Thursday, March 17, 2011

Willets Point Eminent Domain Hearing: And the Dog that Didn’t Bark

The local media did a nice job of covering the Willets Point eminent domain hearing the other week, but we all were struck by a glaring omission. As the Queens Tribune reported, a number of elected officials came out to cheer lead for the project: “Among the redevelopment’s supporters were various elected officials who represent the area, including U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing). “Willets Point is a gem of a resource that has gone underutilized even as more than 4 million people annually visit the attractions immediately surrounding Willets Point,” Crowley wrote in submitted testimony.”

The glaring omission? None other than the Grand Dame of Queens politics, the venerable Claire Shulman. And surely she should have been there to bless the project that, without her illegal lobbying help, might never have gotten off the ground.

But we were not surprised to see Senator Stavisky step up-after all, her son Evan the lobbyist has been making some nice money representing the Shulman illegal lobbying scheme. “These advocates included U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing), all of whom submitted written testimony that was read aloud by staffers. “It’s time to put Willets Point on track to become the economic hub it’s destined to be,” Stavisky said in her testimony.”

Didn’t the state senator think that she should recuse herself because of a conflict of interest? In Queens, we guess that everything is relative-including ethics.

As for the hearing itself, WPU came out in force: “Attorneys Michael Rikon and Michael Gerrard laid out a legal case against the City’s plan, promising to file a petition in an appellate-level State court shortly after the EDC’s response to the public hearing. Their clients approached the microphones after them, clutching papers with written testimony. They introduced themselves by name, then block and lot numbers. It gave a jarring, self-dehumanizing effect to their testimony, but was largely done for legal purposes.”

What’s also interesting from the Tribune’s report is that it isn’t only the Phase I property owners who are in jeopardy: “Jake Bono and Jerry Antonacci, of Bono Sawdust Supply and Crown Container respectively, drew attention to EDPL Section 401, Subset 3 Subset c. The 93-word, one-sentence paragraph gives the EDC a potential 10-year window to condemn all the remaining unsold property within Willets Point, like Antonacci and Bono’s, without subsequent public hearings.

The option becomes available if the EDC successfully sees through the condemnation of Phase 1’s still-unsold properties within three years after all legal challenges have been settled. In essence, Antonacci and Bono argued their land, though outside of Phase 1, was part of the evening’s discussion. The EDC never told them. “I was not notified the hearing would also include future condemnation of my property,” Bono said.”

But even if the state and federal regulators don’t approve the ramps, the city can still condemn all of the other properties. Does this make any sense? This entire scheme is badly in need of unraveling-something that will hopefully happen when the WPU court challenge comes down.

However, as we have said before, law enforcement should be involved because the entire development scheme has devolved from the illegal Shulman advocacy. That dog wasn’t heard at the hearing the other night, but the echoes of her previous barking nonetheless reverberated through the Flushing Library halls.