Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WPU, Local Civic groups, Workers and Elected Officials to Speak Out At Press Conference Against Illegal EDC Eminent Domain Action on Willets Point

Press Advisory
Willets Point United, Local Civic groups, Workers and Elected Officials to Speak Out At Press Conference Against Illegal EDC Eminent Domain Action on Willets Point.

Hearing Scheduled for March 2nd

As a result of the efforts of the Willets Point United group, EDC has been unable to gain approval for key ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway. In spite of the fact that the agency-both publicly and in court documents-has stated that it would not commence any eminent domain proceedings against local businesses until the ramps were approved-and a developer selected, but none has yet been- EDC has gone back on its word and will begin the illegal process of attempting to take the property of the Willets Point owners at the March 2nd hearing.

When: March, 2, 2011

Where: Flushing Library, 41-17 Main Street, Flushing, NY 11355

Time: 3: 30 PM

The proposed Willets Point development will be a massive 10 million sq. ft project that will include over 5500 apartments, and the city’s largest-auto dependent-retail mall, some 1.2 million sq. ft. Naturally, a development of this size will generate considerable traffic-and EDC’s own estimate is that the vehicle trips will come in at around 80,000 a day.

In order to accommodate this huge influx of traffic, the city has said that it is necessary to build two ramps on and off of the Van Wyck Expressway-ramps that are needed to funnel traffic off of already congested local streets. In fact the ramps are so important, that the city has argued in court papers that the entire Willets Point project-one that will involve the use of eminent domain to remove scores of businesses and thousands of workers-cannot go ahead without the ramps.

In spite of the importance of these ramps, the issue of their construction-in particular the approval process needed to give the city permission to build them-was never brought up in the land use review conducted by the city council three years ago. In fact, council leadership, when questioned at a press conference, expressed total ignorance about this linchpin issue.

So, while all of those interested in the fate of Willets Point assumed that the issue was more or less resolved with the council vote-minus the minor inconvenience of evicting the property owners-the question of the feasibility of building these two ramps moved front and center. But as press reports highlight, the NYS DOT has many reservations about the feasibility of the ramps

Now, however, the WSJ says that, “Seeking to kick-start a massive Queens real-estate development project conceived in the boom years, the Bloomberg administration is moving to seize a portion of the site from private property owners. Next week, the city plans to initiate the eminent-domain process on holdout owners who own property in the first 20-acre phase of the 62-acre project. The city also is planning to solicit bids from developers in the spring, according to city officials."

What about those pesky ramps? “Mr. Pinsky said the city's position is that it isn't required to build the ramps—which would mitigate traffic congestion on the local streets—until later phases of the project." What rot!

If the ramps are essential and their approval is in doubt, how can the city proceed? What EDC is trying to do-emulating the underhanded tactics of the grasping Robert Moses-is to make the project a fait accompli; so the ramps, however flawed and unable to really mitigate the massive traffic influx, become necessary to approve just to avoid a calamity of an even greater magnitude.

But the egregiousness of EDC's actions doesn't stop with the ramp detour. Put simply, the city is broke-tapioca city-and doesn't have the funds and can't possibly justify this land grab under the current economic conditions. As WPU’s lobbyist Richard Lipsky told the Wall Street Journal: "The city is going ahead with a project that no one knows what it will cost, with a developer that no one knows who it will be, and with ramps that no one knows whether they can be built," Mr. Lipsky says."

The Willets Point project has been cut down into what EDC feels are more manageable smaller slices-but it is the overall massive negative impact that remains; and this can't be camouflaged by EDC's piecemeal approach. As Governor Al Smith would have said, "No matter how you slice it, it is still baloney."

The community groups joining WPU on Thursday include the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, the John Bowne Civic Association, and the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development. All of the local organizations are opposed to the EDC land grab and its irresponsible avoidance of a public review of the ramps. In their view, even with the ramps, the 80,000 car and truck trips generated every day by the Willets Point project will-along with projects like Flushing Commons-create havoc on Queens streets and roads-while simultaneously severely clogging the mass transit infrastructure.

That EDC is trying to proceed in a manner that it told the court it wouldn't do, only underscores the complete lack of honesty and integrity in an agency that should be better known as the Economic Deception Corporation.

Contact: Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865)

For further information consult:

Key Talking Points:
(1) EDC is violating, not only the legal protocols for initiating an eminent domains procedure, but everything that it has said on the public record and in court documents;
(2) In an eminent domain procedure, all of the impacted property owners are required by law to receive a written offer of an amount that represents 100% of the highest approved appraisal. None of the Willets Point property owners have received such an offer;
(3) The underlying premise of this requirement is to insure that all property owners are treated fairly by the condemnor, and that the process isn’t rife with favoritism;
(4) In fact, certain property owners were afforded sweetheart deals in order to advance the application for the rezoning of Willets Point at the city council;
(5) EDC and then Deputy Mayor Lieber told the city council that eminent domain would be used as a, “last resort,” stating that the agency would first look to negotiate directly with property owners. These negotiations were never intitiated;
(6) In the environmental review for the application to rezone Willets Point, it was stated clearly that ramps would be needed to mitigate the huge traffic impacts-80,000 car trips a day according to the EIS-generated by the project. Ramps were characterized as the, “linchpin,” of the development, so important that the project could not be built without them;
(7) In testimony before the city council-and later in an affidavit for the NYS Supreme Court-Deputy Mayor Lieber stated that no condemnation would be initiated until the state and federal regulators approved the application for the ramps were approved. This testimony and allocution have been violated by EDC’s resort to the current EDPL hearing and the de novo “Phase I,” that it claims makes the ramp approval now unnecessary-or, at least, until an undefined later date;
(8) EDC’s Phase I is an iteration of the Willets Point development that, until just a few weeks ago, never existed. Since it is new, and has never been vetted by any SEQR review, the assertions by EDC that the ramps are not needed are based on no data that has been reviewed by competent-and authorized-environmental and land use authorities;
(9) The city council’s concern with the ramps was manifest in the extensive hearings it held on the Willets Point development. Its concern was that if condemnation began prior to the ramps’ approval, it could lead to a situation where property were taken, and possibly demolished, only to end up for naught if the approvals were denied-replicating the situation in New London, Conn, where condemned property lies fallow six years after it was taken from its owners;
The Willets Point development has no developer and there is no development plan. The approval of the ramps is uncertain. Therefore, the entire EDC condemnation effort is an example of, “speculative condemnation,” a tactic that the courts have not been kind to;
(10) The City of New York is broke. It is not the time to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars-and possibly billions-to begin a development process that may never get off the ground; especially when the city is proposing cutting things like 20 firehouses, and laying off thousands of teachers.