Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ben Haber strikes again!

Gov't must study Willets Point plan traffic effects
Thursday, April 29, 2010 11:11 AM EDT
Times Ledger

One will recall Borough President Helen Marshall thought it was a grand idea to build a New York Jets football stadium in the middle of Flushing Meadows Corona Park — a no-brainer if there ever was one and one that would have destroyed Flushing Meadows as a viable urban park.

That Marshall has approved the city’s study of the Willets Point development’s traffic impact, as mentioned in TimesLedger Newspapers’ April 8-14 editorial “Delaying Tactics at Willets Point,” is another no-brainer and all the more reason to have the issue reviewed by a state and federal traffic study.

Marshall’s constituency as well as that of the Bloomberg administration and its appointees are the fat cat real estate moguls, not the hundreds of small Willets Point businesses and their thousands of employees and families that will be thrown to the wind.

While TimesLedger seems unhappy Willets Point businesses have engaged Richard Lipsky to lobby on their behalf, it should be noted TimesLedger seems to have no problem with former Borough President Claire Shulman, who has been lobbying on behalf of the proposed development amid claims she has been doing so with city money.

Traffic on the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway is often backed up and worse when the New York Mets are in play and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is open. To add to that congestion, what would flow from the proposed development would make it even more impossible. Traffic on these highways is not an issue limited to the city and Willets Point businesses, but all city residents.

Having an independent study by the state and federal governments, both of which have not been engaged by either the proponents or opposition, makes sense and TimesLedger should as a matter of public interest support it.

Benjamin M. Haber

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wide discrepancy in EDC's deals

From the NY Times:

Whenever the city pursues a development project that involves buying land from private parties, it usually keeps details of the negotiations with property owners under wraps. Sale prices are rarely disclosed to avoid influencing other owners into asking more for their property.

That has been the case in Willets Point, a 62-acre section of Queens next to Citi Field that is the target of one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s most ambitious development plans.

The area, arguably one of the most neglected pieces of real estate in the city, is home to hundreds of auto repair shops, junkyards and manufacturing businesses. Mr. Bloomberg’s goal is to perform a complete facelift, razing all that is there and replacing it with homes, offices, retail stores, restaurants, parks and a hotel.

An article in The New York Times on Tuesday details the fight that is being waged against the city by a group of land owners who don’t want to sell their properties, and notes that the city has reached deals to buy or has bought 64 percent of the land at the site.

When asked which parcels the city had bought and how much it had paid for them, David Lombino, a spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation, said he could not disclose that information “because it would impede negotiations with other landlords going forward.”

But with some research that information can be found. And it turns out that some owners did a lot better than others.

NY Times Slideshows: Working in Willets Point

The Times also profiled 5 Willets Point businesses in the paper after visiting the Iron Triangle.

Click here to view individual slideshows.

WPU's fight spotlighted in the NY Times

From the NY Times:

It is one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s signature projects — the sweeping transformation of Willets Point, a slice of Queens that has long been among the city’s most neglected pieces of real estate. And a little over a year ago, it seemed like a done deal.

The City Council approved the proposal, which would sweep aside the car-repair shops, junkyards and small factories in the shadow of Citi Field to make room for 5,500 apartments, parks, office buildings, stores, restaurants and a hotel.

Many of the largest property owners agreed to sell to the city, and the city could use eminent domain to force out those who refused.

But a convergence of a Park Avenue lawyer known for toppling big projects, a sawdust maker bent on keeping the family business where it has been for decades, and a pair of highway ramps that exist only on paper threatens to doom Mr. Bloomberg’s grand vision.

The ramps, which would connect Willets Point to the Van Wyck Expressway, seemed like a minor detail at first and never came up during the noisy public hearings before the Council’s vote.

But, as it turns out, they are critical to the project’s survival.

“It’s our smoking gun,” said Michael B. Gerrard, a lawyer who helped lead the monumental battle to defeat Westway, a proposed underground highway along Manhattan’s West Side that opponents said would have imperiled the striped bass population of the lower Hudson River.

Mr. Gerrard, a senior counsel at Arnold & Porter, is now banking on the ramps to kill Willets Point. He has mounted a legal challenge against the project on behalf of a group of small landowners in the area who joined forces and pooled their money to fight City Hall.

The $3 billion project could generate 80,000 vehicle trips a day, and the ramps are meant to help move cars in and out. The city cannot use eminent domain unless the ramps are approved by the Federal Highway Administration and the state’s Department of Transportation.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


The Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation recently solicited questions from the public via its web site, concerning the LDC's pending Request for Proposals in connection with a state grant which the LDC claims to have received via the Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program. The work to be performed using the grant funds is a step toward "area-wide" and "large scale" development of 60 acres of privately-owned downtown Flushing property which the LDC is anxious to achieve, regardless of its injurious effects on surrounding neighborhoods and roadways.

Given the far-reaching implications of such a project, the LDC's dubious track record (which includes a record financial penalty of $59,090.00 levied by the Office of the City Clerk due to the LDC's unlawful lobbying activities), and the involvement of taxpayers funds, Willets Point United Inc. thought it appropriate to submit 5 questions to the LDC.

The LDC has since posted 8 questions and the LDC's answers, at the LDC's web site ( However, the LDC has omitted all of the questions posed by Willets Point United Inc., the answers to which would be of great interest to New York City residents, as well as New York State taxpayers whose funds are reportedly being given away to the LDC as a grant award.

The questions posed by Willets Point United Inc. which are being ignored by the LDC are:

(1.) The property within the proposed BOA area is presently owned by a variety of private owners. However, FWPCLDC's BOA application contemplates "area-wide" and "large scale" development. To accomplish FWPCLDC's long-term objectives for the proposed BOA area, is there any possibility that property within the proposed BOA area may eventually be acquired via eminent domain?

(2.) FWPCLDC's BOA application contains a list of 25 sites located on privately-owned property within the proposed BOA area, which FWPCLDC has already designated brownfield sites. Has any scientific testing been conducted, to determine whether or not each of those 25 sites meets the definition of brownfield?

(3.) Pursuant to General Municipal Law Section 970-r, an application for New York State assistance for brownfield opportunity areas requires that an eligible CBO applicant must have "twenty-five percent or more of its board of directors residing in the community" in which the CBO is located. As FWPCLDC is located in Flushing and pertains to Flushing, Willets Point and Corona, does FWPCLDC have twenty-five percent or more of its board of directors residing in those areas?

(4.) Pursuant to General Municipal Law Section 970-r, an application for New York State assistance for brownfield opportunity areas requires that an eligible CBO applicant must represent "a community with a demonstrated financial need." BOAP application form Part B.7.5 specifies that "a demonstrated financial need" is "indicated by high unemployment, low resident incomes, depressed property values, or high commercial vacancy rates." However, the community in which FWPCLDC operates is not characterized by any indicator of "demonstrated financial need". Moreover, the community which FWPCLDC truly represents – the member firms of FWPCLDC – is composed of prosperous and well-funded businesses, which not only have no "demonstrated financial need," but which are surely themselves jointly capable of funding planned activities of FWPCLDC, without receiving any BOA grant award. How exactly has FWPCLDC demonstrated "financial need," which is a prerequisite to receive a BOA grant award of scarce taxpayer funds?

(5.) We understand that FWPCLDC's lobbying during 2007, 2008 and 2009 in violation of Section 1411 of the New York State Not-For-Profit Corporation Law has resulted in legal complaints to the Office of the New York State Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, among many other city, state and federal enforcement agencies. Given that the consequences of FWPCLDC's past lobbying may include the revocation of FWPCLDC's status as a not-for-profit tax exempt corporation, the outright dissolution of FWPCLDC, and other sanctions, what assurance do RFP respondents have that FWPCLDC will be able to carry out the proposed BOA program?

-- Willets Point United Inc.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The shocking reality of ownership at Willets Point

We didn't make this up, folks. Based on property records, this is what the city currently owns at Willets Point. The shaded areas represent what they paid for and hold title to. The rest remains in the hands of its original owners. So next time an EDC parrot quotes an ownership figure somewhere in the 70-75% range, ask them how that could be possible based on their own records...

Premature exuberance by developers

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

According to the Observer, EDC has a list of potential bidders for property at Willets Point that is currently owned by other folks: "World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, Queens developer Jeff Levine and Related Cos. chairman Stephen Ross are among those seeking to develop Willets Point, the polluted, 62-acre auto repair district next to Citi Field, according to city records."

A little premature exuberance perhaps, since there are still some unresolved outstanding issues-especially over traffic and certain ramps to nowhere, an issue that the Observer neglects to emphasize in its story-but does mention, along with the illegal machinations of one Claire Shulman: "Since, the opposition from the main landowners has died down—many of them cut their own deals with the city—while the smaller business owners have tried to raise concerns about traffic issues and the legality of a local development corporation that was established to lobby for the project. That organization, the Flushing/Willets Point/Corona LDC, was funded in part by the Bloomberg administration, which effectively directed funds to lobby the City Council and community board. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began investigating this issue last summer after the business owners questioned its legality, although he has yet to issue any findings."

As more and more community folks begin to see just how fraudulent the city's traffic studies really are-and that includes Flushing Commons as well-they're beginning to understand that Kermit the Mayor is more like the Wizard of Oz on the issue of greening the city; he's full of bluster but, like Oakland, there's not much there there.

The pushback is just beginning for our city's richest man. Stay tuned.

List of developers vying to build at Willets Point released

From the NY Observer:

World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, Queens developer Jeff Levine and Related Cos. chairman Stephen Ross are among those seeking to develop Willets Point, the polluted, 62-acre auto repair district next to Citi Field, according to city records.

The names are part of a list of 29 firms released by the Bloomberg administration in response to a freedom of information request made to the city earlier this year. The list includes five firms—Related, Muss Development, the Westfield Corporation, TDC Development and the Macerich Company—that bid in 2006 on the project as part of an earlier solicitation by the city to develop the site. Three of those earlier finalists did not bid this time around, ending their ability to win the development: Forest City Ratner, Vornado Realty Trust and General Growth Properties.

Here's the full list:

Albanese Organization


Castlerock Partners

Ciampa Organization

CPC Resources, Inc

Douglaston Development

Edward J Minskoff Equities, Inc

Gotham Organization

Hamlin Ventures, LLC

King's Associates Inc

L & M Development Partners


Melrose Associates

Muss Development


Richman Group of New York, LLC

Rosenshein Associates/LCOR Incorporated

Settlement House Fund, Inc

Silverstein Properties, Inc

Smart Inc

SSJ Development, LLC

Sterling Equities

TDC Development

The Arker Companies

The Beechwood Organization

The Georgetown Company

Triangle Equites

Triple Five

Westfield Group

Flushing Times editorial far from accurate

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

The Flushing Times, setting a new standard for diminished intellectual capacity, unleashed an attack against us in last week's issue for trying to create an unneeded and undesirable delay in the development of Willets Point-and in the process so totally confused the paper's good readers about the facts at hand that it would be accurate to assume that the obfuscation was purposeful.

In the first place, it should be pointed out to the paper's readers, that none of the businesses at Willets Point have been relocated-and precious few have even been paid for their property, as the city has withheld payments in these troubled economic times. And we're a bit confused about the nature of the, "losing battle," since no negative outcome has occurred since we were retained last year.

Now we'll speak slowly here, and repeat what we had said-and what the Flushing Times had actually reported: "The issue, as always is the discrepancies between the original EIS and the ramp report submitted by EDC to the state: 'The group’s traffic concerns center around two ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway, which would be built in order to accommodate traffic to and from the new development.Lipsky argues that a traffic study the group commissioned found the project would lead to 80,000 new car trips per day and slow everyday traffic to a crawl on major surrounding roads, such as the Grand Central and Cross Island parkways and Northern and College Point boulevards.'"

The Flushing Times owes its readers an apology for this misdirection. As we said at Bay Terrace-and will repeat to all of the civic groups on our upcoming Willets Point Victory Tour-the Willets Point project will create gridlock throughout the borough's arterial infrastructure-a reality that can be gleaned from the city's own traffic study that the paper falsely claims we are challenging. It is this set of facts that have been corrupted by a new team of consultants that have apparently been brought in to confuse regulators at NYSDOT and FHWA about the realities expressed in the original EIS.

But the most egregious aspect of the Flushing Times' ad hominem attack, is that it muddies the waters about what the city is trying to do-and how the Willets Point development will gridlock much of Queens. Better to go after the lobbyist messenger with the bad news than to honestly confront the real dangers that lie ahead for so many Queens communities should this project go forward.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Development costs hidden from public

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

The question of whether or not the Willets Point development will ever get off the ground is much more an imponderable today than it was-pre recession-two years ago. In the first place, with the city out of funds, services being cut, and lay-offs looming, the cost of the development would appear to be prohibitive, and in any case hard to justify. The fact that the city's lap dog EDC has yet to lay out these costs honestly, indicates that it fears sticker shock in the citizenry.

In addition, the issue of traffic-one that wasn’t really raised with any precision during the ULURP process-has become crucial. In the first place, the development, according to the city’s own court papers, cannot be built without the approvals for ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway. That approval process, conducted by both NYSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, has revealed that there are serious problems with the data submitted by traffic consultants hired by EDC. The process is so tainted that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has written to the regulatory authorities calling for an independent traffic study under the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.

What is totally, clear, however, is that-now that Willets Point United has become engaged-is that the process will be drawn out and thorough, with an independent review of the traffic a very real possibility. This call for transparency and independence is being seconded by a variety of local civic groups, organizations concerned with the cumulative impact of, not only the Willets Point traffic, by all of the traffic generated by scores of projects in the vicinity of the Iron Triangle.

The more that the folks become aware of the true costs of developing Willets Point-and this includes the massive traffic that it, and other local projects, will generate, the less likelihood that the project will ever get off the ground. But given all of the serious questions raised above, it should be incumbent on all elected officials to endorse a moratorium on Willets Point development-particularly the use of eminent domain-and a call for a comprehensive and independent traffic study that will underscore the real impacts that all of the communities of Queens will be facing in the future.