Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Love Canal

The Flushing Times reported last week on the persisting troubles of Flushing Towing and its owner Carlos Canal-and his is a cautionary tale-one that teaches us about how, when it comes to EDC, a deal is never a deal, and that the city’s word can never be taken at face value.

Canal was one of those property owners that made a deal with the city to relocate. Now, two years later, he is out in the cold and subject to the same condemnation process that all of the other Willets Point owners are facing in the fictitious Phase I of the development.

As the FT points out: “Carlos Canal is not backing down. After more than two years of negotiations and failed deals with the city Economic Development Corp., he says he is still waiting for a fair relocation plan for his Willets Point business, Flushing Towing. Last month, he received a letter from the EDC saying that it was moving forward with plans to possibly seize land from him and eight other Willets property owners if they do not sell their property to the city to make room for a $3 billion development planned for the 62-acre area.”

We’re not sure how to say, “jerked around” in Spanish, but we know that Canal probably has a few choice phrases he could give us: “But he said the city has jerked him around and that he would not give up his land until the city provided enough money for him to relocate to a similar parcel. “If they condemn my property, they’ll have to send police to kick me out,” he said. “They’ll have to shoot, kill me. If I lose my business, I’ll have no money for my mortgage, for my family. I won’t even have food for my dog.”

For its part, EDC is always good for comic relief-and here is its response to the Canal debacle: “EDC spokeswoman Julie Wood provided a short statement. “We are working with Mr. Canal and are hopeful that we can reach a deal that makes sense for the city and its taxpayers,” she said.”

Here we have the EDC, in the middle of a land grab that will cost the city and its tax payers billions of dollars, suddenly demonstrating a precious concern for fiscal probity. This from an agency that perpetually must have its tongue planted firmly in cheek.

The fact remains that EDC reneged on its deal with Canal when the good burghers of College Point objected to his presence there-after the deal had received all of the requisite city approvals but that of the borough board:

"Canal, an American citizen born in Colombia and currently living in Fresh Meadows, was not always this bleak about his future. In July 2008, he thought his company was on the fast track to a new home outside of the Iron Triangle, where his towing shop has been for 26 years, when the city approved an agreement to purchase his land and relocate his 4,000-square-foot operation. “I now have a future to look forward to,” Canal told TimesLedger Newspapers at the time. In February 2009, the EDC announced Flushing Towing was on a list of five businesses that would be moved into the College Point Corporate Park. But the plan never materialized. It was given final city approval in 2009, but in 2010, in the face of criticism from Community Board 7 leaders, Flushing Towing was removed from the list along with Met Metal."

Here’s where the city’s newfound concern for fiscal prudence enters the picture. Canal, at the city’s request, went and found a new site in the area for his business. But after spending millions to relocate the big property owners, EDC is balking over the Canal relocation site: “It’s the city who is the hold-out now, he said. Canal has identified a suitable, 4,800-square-foot piece of land in Flushing going for a little under $1.1 million. But he said the city is only offering $1 million for him to move there, leaving him $75,000 in the hole. He calls that unfair since the city originally agreed to provide $1.95 million and $500,000 toward a new building for him to make the move to the 7,800-square-foot corporate park parcel.”

What the Canal saga teaches us is that the entire eminent domain process is a coercive one-and that the property owner is at the city’s mercy. When the agency in charge operates in bad faith, it makes a bad situation even worse-and Canal’s business and family are in peril: “The specter of land seizure looms high over the negotiations for Canal. If a deal cannot be struck soon, he fears he will lose his business, located at 126-20 35th Ave., and that he and his four employees — his brother, sister, nephew and cousin — will have nowhere to turn. “I don’t want money, I want a place to continue doing my business. I don’t want to take advantage of this situation,” he said. “We’re this close and they’ve been closing deals and deals and deals. What happened to me?”

But it is EDC’s crackpot cost concerns that strike us as totally bizarre. It’s worried about the extra pennies for Canal’s relocation after giving so many others sweetheart deals that cost the tax payers millions? It’s worried about what’s good for the tax payers when it has yet to give these very same tax payers a full accounting of all the costs of developing the Iron Triangle?

This is only one of a dozen or so reasons why the entire Willets Point development should be given a full oversight by the city council-particularly since so much ground has shifted since the council approved the project in 2008.