Sunday, May 31, 2009

Clearing the air about recent developments

Much ado has been made about the letters that the Willets Point businesses were supposed to receive last Thursday notifying us that a hearing pursuant to NYS Eminent Domain Procedure Law would be held this upcoming June 22nd.


No one at the Iron Triangle received these letters this past Thursday or Friday. We're sure we'll get them eventually, but not when the EDC said we would. This is yet another blow to their credibility.

Seth Pinsky himself stated multiple times in front of a roomful of people on April 6th (pictured) that the EDC would rather negotiate than invoke eminent domain. And in his press releases, he always says the same thing: “We will continue to work with the remaining land owners and businesses as we move forward with our plans to transform this blighted area into a center of economic opportunity and job creation and a 21st century neighborhood.” Yet...

First, let's not forget that Mayor Bloomberg himself stated that "it's not fair to say it's blighted."

The EDC called most of the property owners and told them that they would not be negotiating with them for at least a year (not enough money is available at this time to negotiate with everyone).

The EDC waited 5 months after the City Council's November 13th vote to make deals with 2 property owners in the part of the Triangle that is eyed for development in the first phase. No other deals have been made during this period of time.

No members of Willets Point United have made deals since formation of the group in January of this year and none of us have been called by EDC to do so.

The City Council vehemently stated that eminent domain was not to be used until all other options were exhausted and not against a majority of property owners. Thus far, only a handful of property owners have made deals to stay, move or sell. Councilman John Liu brought this up recently when asked by a reporter.

There are two current legal actions that affect us - one which our members brought that challenges the environmental review findings produced by the EDC and the other by WPIRA against the City for failing to provide general services like roads, sewers and sanitation to the Triangle for many years. These decisions, with their inevitable appeals, will likely take years.

The EDC can send out all the press releases it wants and do their best to harass the hardworking business people of Willets Point; it's blatantly obvious that we will be staying where we are for a very long time because the City has chosen to act in bad faith.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bloomberg & Shulman: Willets Point land "too valuable" for current owners

From a 2005 article from New York News Network:

Some of the same sources of power that Robert Moses wielded, if a bit revised, are now being deployed...

Most of the waterfront property along the Flushing River is owned by the MTA, with most of the balance of Willets Point privately owned.

In the Ratner and Willets Point projects, the City may use its power of eminent domain to seize the territory. Mayor Bloomberg has even suggested that the Willets Point property is too valuable to leave to the smaller scale businesses now occupying the land.

This attitude was criticized by the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Upcoming is the battle over Willets Point where the mayor’s observation that “the land is too valuable for the businesses that are on it” should be seen as an apt expression of his economic development policies vis-à-vis small business.

The Times Ledger carried the following quote back in November 2007:

"I believe they deserve to be in business. I believe they should be relocated. But I also believe they are sitting on one of the most valuable pieces of property in the city," [Claire] Shulman said.

Too valuable for us? Well, we bought it legally. If they really wanted growth at Willets Point, they would have provided infrastructure here which would have allowed businesses to expand and thrive. After all, Shulman had 8 years as Borough President to do so and Bloomberg had another 8 years as Mayor to do so. But they would rather see one of their rich developer friends get richer.

What do you have against property rights, Mayor Bloomberg and Claire Shulman? What if we said that your property was too valuable for you to own? You'd fight us, right? Of course you would. So you can't blame us for fighting against your greedy land grab.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sewer charges for Willets Point property owners?

Ralph Paterno at Willets Point cleanup

From the Daily News:

Ralph Paterno, a general contractor and Queens property owner, is irritated more than most over water and sewer charges.

“My property is in Willets Point and we have no sewers there, so how can there be sewer charges?” he fumed. “The DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] read my meter for the first time in three years and they back-charged me $3,000. I’m going to fight it.”

Sewer charges when we don't have sewers! How outrageous is this? And socking us with huge tax bills in the middle of an economic downturn... Where were they the past 3 years?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bloomberg cuts off Ratner's money pipeline

Excerpt from "Bloomy to Bruce: Enough already," by Mike McLaughlin of The Brooklyn Paper (May 21, 2009):

Mayor Bloomberg dealt Bruce Ratner a blow on Wednesday, saying that the city would not subsidize the Atlantic Yards project with additional public funds.

The city has already pledged $230 million for infrastructure and land-acquisition costs at the embattled arena and skyscraper project — but Bloomberg dashed Ratner’s hopes for more.

“We’ve done everything,” he said in response to a reporter’s question at his daily availability on Wednesday. “We’re going to have a tough time balancing our budget.”

The mayor did add that the city needs the project, but said, “We’re not putting money in. We’re going to invest our money in better schools and in safer streets and in better parks and everything else.”

So why not do the same thing at Willets Point? Invest in streets and sewers and let development take care of itself.

Photo from The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Norman Siegel vs. Columbia University

From Atlantic Yards Report:

Lawyers representing two property owners resisting the use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion maintained a passionate argument in appellate court yesterday, calling the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) actions in bad faith and seeing an ESDC lawyer clearly on the defensive before two clearly skeptical judges.

“Nobody’s opposed to Columbia expanding. They’re opposed to eminent domain,” attorney Norman Siegel said in his closing remarks before a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department. “The [skeptical] questions [from the Court] I hope will reflect the decision.”

Harlem State Senator Bill Perkins, speaking after the hearing on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, at 25th Street and Madison Avenue, was blunt: “It looks like Columbia’s going to lose.”

From Perkins' lips to God's ears... WP United members were present at the hearing yesterday and Siegel's argument was nothing short of brilliant. The state couldn't answer the judges' questions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

2005: The year Wilpon turned on us

Excerpt from "Willets Point's last man standing defiantly," May 1, 2007, AM-NY:

At first, the Willets Point community thought it needed to fear only the city, which would seek to condemn the land they live and work on as an environmental hazard, seize it under eminent domain and then sell it off to a real estate developer.

Now they realize their enemy is not only the city but the Mets.

"Since 1994, Fred Wilpon told us, 'We've co-existed with you for 40 years and we can continue to co-exist with you,' " said Richard Musick, the spokesman for the Willets Point Business Association. "But about two years ago, he stopped returning our phone calls."

Yesterday, the other shoe dropped. At a meeting with politicians at Tully Construction on Northern Boulevard, city councilman Thomas White Jr. passed along the bad news: Wilpon had changed his mind. "He said, 'The junkyards gotta go,'" White told the group.

Since that time, Wilpon has lost $500 million to Bernie Madoff. Some call it bad luck. We call it karma.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oil found at Flushing Airport site

Oil has been found at the Flushing Airport site, the EDC has no intention of cleaning it up properly and the chair of CB7 says it doesn't bode well for the massive Willets Point cleanup:

CB 7 Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian...said he is equally skeptical of the city’s response and criticized the EDC for not briefing the board on what had been found during the course of work on Linden Place.

“I just want this stuff removed and I want it removed right,” Apelian said. “If this is the litmus test of the agency’s integrity, then what are they going to do when they go to clean up Willets Point?”

Photo and excerpt from the Times Ledger.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Harassment by City continues at Willets Point

On Thursday afternoon, a City ticket officer issued a $115 ticket for a legally parked truck on 127th Place near 34th Avenue belonging to Bono Sawdust Supply. Pictured is company co-owner Jack Bono questioning the officer as to why a ticket is being written. The reply he received was, "Because I don't like your boss." When the argument persisted, the officer ended it by saying, "It's up to you to prove that this is a bogus ticket."

This is the same ticket officer who threatened to have the police confiscate a Willets Point business owner's cell phone after it was used to take a photo which was featured in this post.

"First, the City threatens to take my land, now I have to fight their B.S. tickets because their ticket officer doesn't like me," said Jake Bono, spokesperson for WP United.

Bono is considering filing formal complaints with the City's Department of Transportation and the Department of Investigations.

"Next time, I'll have a video camera," Jake said.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The last resident of Willets Point fights to stay

Iron Triangle Tracker spotlights WP United member Joe Ardizzone, the last resident of Willets Point.

Last week, as Community Board 7 gave its blessing to move five of his fellow Willets Point landowners to College Point, Joe Ardizzone sat silently and watched.

For the work-worn resident of Willets Point — the only person who still lives in the industrial business community — the board’s monthly ritual is nothing new.

For the better part of the last two years, Ardizzone has been a fixture at community board meetings, press conferences, rallies and anything else involving Willets Point. And in speaking to him, one might call him a glutton for punishment.

“They say this is a democracy,” he said, as he calmly left the meeting, clad in a ruffled wool sweater. “I used to believe that.”

Joe was born in Willets Point in the 1930s and has been living here ever since. Although the fight is costing him his life savings, he fights on principle because, like the rest of us, he believes in the American principle of property rights and doesn't think he should have to sell or move to accommodate a developer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Where will EDC relocate businesses to?

This week's Whitestone Times contains an article by Stephen Stirling about the discriminatory nature of the Flushing Airport deal made with Community Board 7.

Property owners said this week that a city pledge to bar Willets Point businesses from future development at Flushing Airport is discriminatory, although the city Economic Development Corp. says it never planned to move businesses to the former airstrip in the first place.

Last week, the EDC struck a compromise with Community Board 7 leadership on its future plans for the College Point Corporate Park, which includes the former airport.

The city not only agreed to permanently protect eight acres of the 25−acre Flushing Airport site from any major development, but also added a stipulation that no Willets Point businesses would be moved to the remaining 17 acres in the future.

“I think it’s discriminatory,” said Jerry Antonacci, co−owner of Crown Container Co. and president of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse. “I think they have no right to say that and I think it’s foolish to say that.”

Reached for comment, the EDC said the Flushing Airport site has never been seriously eyed as a relocation point for Willets Point businesses, despite rumors to the contrary.

The EDC said even if development is possible on the remaining 17 acres, putting infrastructure in place to sustain development would likely be an expensive and lengthy process, which it said would not accommodate near−term relocations from Willets Point.

Antonacci noted, however, that the EDC has previously said the amount of city−owned land that can accommodate industrial and manufacturing uses, like those at Willets Point, is small and cautioned that shrinking the limited inventory of sites is short−sighted.

“They already admitted they have no land. And if they just took this land off the table, what are you going to do?” he said. “I think it’s going to come back and bite them.”

Friday, May 1, 2009

EDC running out of land for relocation

This comes from the Iron Triangle Tracker:

After being presented with the city’s concessions, CB 7 promptly voted 40-0 to allow five Willets Point businesses — Sambucci Bros. Auto Salvage, Flushing Towing, T. Mina Building Supply Co., Met Metals and Feinstein Ironworks — to the more-than-500-acre plot and move asphalt plant Cofire Paving Corp. to a new location.

The deal was hailed as a major victory by CB 7 members but has been panned by Willets Point business leaders who worry that the city does not have enough land available to relocate the more than 200 businesses who have not struck deals with the city.

“I think it’s discriminatory,” said Jerry Antonacci, co-owner of Crown Container Co. and president of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse. “I think they have no right to say that and I think it’s foolish to say that.”

The EDC said even if development is possible on the remaining 17 acres, putting infrastructure in place to sustain development will likely be an expensive and lengthy process — which it said would not accomodate near-term relocations from Willets Point.

Antonacci noted, however, that the EDC has previously said the amount of city-owned land that can accommodate industrial and manufacturing uses like those at Willets Point is small, and said taking any land off the table is short-sighted.

“They already admitted they have no land. And if they just took this land off the table, whatre you going to do?” he said. “I think it’s going to come back and bite them.”