Friday, May 28, 2010

Ben Haber calls out Gene Kelty

Let Kelty explain Willets Pt. stand
Thursday, May 27, 2010, Times Ledger

Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, was only “75 percent happy” with the city’s plan to relocate three large Willets Point businesses to College Point (“Willets Pt. relocation OK’d,” Flushing Times, May 13-19).

Presumably the missing 25 percent is related to Kelty’s need to have greater recourse in the manner in which the businesses are run to ensure they do not become “bad neighbors.” Under Kelty’s management, CB 7 had no trouble supporting the city’s Willets Point plan to destroy hundreds of small businesses and throw to the winds their thousands of employees and families for the benefit of a private, for-profit real estate developer that made him 100 percent happy.

That Kelty had no concern about the 100 percent unhappiness caused by the destruction of hundreds of small, Willets Point businesses and the loss of a livelihood by their thousands of employees and their families qualifies Kelty, Borough President Helen Marshall and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his lackeys at the city Economic Development Corp. the true bad neighbors.

Benjamin M. Haber

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"A land grab by the elite"

From the NY Post:

Next Tuesday, New York's highest court will hear the state's appeal of the decision last December preventing the use of eminent domain in order to forcibly take my family's property and give it to Columbia University, an elite private institution.

Columbia covets my property so it can add it to the rest of 17 acres in the Manhattanville area of West Harlem where it has decided to build a brand new campus.

A lot rides on how the court decides the case. In a little noticed section of the decision, Judge James Catterson ruled against the state's use of eminent domain on the grounds that Columbia's expansion is not a "civic project." The judge agreed with us that a private university doesn't constitute facilities for a "civic project."

A designation that a development is a "civic project" allows the state to "take" people's homes and businesses and add their land to certain specific types of projects. In the past, the courts have routinely held that "civic projects" should include significant public use of the facilities. Examples include a public park, a convention center, even a professional sports arena -- and, of course, a public school.

Never, however, has a court allowed eminent domain to be used purely for the benefit of a private school, college or university. And New York statutes nowhere make any specific reference to allowing this use of state power exclusively for an expansion of a private school.

As the judge noted, "Columbia is virtually the sole beneficiary of the project. This alone is reason to invalidate the condemnation especially where, as here, the public benefit is incrementally incidental to the private benefits of the project."

In short, as a matter of New York law, there is simply no precedent for designating a private university's project a "civic project."

If the Court of Appeals overturns this ruling, it could very well open the floodgates, for the first time ever, of excessive and aggressive expansions by any wealthy, well-connected private school. You could find yourself losing your home or business, wholly against your will, merely because the private school next door wants to build a larger gym or a new cafeteria. This is wrong.

Nick Sprayregen is the president of Tuck- It-Away Self Storage.

WPU will be sending representatives to the rallies and press conferences planned for June 1st in Albany.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fighting blight designations

From Fox 5:

From Brooklyn to Long Branch, New Jersey, attorneys representing private citizens have been challenging a state's right to take control of a property for public use.

Historically, few challenges were made to the eminent domain law as it involved the creation of railways, expanded public facilites, etc. But in recent years there has been an increase in legal challenges to the law when 'blight' is used as the primary reason by the state for a takeover.

On Friday, Good Day NY spoke with Attorney Bill Ward who has represented property owners in Long Branch.

"The eminent domain process is subect to abuse. Where the controversy comes in is in redevelopment projects under the Local Redevelopment Housing Law (in NJ) that says certain areas of a city are blighted," Ward told co-host Rosanna Scotto.

"What I would like to see is the state legislature tighten the definition of blighted and eminent domain."

In 2005, following a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the states in an eminent domain case, more than 30 reformed their eminent domain laws.

Another great letter courtesy of Ben Haber

Letter to the Times Ledger:

City Comptroller John Liu is to be commended for his audit of the city Economic Development Corp. and, if he is correct, the EDC has been shortchanging the city to the tune of millions of dollars (“Liu finds EDC owes city more than $125M,” Flushing Times, May 6-12).

Lest the public be confused, it must be noted that while the EDC is a city agency, funds improperly withheld by it belong to the city’s general fund and would be available for general city purposes. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a similar argument recently in connection to funds collected by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Bloomberg will, of course, make no complaint about the EDC because he approves, if not dictates, what it pursues. The purpose of the EDC as it has operated under the Bloomberg administration is not to create economic growth for the benefit of city residents, but for Bloomberg’s fat cat real estate friends.

The EDC has no interest in the poor, the middle class and the small business owner. A case in point is the EDC’s grant to former Borough President Claire Shulman’s group of $450,000, which has raised questions as to whether it was improperly being used to lobby City Council members to support the mayor’s and the EDC’s plan to destroy the many small Willets Point businesses for the benefit of a private real estate interest.

The time has come to recognize the EDC does not exist as a city agency charged with pursuing that which benefits all city residents, but as a group endowed with taxpayer funds which it uses for the benefit of real estate interests. The EDC must be overhauled with the public having a meaningful say in its operations.

If that cannot be accomplished, the agency should be abolished.

Benjamin M. Haber

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Don't let the door hit you on the way out...

From the NY Times:

Robert C. Lieber, the former Wall Street executive who has guided the Bloomberg administration’s economic development efforts during the recession, told his staff on Wednesday that he would step down as deputy mayor in June.

Mr. Lieber, 55, who has been in the job since January 2008, has focused on projects including the redevelopment of Coney Island, the city’s takeover of Governors Island and the rezoning of Willets Point in Queens. He also has pushed the city’s economic development strategy beyond big real estate deals to include smaller entrepreneurial initiatives and a number of growing industries.

Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for small businesses who opposed the city’s plan to redevelop Willets Point and to use eminent domain to gain control of the land, said that Mr. Lieber’s approach failed to account for the collateral damage to the neighborhood.

“The deputy mayor and his agency have proceeded in a recession to promote a project that is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and displace scores of small businesses and thousands of workers without any conceivable plan or a developer to implement it,” Mr. Lipsky said.

Mayors and politicians have come and gone over the decades, but we are still here. And we plan on being here for many more decades to come.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Willets Point businesses react to Islanders proposal

Business owners in Queens slam the idea of the Islanders hockey team moving to their area. Videojournalist: Charles Eckert

Bloomberg open to Islanders coming to Queens

Originally published: May 12, 2010 8:51 PM
Updated: May 12, 2010 10:12 PM

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated Wednesday that he was open to the idea of the New York Islanders heading to Queens.

"I'd love to have more teams move here," he said at a news conference. "That'd be great."

Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon told Newsday Tuesday he had spoken with Charles Wang, who owns the Islanders, about building an arena for the team near Citi Field. Wilpon also said it remains a possibility he could buy the team.

Wednesday, the Mets confirmed their interest in building an arena that could house the Islanders or a Major League Soccer team. Wilpon was not available for comment.

Asked at a news conference about the possibility of the Islanders moving to Queens, Bloomberg, who did not mention Wang by name, said, "I don't know whether it's just the owner or the team negotiating, using us as a negotiating ploy out on Long Island." The mayor said he hadn't yet talked to the Mets' owners.

Wang did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday.

Despite Wilpon's interest in the Islanders, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said she's still focused on keeping the team in Nassau County by creating a smaller-scale zone for the Lighthouse Project, the $3.8 billion mixed-use development proposed by Wang and partner Scott Rechler.

Murray said she hopes to have that zone plan completed by June.

"I'm aiming for sooner rather than later," she said. "I'm not looking to drag this thing out, that's for sure."

Murray said she hasn't seen plans for the zone yet, but expects to "very, very shortly."

The Islanders aren't Wilpon's only option if he were to build a new arena near Citi Field. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday he is in preliminary discussions with Wilpon to bring soccer to the area. Said Garber: "Queens is a hotbed of soccer interest."

And the Islanders may not be a perfect match for Wilpon, either. The Mets-owned SNY network wouldn't be able to televise Islander games, because the Islanders' contract with MSG lasts through 2031.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

If Wilpon does build a new hockey arena and the Islanders move to Queens, it may mean the end to an arena in Nassau County, experts said. Some pointed to other ideas, from a convention center to a small business incubator for that site. Murray said an arena will be part of the recommended zone.

The potential venture between Wang and Wilpon in Queens comes more than four years after the two vied for the right to develop 77 acres around Nassau Coliseum. Their proposals were similar, although Wilpon was the first to suggest a minor league baseball stadium, which Wang later added.

Wang and Rechler won the bid. "The one thing we didn't have was control of the Islanders," Wilpon said at the time about losing the bid.

Now, with the land still undeveloped, some sources worry that if Wang and Wilpon worked in Queens together, the best possibilities for the Coliseum and its surrounding space would go with them.

"It's like the creativity leaves Long Island and goes to Queens," said Vision Long Island executive director Eric Alexander. "I hope that's not the epitaph."

With Jim Baumbach and Neil Best

Islanders rumor puts Willets Point in spotlight

Originally published: May 11, 2010 10:09 PM
Updated: May 12, 2010 1:53 AM

The news that Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has spoken to Charles Wang about building an arena in Queens and relocating Wang's Islanders hockey team to the site puts the spotlight on Willets Point: a 62-acre tract in Queens near Citi Field known as the Iron Triangle.

Last year, 29 potential developers formally filed paperwork with the New York City Economic Development Corp. to redevelop Willets Point. While Wang was not one of them, Sterling Equities, the Wilpon family's umbrella company, was, the EDC confirmed Tuesday. The EDC said a formal request for proposals will be issued later this year.

On the surface, a marriage between Wilpon, Wang and Willets Point seems ideal - there's a sports team already in place and the city wants to add housing, office space and retail. It was unclear Tuesday whether Wilpon would build an arena on the Willets Point land, or elsewhere near Citi Field.

Wang did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Interviews show that developing Willets Point will not be easy.

New York City officials have said they are not contemplating the idea of the Islanders, or Wang's $3.8-billion Lighthouse project, heading to Queens, because an arena isn't part of the approved plans for Willets Point. The entire process, they said, would have to start over.

"There would have to be a very strong economic and development case made for it," said a New York City Economic Development Corp. official who asked not to be named.

Tuesday, Andrew Brent, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said, "There are no plans for a professional sports facility" at Willets Point.

With unpaved streets and no sewers, the Willets Point area is home to more than four dozen industrial businesses. The redevelopment could include a hotel, convention center, retail and residential.

Meanwhile, a number of business owners at the Willets Point site say they won't leave, despite city efforts to make a deal. About 21 of them have filed a lawsuit against the city.

"They're taking my home. They're taking my business. They're taking everything I worked for," said Plainview resident Jerry Antonacci, who owns waste management company Crown Container. "If they want to bring the Islanders here, or anything else, they better schedule it for 2020 or 2025, because we're going to fight it. We're not going easy."

But the city is moving forward. "Willets Point represents one of the city's most significant long-term development opportunities," said Brent, the Bloomberg spokesman.

Wilpon, Wang talk about moving Islanders to Queens

Originally published: May 12, 2010 1:52 AM
Updated: May 12, 2010 2:09 AM

Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating officer, said Tuesday he has talked with Islanders owner Charles Wang about building an arena in Queens as a possible home for the hockey team.

Wilpon told Newsday in an exclusive interview that he has had recent discussions with Wang about relocating the team to a new Queens arena and also said that it remains a possibility that he could buy the team.

"I've had conversations with Charles," Wilpon said by phone Tuesday, "and we've talked about Queens. We'd like to be helpful and I think Queens is an option. We built Citi Field well under budget and on time. I have all my guys ready.

"We haven't really discussed ownership. It has been more of, 'Can we get something synergistic with Citi Field and a hockey arena, what can happen here?' "

Although the majority of their conversations have focused on building a new arena, Wilpon has not ruled out the possibility of owning the Islanders.

Wang has lost an average of $23 million a year since buying the team 10 years ago and is impatient with the pace of the proposed Lighthouse Project.

With the Town of Hempstead attempting to downsize Lighthouse development plans and Wang frustrated by the additional time and money it would cost to scale it back, the two sides have failed to come to an agreement. Still, Nassau officials say they would like the team to remain in the county.

"We are working hard to keep the Islanders in Nassau County," County Executive Edward Mangano said Tuesday.

A modified development plan is expected to be presented at some point this summer, Hempstead Town officials said.

In addition to the potential landing spots for the Islanders, there has been speculation that Wang, who did not return calls seeking comment, might turn to the National Hockey League for assistance and ask the league to take a controlling interest in the team.

"Totally and uncategorically untrue," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail to Newsday.

The Wilpon-Wang connection, however, sheds new light on the team's situation.

Wilpon said he has been in touch with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber about bringing a soccer facility to the area as well, although the likelihood of building both a hockey and soccer venue looks slim.

"We probably can't do both," Wilpon said. "We just need to look at what could be done, as diverse as it is."

"We've had numerous discussions with Charles [Wang] and with Don Garber about soccer as well. We've been in touch, talking to Charles about what can be done synergistically with all of his technological [assets]. He likes the market here and they have all been positive conversations with him."

While the dialogue between Wilpon and Wang is an encouraging sign to Islanders fans who would like to see the team stay in New York rather than relocating to Kansas City or a Canadian locale, nothing is imminent.

"We are certainly willing and able and happy to work with Mr. Wilpon, but we have not heard any concrete plan as of today of bringing the Islanders into Queens," Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said. "It has to be real."

Wilpon said in the interview he, Wang and Garber are talking.

"It wouldn't be fair to say we have made any verbal agreements or even a handshake agreement, but we're definitely in the exploratory phase with both of them," Wilpon said.

Randi Marshall contributed to this story

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eminent domain battle in Hempstead

New York State's twisted eminent domain laws strike again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

WPU interviewed by Fox News Channel

To quote our rep, Richard Lipsky:

WPU will be featured on the Fox News segment, "It's Your Land," this Wednesday or Thursday-and host Eric Shawn interviewed us today and will be out at Willets Point tomorrow to talk with Jake Bono. In addition, Shawn's work on eminent domain can be found on the Fox News web site. As Auntie Mame once said, "Get me my shawl, I feel the winds of change blowing."

UPDATE: The segment will air on May 26th.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Report on Thursday's CB7 meeting

Thursday night, a hastily arranged meeting between a CB7 committee and NYCEDC occurred inside the College Point Corporate Park office trailer. The purpose was to again review NYCEDC's plans to relocate 3 businesses from Willets Point to the College Point Corporate Park, prior to the votes that will be held on Monday by the Queens Borough Board. If the Borough Board approves on Monday, then NYCEDC will be legally permitted to transfer the titles of the College Point properties to the 3 Willets Point businesses to enable their relocation.

The 3 businesses represented at the night's meeting and which will be the subject of Monday's Borough Board votes are Feinstein Ironworks, Sambucci Bros. Auto Salvage and T. Mina Supply.

Those who have followed the Willets Point story may recall that last year, a total of 5 Willets Point businesses were approved by CB7, the Queens Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council to relocate to property within the College Point Corporate Park. Tonight's meeting and Monday's Borough Board vote account for only 3 of those total 5 businesses. The 2 businesses that are being denied relocation at present are Flushing Towing and Mets Metals. Although the proprietor of Flushing Towing had been invited to attend tonight's meeting, earlier today he was again contacted by NYCEDC and told that the meeting was "canceled". This outright lie seems concocted to discourage this business owner from showing up at Thursday night's meeting, and thereby eliminate any questions about why all 5 businesses whose relocations were approved last year by CB7, the Queens Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council, are not in fact being relocated.

Apparently, the proprietor of Flushing Towing did not believe NYCEDC's lie that the meeting had been canceled, and he decided to show up at the trailer. Half an hour prior to the start of the meeting, he was seen conversing at length with NYCEDC lackeys outside of the trailer. Eventually, he left prior to the meeting without entering the trailer. During the meeting, no one present even bothered to ask what had happened to the other 2 businesses of the total 5 whose relocations to the College Point Corporate Park had been approved last year.

The 3 businesses provided "Cooperation Letters" to CB7, containing representations such as: Acknowledging the adequacy of the space available at the College Point site; business will not park any vehicles or trucks on any of the adjacent or adjoining streets or business lots; main access to the site will be on College Point Boulevard, and main egress exiting the site will be on 31st Avenue.

Committee Chair Chuck Apelian stated: "My sole desire is to have these 3 businesses come into College Point, as owners; and become model citizens of the College Point Corporate Park. And the biggest intent we have, is that we never hear of any problems or any issues from them at all. ... And that's the purpose of the memorialization of these letters."

However, CB7 Chair Gene Kelty wondered what recourse there would be if the terms of the letters are violated in the future. Kelty asked, "Those letters that we now have -- If they don't abide by them, what enforcement action is there and what agency is going to enforce it?" When told by NYCEDC that NYPD would be responsible for enforcement, that did not sit well with Kelty. "See, now we have a problem. ... You're not going to dump that on the PD because they're not going to enforce it. They haven't enforced anything in 25 years that I've been here."

Kelty insisted that instead, NYCEDC's legal department should commit in writing to "sue" any of the 3 relocated businesses that fails to comply with any provision of their Cooperation Letter, to force their compliance. Kelty concluded: "Unless EDC gives me a commitment, in a letter in writing, by next week, saying that their legal department will take legal action to back these letters up, this is as useless as Mayor Bloomberg's promises."

NYCEDC diplomatically pointed out that NYCEDC may not be legally entitled to compel relocated businesses – by suing them – to comply with provisions of the Cooperation Letters. And the business owners appeared insulted, that Kelty is envisioning future circumstances in which NYCEDC must sue the businesses.

After further discussion, Kelty ultimately requested that NYCEDC provide a letter signed by NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky, assuring CB7 that NYCEDC will be responsible for contacting enforcement agencies in the event that relocated businesses do not abide by the terms of the Cooperation Letters that they have signed.

The Queens Borough Board reportedly is scheduled to vote on this matter during its meeting on Monday at 5:30P.M. If the Borough Board approves, the 3 businesses still will not take title to the College Point properties until their closing dates with NYCEDC, which have not yet been scheduled and are not expected to occur until several months from now.

Meanwhile, why the relocation of 2 other approved businesses is not proceeding is unknown. And above all, there is no plan whatsoever to relocate the overwhelming majority of 250 additional Willets Point businesses.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Businesses being "fast tracked" to College Point

From Queens Crap:

There's going to be a meeting about 3 of the 5 Willets Point businesses being fast tracked into College Point. The meeting will be held Thursday May 6 @7:30 PM. Meeting will be at College Point Corp Park Office (Out house) On Ulmer and 26 Ave. This has been called by CB7 as an emergency meeting. It's going to be crowded.

By the way, why rush to sacrifice City-owned CPCP properties to relocate businesses, when there is no assurance that the development for which they need to relocate can proceed?"

It all comes down to the ramps...

From the Queens Courier:

At issue is whether the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and State Department of Transportation (DOT) will approve two new highway ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway in order to help alleviate some of the additional traffic that is expected in the area. So, it’s not surprising that advocates from each side have very different views on the issue.

“We think that the highways cannot physically handle the massive amount of traffic that the Willets Point project would dump on it,” said Michael Gerrard, a lawyer representing WPU. “Merely adding ramps doesn’t increase the mainline capacity of the Van Wyck that will remain a chokepoint.”

Dave Lombino, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is the lead agency working on the Willets Point project, said that the approval for the ramps is all part of the redevelopment process and that lobbyists for the WPU are trying to create a false impression of uncertainty around a critical project that will generate thousands of jobs and economic development for the city.

“But we’re hopeful there will not be any significant delay in the approvals, and we’re confident we will remain on target to complete the project on the timetable we’ve set forth,” Lombino said.

In February, the city submitted its preliminary draft environmental assessment to representatives from the two agencies, and Brian Ketcham, a traffic engineer hired by the WPU, said the report was fraught with errors. He believes that EDC is under-estimating the additional traffic that will result from the development of Willets Point and the nearby Flushing Commons development at downtown Municipal Lot 1.

Ketcham said that the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for both projects conceded that in 2017 there would be gridlock traffic conditions on the highway, but the initial AMR projections for 2035 showed significantly less traffic.

“I cannot imagine what goes through the minds of EDC when they have two projects that are reporting gridlock conditions, and then they turn around and they say there will be free-flowing traffic,” Ketcham said.

Jake Bono, a third generation owner of Bono Sawdust that has called Willets Point home for nearly 80 years, said that the city’s initial presentation to the FHWA and DOT was not surprising because they have been employing the same tactics from the beginning.

“They are committed to doing whatever it takes to get the project done. If it’s illegal, if it’s immoral, it doesn’t matter,” Bono said. “At the end of the day they can never produce a report that will work.”