Thursday, March 17, 2011


At the eminent domain hearing of the other week, EDC reached new heights in deception-or, perhaps, depths is a better turn of phrase. Somehow the agency is trying to find a way to make its totally new Phase I segmentation of the Willets Point development pass muster- even though there has never been any portion of the project that has been conceived that doesn’t include ramps.

Here’s what the agency’s crack spokesperson told the hearing:
“The plan does not anticipate completion of new connections to the Van Wyck Expressway during Phase 1, as was previously contemplated. This is primarily attributed to the need to prioritize among the multiple infrastructure and site improvements that will be provided by the City as part of the district's redevelopment. The completion of the new connections to the Van Wyck Expressway is not necessary for the initial development phase, and thus may be deferred until after the completion of Phase 1. We are continuing to work towards the necessary regulatory approvals for the ramps, and anticipate approval in the coming months. Phase 1 will be completed and the substantial Phase 1 benefits will be realized, even – even if the connections are not approved by the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation."

Read the first two sentences with great care. Somehow, the decision to leave the building of ramps to a later phase of development is a result of needing to, “prioritize among the multiple infrastructure and site improvements...” Oh, please! The reason for leaving out the ramps is because WPU has traffic jammed EDC with the regulators.

But the real nugget in the EDC statement is the assertion that the new phase of development will go forward to completion “even if” the ramps are not approved. Really? What does this mean?

If the ramps are never approved, then only the small Phase 1 can proceed. That is a major departure from what the City Council reviewed and approved, because ALL scenarios considered by the Council included at least the possibility and promise that the entire 62 acre site would eventually be developed.

It was that goal that the Council deemed worthy of supporting, and (rightly or wrongly) worthy of the use of eminent domain. ("… it is a transformation exercise on all 62 acres" -- Bob Lieber testimony to Council, November 29, 2007.) Had the Council been asked to approve just a mini-development to complement the Wilpons' CitiField, and to authorize eminent domain to achieve it, the outcome might have been very different.

But there is another real sticking point in the EDC strategy-segmentation. As WPU’s lawyer Mike Gerrard told the Daily News: “All of their documentation shows it's a single project for which the ramps are needed." If it now turns out that it isn’t a seamless development, EDC must submit a supplemental EIS for a land use review.