?

As if to emphasize the absolute mistreatment of Willets Point tenant businesses at the hands of NYCEDC, last Friday, members of the Willets Point Defense Committee – which is led by Arturo Olaya, and is not a party to either of the two pending lawsuits – held a news conference together with State Senator Tony Avella in his office. There, the press heard more horror stories of evictions, failure to relocate, and Cornerstone Group's continuing involvement at Willets Point. Below is the press release prepared by Senator Avella's office. Taken together with the Sunrise Cooperative's court Petition, it's clear that there is no fair treatment of Willets Point tenant businesses, and that reports of their relocation are greatly exaggerated. Mayor De Blasio, are you listening?

WILLETS POINT BUSINESSES STILL
LEFT IN THE DARK BY THE CITY

Senator Avella stands with Willets Point Tenants
to urge the City to reach an agreement

(Bayside, Queens, Friday, February 28, 2014) Today, Senator Tony Avella joined Willets Point tenant businesses who have not vacated from the premises, at a press conference urging the City of New York to come to an agreement and end their plight once and for all.   

The business owners shared individual stories of being shunned by City agencies involved in the disagreement.  

Many tenant businesses have not agreed to the deal proposed by the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) earlier last year due to minimal compensation offered, which does not even begin to cover the high relocation costs.

Since then, the businesses have joined together under the leadership of Arturo Olaya, a business tenant who has lead the fight in trying to come to a mutual agreement to safely relocate, in demanding that the City allocate better funding for the Willets Point tenant re-location. Unfortunately, not only has the City ignored their requests, some businesses continue to be shut down by the City Marshal without compensation or any resolution in sight.

 “Some of my members do not have money to bring home and feed their families,” said Olaya.  “The City promised to relocate every business but many people are getting shut out of the process.  They expect us to move our entire businesses for $12,000 and then $6,000.  That is not enough money. What business can move with such a small amount? Now many businesses have been forced to close their doors, without any money at all.”

“Even though the City promised some money for the relocation, it was insufficient and at times, not forthcoming for these business who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Senator Avella.  “To make matters worse, the City marshal started showing up and padlocking some of these business. This is unacceptable.  The City is planning to give this property over to the developers, who could make a hundred million dollars, but yet they cannot take care of the hard working businesses that have been there for many years.  This really a disgrace.”

Ms. Tana Quillupangui, speaking on behalf of her mother who owns a business “Emanuel Corp” recalled when the City forced them to move out everything on January 1st despite having no place to go.

“They lied to my mother many times.  They told her that there are a lot of places in Queens where she can go but the reality is, there is no space in Queens for her,” said Quillupangui. “The City said that there is a place available for $1,800 a month.  When we went to see it, we found out that the space was not even for sale.” 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Lawsuit Filed


Willets Point United Inc. (WPU) is pleased by City Club of New York filing a lawsuit in state supreme court asserting that it is illegal to construct a 1.4 million square foot "Willets West" mall on 30+ acres of Queens parkland, as intended by Queens Development Group (a joint venture of Sterling Equities and Related Companies), and to do so without obtaining state parkland alienation legislation and without obtaining approval specifically for the mall through the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP); as well as challenging the special permits that were granted to convert Willets Point into a parking lot to replace parking lost to the Willets West mall, when that mall may be illegal. Together with State Senator Tony Avella, advocacy groups, residents and business owners, WPU members are Petitioners in the case. We are also proud to have furnished WPU's institutional knowledge to City Club's legal team.

We want to remind everyone that whenever the dubious legality of constructing a 1.4 million square foot mall on public parkland was questioned, the Bloomberg administration responded by saying, in essence: "Don't worry – the legality of this has been vetted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Mayor's Office. The mall construction can proceed because of a 1961 amendment to the City's Administrative Code, done to facilitate Shea Stadium."

We simply do not trust any self-serving claim of NYCEDC or the Bloomberg administration, that this mall construction is legal. After all, those are the very same people who:

•   Believed it was legal for NYCEDC to lobby for legislation authorizing the Willets Point development, and for NYCEDC to funnel $450,000 to Claire Shulman's local development corporation so that it, too, would lobby – until the NYS Attorney General (acting on WPU's complaint) determined that NYCEDC and Shulman's lobbying activities were absolutely illegal, then forced NYCEDC to undergo corporate re-structuring and Shulman's group to cease and desist all illegal lobbying. (See "EDC and Shulman's development group admit to illegal lobbying: AG")

•   Promised in writing that the Queens-based Willets Point Advisory Committee would participate in and help to guide developer selection – then violated that promise by instituting a closed-door process that completely shut out the Advisory Committee, and proceeding to select QDG and its plan to construct a mall on 30+ acres of Queens parkland and to expand the proposed Willets Point development from 62 acres to 108.9 acres.

•   Promised in writing that the Willets Point Request for Proposals would include a living wage provision as sought by labor unions – then violated that promise by issuing a Request for Proposals that omitted the promised living wage provision.

•   Told everyone that developing Willets Point in phases was virtually impossible – then proceeded to divide the project into phases and issue a Request for Proposals for "Phase One".

•   Promised that eminent domain would only be used as a last resort – then commenced eminent domain proceedings against owners of properties within Phase One, before exhausting negotiation possibilities (or in some cases, before conducting any negotiation, whatsoever).

•   Deliberately produced two irreconcilable traffic reports pertaining to the Willets Point project – one to be seen by City officials, and another to be seen by state and federal regulators.

•   Told everyone that the Willets Point project would result in Queens jobs – then awarded the $35+ million contract for construction of storm water and sanitary sewers not to a firm based anywhere in Queens, not anywhere in New York City, and not even anywhere in New York State – but rather, in Holmdel, New Jersey.

•   Told everyone that the Willets Point project would result in housing and affordable housing – then made any housing contingent upon new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps, and executed a project contract that states, "For the avoidance of doubt, in no event shall EDC or the City be required to construct the Ramps as part of the Development."

•   Told everyone that a key goal of the project is to remediate Willets Point property – then allowed QDG to submit a brownfield application to NYSDEC that deliberately omitted numerous City-owned properties within Phase One that could have been included in the application, including property that by QDG's own reasoning should be most in need of remediation.

Can we say "bad faith"?

From our perspective, it seems clear that the Bloomberg administration and NYCEDC would say whatever was necessary at the moment, in order to progress their Willets Point development – and the truth be damned. This has already been proven time and again, after the fact, as the above examples demonstrate.

WPU is confident that the administration's and NYCEDC's claim – that a 1961 amendment to the City's Administrative Code that was implemented for Shea Stadium can suffice as the sole basis to construct a "Willets West" shopping mall on Queens parkland, with no public review – will turn out to be just as bogus and unreliable as the administration's and NYCEDC's other past false claims pertaining to the Willets Point project. We look forward to the court's scrutiny and decision.

In our view, City Club of New York, Senator Avella, the lawyers and everyone else involved in promulgating this lawsuit are doing a service for all of Queens, by asserting rights over the 30+ acres of parkland that is at issue – parkland that former Mayor Bloomberg simply dictated would be sacrificed to developer QDG (Sterling Equities and Related Companies). For his part, the present Mayor de Blasio should let it be known whether or not he supports the sacrifice of 30+ acres of Queens parkland to developers – not to mention the give-away of 23 acres of Willets Point Phase One property to the same developers for the price of $1 (one dollar), also as orchestrated by former Mayor Bloomberg.

We suggest that as he recently did with the "stop-and-frisk" lawsuit, Mayor de Blasio should direct the City's Law Department to not defend against the present lawsuit challenging the Willets West mall. Furthermore, Mayor de Blasio should direct NYCEDC to cease and desist any further sale of Phase One property to QDG, until we know the final outcome of the pending lawsuit – which may be that QDG cannot proceed with its intended development. For all we know right now, depending on the result of the pending lawsuit, it may eventually be in the City's best interest to go back to the drawing board with Willets Point and issue a new Request for Proposals, soliciting all potential developers, not just QDG. Under the circumstances, selling any Phase One property to QDG right now is nonsensical. Mayor de Blasio should also call a halt to the unnecessary, ongoing evictions of tenant businesses from Willets Point Phase One. 

Indeed, considering the free property, parkland, tax credits and grants that former Mayor Bloomberg arranged to be lavished upon QDG, while long-time Willets Point tenant business are evicted with little or no compensation or relocation, and property owners threatened with eminent domain, Mayor de Blasio should recognize that what was set in motion by his predecessor at Willets Point is a poster-child for the "Tale of Two Cities" that candidate de Blasio vowed to stop. And Mayor de Blasio should act accordingly now at Willets Point, and in responding to the present lawsuit.

In the event that our new Mayor decides to proceed with this misguided project, he should beware that there is a six year statute of limitations for anyone to sue to prevent construction of the new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps, without which housing and affordable housing cannot be built at Willets Point. It is not just the present lawsuit that may be this project's undoing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Willets Developers Seek $42 Million IDA Corporate Welfare

Total project cost to City taxpayers balloons to $536 million

Tomorrow, December 5, 2013, the New York City Industrial Development Agency ("IDA") will hold a public hearing to consider an application by the joint venture of Sterling Equities and Related Companies – known as "Queens Development Group, LLC" ("QDG") – for IDA to authorize more "financial assistance" to QDG.

The additional financial assistance that QDG is seeking for its Willets Point / Willets West mall development will cost the City $42,645,802, and according to the public hearing notice, includes "payments in lieu of City real property taxes with respect to the WP Parking Facility and exemptions from City and State mortgage recording taxes with respect to mortgages recorded to secure financing for the WP West Retail Facility, the Hotel Facility, the WP Retail Facility and the Parking Facility."

Given that the IDA board of directors consists of such people as Kyle E. Kimball (a Bloomberg appointee who also happens to be the President of NYCEDC, the agency responsible for promulgating the Willets Point development), Amanda M. Burden (a Bloomberg appointee who also happens to be the Chair of the Department of City Planning, which approved the Willets Point development) and Michael A. Cardozo (New York City's Corporation Counsel and legal counsel to Mayor Bloomberg, whose legacy involves Willets Point), we anticipate IDA rubber-stamping QDG's application for the $42 million with no serious consideration of denying the application, and no serious analysis of the actual costs versus benefits of QDG's Willets Point / Willets West project.

In fact, the City has never publicly offered any comprehensive accounting of the actual costs to City taxpayers of implementing the Willets Point / Willets West mall development.

To the contrary: A "Cost/Benefit Analysis" document published by IDA in connection with tomorrow's public hearing claims that the financial "benefit" to the City of the QDG project over a 25-year period will be $211 million – but the only costs identified by IDA are the $42 million worth of financial assistance that is presently sought by QDG. This creates the false impression that the QDG project will result in a net benefit to the City over 25 years of $169 million – but that is demonstrably not the case, when all of the actual costs to the City of the QDG project are properly taken into account. Indeed, the actual costs vastly outweigh the $211 million alleged benefit, making the QDG project a losing proposition for City taxpayers.

Below we are summarizing the major costs to City taxpayers of QDG's Willets Point / Willets West mall development. To our knowledge, this is the first time that all of these costs have been compiled and publicly presented at once so that the total cost can be understood. All of the following costs are missing from the "Cost/Benefit Analysis" document published by IDA.

Value of City-Owned 23 Acres / Willets Point Phase One Property . . . . . $250,470,000+
On information and belief, the City has spent on average at least $250 per square foot to acquire Willets Point property (and in some cases, many times more than that). The Phase One area consists of roughly 23 acres, or 1,001,880 square feet. Therefore, a fair estimate of the cost incurred by the City to acquire the Willets Point Phase One property is at least $250,470,000. In 2008, the City Council was told that the City would recoup the cost of the property through the eventual sale to the developer. Now, instead, the City intends to gift the Phase One property to QDG for the price of $1 (one dollar). Nowhere has this price ever been justified.

Sewer Construction Cost . . . . . $35,572,000+
The City is currently constructing storm water and sanitary sewer lines – and incurring the associated costs – specifically to facilitate re-development of Willets Point and thus the IDA Project. The Request for Proposals for the sewer construction work describes the project as "126th Street Outfall and Sanitary Sewer Reconstruction projects for the EDC's Willets Point Development Plan".

Van Wyck Expressway Access Ramps Construction Cost . . . . . $66,000,000+
The new access ramps are prerequisites for any construction of "Phase 1B" of the IDA Project, and are components of the project. The IDA Project cannot be completed unless the access ramps are constructed, first. The City incurs the cost of constructing the access ramps. "$66 million in the City's budget will be allocated for the design, construction and buildout of the new ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway." – Council Member Julissa Ferreras' statement during City Council Stated Meeting, October 9, 2013.

Grant of Taxpayer Funds to QDG . . . . . $99,000,000
Per the project contract between QDG and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, "the City will provide the Joint Venture with a capital grant for the Development in the amount of up to $99,990,000 (the “Capital Grant”) which the Joint Venture will apply to reimbursement of the Joint Venture’s cost of the items set forth on Exhibit 'E' and Schedule '4' hereto". – Amended and Restated Purchase and Sale Agreement dated August 1, 2012; section 13.1.

Loss of Real Estate Taxes Previously Paid by Willets Point Phase One Property Owners . . . . . $42,500,000+
A conservative estimate of the real estate taxes paid collectively by the previous private owners of Willets Point Phase One property is $1,700,000 per year. Even without allowing for inflation, taxes that the City would have collected over a 25- year period from those same property owners would have totaled $42,500,00.

The subtotal of all of the above-identified costs to City taxpayers is $493,542,000.

When added to the $42,645,802 financial assistance that QDG is presently seeking from IDA, the grand total cost to City taxpayers is $536,187,802.

The actual total cost of $536,187,802 vastly outweighs the $211,993,947 alleged projected "benefit" to the City. In fact, the QDG Willets Point / Willets West mall project will result in a net loss to City taxpayers of $324,193,855 – nearly a third of a billion dollars. The only beneficiaries here are the developers.

Moreover, just as the costs to the City identified by IDA are incomplete and misleading, the alleged projected "benefits" – $211,993,947 – are suspect. For example, the projected benefit to the City includes $23,593,087 attributed to the "Impact of Construction Activity". It must be noted, however, that when it came time to award the contract for construction of storm water and sanitary sewers for the Willets Point development plan, NYCEDC awarded that contract not to any firm based in Queens, in New York City, or even in New York State. Instead, NYCEDC awarded the contract to a firm located in Holmdel, New Jersey – thus sending $35,572,000+ out of state and failing to deliver purported benefits to New York City. Nothing prevents a similar circumstance from occurring again, such that the projected $23,593,087 benefit to the City which IDA attributes to the "Impact of Construction Activity" will not materialize.

Our information above demonstrates that QDG's Willets Point / Willets West mall development will result in a net loss to City taxpayers of nearly a third of a billion dollars – but unfortunately the losses are not capped at that amount, and will be even worse. For example, we have not discussed the cost to the City that results from waiving collection of fair market rent from QDG for its use of the 30.7-acre parkland property site to operate its 1.4 million square foot Willets West mall; nor have we discussed the City granting QDG an exemption from sales tax totaling $20 million on construction work; nor have we discussed the tax credits that QDG will enjoy as a result of the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program.

In our opinion, the City's failure to publicly account for all costs of QDG's Willets Point / Willets West mall development is a continuation of the pattern of deceptive and even illegal activity of NYCEDC and the City administration in promulgating the proposed Willets Point development. That activity has included:

Unlawful lobbying by NYCEDC, and unlawful lobbying by the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation, an entity funded by NYCEDC as well as by the Mets (whose owners also own Sterling Equities, which is one half of QDG), as formally determined by the New York State Office of the Attorney General;

Informing the City Council that the high cost of Willets Point property acquisition would be recouped through the sale to the developer, then reneging and instead gifting the property to QDG for $1 (one dollar);

Agreeing in writing with the New York City Central Labor Council to include a living wage provision in the Willets Point Request for Proposals, then reneging and issuing a Request for Proposals without the agreed provision;

Professing in writing that the Queens-based Willets Point Advisory Committee would "participate in" and "help to guide" developer selection, then reneging and dictating the selection of QDG – and its proposal which requires the sacrifice of 30.7 acres of Queens' public parkland to QDG – behind closed doors, while rejecting three other proposals that respected the specifications of the Request for Proposals and required no parkland;

QDG agreeing in writing "to alert [Queens Community Board 7] when all applications are made to NYSDEC", then reneging and submitting its Brownfield Cleanup Program application to NYSDEC without informing the Community Board. Indeed, the Community Board was unaware of the application throughout the entire public comment period, which has since ended. Significantly, QDG has omitted numerous City-owned Willets Point properties from its brownfield application, including properties whose former uses are exactly the type which QDG and NYCEDC insist require remediation;

Touting the affordable housing component of the Willets Point development, then entering into a contract with QDG that delays any housing until at least the year 2025; makes the housing contingent upon new Van Wyck access ramps that no one is contractually obligated to build; and provides an opt-out clause, such that QDG may pay a cost-of-doing-business penalty and build no housing.

Willets Point United Inc. has submitted written comments to IDA conveying all of the above. The bottom line: Apparently development of Willets Point is only financially viable for QDG if it receives corporate welfare from taxpayers in excess of $536,187,802 – and even then, the alleged "benefits" of the QDG project do not offset that cost. The only explanation we see for nonetheless proceeding with this project is patricianage, as we have written previously. Officials are abdicating their fiduciary responsibility to New York City taxpayers, and we will continue to expose and oppose this.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WPU Road Trip to Property Rights Conference Nets Surprise Awards

Willets Point United ("WPU") members Irene Prestigiacomo and Joseph Adizzone were each presented with the Grassroots Leadership Award by the Property Rights Foundation of America ("PRFA") during its annual conference, held this year in Latham, New York. The awards are in recognition of their "Dedication to Preserving the Business Community of Willets Point, New York". In addition, Queens-based documentary video producer Robert LoScalzo, who has been tracking the Willets Point story since 2007, received PRFA's Fourteenth Annual Private Property Rights Advocate Award in recognition of his "Dedication to the Preservation of Human Rights Guaranteed in the United States Constitution".


Willets Point property owner and WPU member Irene Prestigiacomo accepts PRFA Grassroots Leadership Award.

2013 is the fourth consecutive year that WPU members have travelled north of Albany to deliver a presentation during the PRFA conference, which is attended by property owners, civic leaders, scholars, attorneys and others. PRFA (http://prfamerica.org) is a national, grassroots, New York-based not-profit organization dedicated to the right to own and use private property in all its fullness as guaranteed in the United States Constitution. In 2011, PRFA submitted a friend-of-the-court Amicus legal brief in support of WPU in our court case opposing the City's attempt to use eminent domain to forcibly acquire Willets Point property (a case that ended with the City agreeing not to proceed under its eminent domain Determination and Findings, as WPU wanted). This year, PRFA President Carol LaGrasse travelled to New York City to testify in opposition to the Willets Point development / Willets West mall on parkland, at the City Council on September 3, 2013.


PRFA President Carol LaGrasse (center) testifies at New York City Council, September 3, 2013. Joseph Ardizzone visible at left wearing Revolutionary War officer's uniform.

Robert G. Prentiss, former New York State Assemblyman, presented the awards on behalf of PRFA to individuals he described as "true champions of 'property rights for the people'". No one was told in advance who the recipients would be, so Prentiss' revelation of each award was a surprise.

In announcing the award to WPU's Irene Prestigiacomo, Pretiss said, "It is one thing to fight for others, staying in the background or when you are not personally threatened. But it is another thing when you stand up, and keep standing up, not just to fight for your own property, but to battle for your friends and neighbors when they are threatened – with the threat raised high by the tactics of the most powerful people in the government of the City of New York. This is what the gracious lady Irene Prestigiacomo has been doing."

Prentiss described Prestigiacomo's actions at Willets Point, speeches at prior PRFA conferences, and testimony to the City Planning Commission and to the City Council opposing "the radical plan to wipe out the [Willets Point] community for a parking lot".

Prentiss introduced award recipient Joseph Ardizzone as "the only resident of Willets Point" who "truly cares for the community and speaks with clarion impact, illustrating with his own person dressed as a Revolutionary War officer how our Constitutionally-protected rights were won so hard by the patriots over two centuries ago."


Willets Point property owner and WPU member Joseph Ardizzone in City Hall, Council chambers.

Ardizzone "has not only stood for Willets Point, but has stood with others in the City where wealthy interests such as Columbia University utilized eminent domain against neighborhood businesses. When a rally was held at the Court of Appeals because the fate of the businesses in the area west of Columbia University was being decided, he staunchly stood before the crowd and spoke for the rights of the people."

Prestigiacomo and Ardizzone were very surprised and humbled to receive the PRFA awards to enthusiastic and lengthy applause.


Ovation as WPU members receive PRFA awards.

Willets Point property owner, resident and WPU member Joseph Ardizzone accepts PRFA Grassroots Leadership Award.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Prestigiacomo at the podium. "I'm truly blessed with the people that I've met and that I've come to know. I continue to fight because I have a passion, like you do, for what's happening in this country, let alone what's happening in New York, with our constitutional rights."

Ardizzone, who is especially outraged by Mayor Michael Bloomberg dictating the sacrifice of 40+ acres of public Queens parkland for construction of the Willets West mall, remarked: "Thank you everyone that's here, to see what's actually going on in this country. Our rights are being taken away from us. I'm totally against that. We should continue fully and wholeheartedly, and do the best we can, to preserve the rights of the American citizens."

WPU is very proud that our members and their efforts have been recognized by PRFA with these Grassroots Leadership Awards.

In Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York City, the principles of private property unfortunately are not honored and such awards are unheard of – but thankfully, that is not the case everywhere. We are gratified by our strong relationship with PRFA and by its support for our ongoing opposition to the Willets Point development / Willets West mall on parkland.


WPU members Irene Prestigiacomo and Joseph Ardizzone outside the annual PRFA conference, 2010.