Friday, April 8, 2011

Will WPU Get a Mulligan?

Last year as many of you know, WPU had filed an environmental lawsuit against the city for, among other things, its failure to consider the impact of ramps off of the Van Wyck-and the fact that the entire ULURP process should have followed and not preceded the land use review, SC Judge Joan Madden had ruled for the city because Deputy Mayor Leiber had sworn that no condemnation would commence until after the ramps were approved.

Well we all know what has happened since. But let's take a moment to consider why the city felt compelled to proceed with a newly created Phase I-along with a condemnation process-before the ramps were approved. The only explanation we can fathom is that it grew tired-tired and apprehensive-about waiting for regulators to act on the ramps.

Queens' last honest man Ben Haber raises this in his letter to the local papers:

"There seems to be no limit to the deviousness in the manner in which the city Economic Development Corp. is proceeding with regard to the proposed Willets Point project. A current case in point is the initiation of eminent domain proceedings which will justifiably result in a lawsuit (“Willets backers want to sue city over plans,” Flushing Times, March 24-30).

In previous court proceedings, the EDC advised the court that it will not pursue eminent domain until it receives approval for plans to construct ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway. Notwithstanding that representation, the EDC is proceeding with eminent domain on what it now describes as Phase 1 of the development and claims that portion does not require ramps. There is no such thing as separate phases on what has been billed as a total project."

Haber points to the EDC use of the Robert Moses ruse of trying to create facts on the ground to end run or muscle legislative or regulatory action: "That totality cannot occur without resolution of the ramp issue unless the EDC at a later date seeks to make the ramp issue irrelevant for fear it will derail the project.

Attempting to create separate phases is what the EDC has in mind for the future. The scenario is evident: “Hey, we already have a portion taken through eminent domain. We can’t be stopped at this stage because of some traffic issue. So waive it.” This kind of flimflam does not comport with good government because there is no reason why the EDC could not wait until the ramp issue was resolved — particularly since in the previous court proceedings the EDC made no mention of separate phases."

So, what should be done to EDC Ben? "Hopefully, a court will see through the EDC’s deception, let right be done and block the current eminent domain charade until the ramp issue has been resolved. Furthermore, since the current attempt at eminent domain through a spurious creation of separate phases is contrary to what was previously represented to the court, the EDC should be required to show cause on why it should not be held in contempt of court."

The ball is now literally in Judge Madden's court, and the judge should not only hold EDC in contempt, an easy thing to believe, but force the agency to conduct a separate environmental review for its segmented Phase I-giving WPU the mulligan it deserves.

The Flushing Times discusses these issues: "A judge has ruled that she will review a closed suit that a cadre of Willets Point business owners filed in hopes of blocking the planned $3 billion redevelopment of the derelict 62-acre area if the city cannot prove to her why she should not reopen it.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden told the city last week in a court document that it must prove to her by July 20 “why an order should not be entered vacating the August 24, 2010 order dismissing [the property owners’] Article 78 petition and permitting supplemental briefing and reargument in light of recent developments and newly discovered evidence.”

The issue of EDC''s contempt-and the city's as well-is central to this re-review: "One of the conditions Madden put on the city when the case was originally tried was that it could not seize land through the use of eminent domain until it received state and federal approval for the ramps. The city has not received those approvals and it has already initiated eminent domain proceedings against nine property owners in the Iron Triangle, under the pretext that the first phase of the project will not create enough new traffic for the ramps to be necessary."

Of course, this is an assertion that EDC has no credibility to make-as WPU's attorney makes very clear: "Madden effectively rejected that argument by issuing the document March 28, in the opinion of John Houghton, a lawyer for Willets Point United. “She seems to understand that it’s an important issue and the city is going to have to address why it’s going back on the statements it made to the judge,” he said. “I think our chances are outstanding. It’s very clear from the city’s environmental reports that because of the increased traffic that would result from the project they can’t move forward with the project if they don’t get approval for the ramps.”

EDC's spokeswoman, working on her Improv routine, tries to make a convincing case that Judge Madden's OSC rebuke was actually a boon to the city: "City Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Julie Wood said the EDC is confident that the court case will not slow down the city’s progress toward making the redevelopment a reality. “The judge has given us another chance to show that our actions complied with the law, and we look forward to doing that in court,” she said in a statement. “In the meantime, we are moving forward with the project and don’t believe this will have any impact on our timeline.”

Moving forward in spite of the fact that the judge is saying that she isn't pleased with the city's about face? This, it seems to us, is adding insult to injury, to insult-underscoring Haber's observation about contempt.

The city should be more cautious in its approach, before it finds that it has used up all of its good will with the court. But we guess that they won't be taking our advice anytime soon. EDC is playing a game of chicken with Judge Madden, and we'll see how their chickens come home to roost.