Wednesday, August 24, 2011

EDC's Animal Farm at the iron Triangle

Crain's Insider ran an interesting item yesterday about how EDC is stymieing our attempt to get information about its purchase of properties belonging to House of Spice and Fodera Foods:

"The city's Economic Development Corp. has shot down repeated requests for information by opponents of the Willets Point redevelopment plan, who want to review information exchanged between the city and two of the area's largest property owners. Willets Point United, the opposition group, suspects that Fodera Foods and House of Spice have struck sweetheart deals with the EDC to remain in the area after the city exercises eminent domain. In a recent letter, the EDC said that revealing correspondence between the city and other parties would undermine negotiations between the city and other Willets Point property owners. A spokesman for Willets Point United said the EDC “continues to act in a nontransparent and inequitable manner.”

This is not new but it's typical of how EDC treats property owners at Willets Point-denying the smaller owners the same equity it has apparently bestowed on the larger ones. Remember that these bigger deals were all mostly cut at the eleventh hour right before the city council's vote on the EDC ULURP application. As the NY Post reported at the time:

“The city bought itself a half-acre of land at Willets Point for $3.5 million - snapping up three parcels in Queens' redeveloping "Iron Triangle" at nearly 10 times their assessed value. The financials of the Oct. 2 deal with real-estate company BRD Corp. provide the first glimpse into the cost of clearing the 62-acre complex to make way for a multibillion-dollar residential and commercial development. Twelve landowners have reached agreements in the last few months with the city, which is to announce today the two latest deals, for a combined 4.1 acres. About 60 landowners have yet to sign on."

Keep in mind that this was prior to the final city council disposition of the land use application and by paying through the nose EDC was trying to effectively create a bum’s rush-and it was working because it gave the legislature the impression that the eminent domain issue would not be problematic as property owners continued to rush to sell.

As City Room also reported: “On Thursday morning, the city’s Economic Development Corporation reached an agreement to acquire the largest of the businesses there, Tully Construction, which, along with a partner company, Tully Environmental, occupies 10 acres of land at the site. The city also agreed to authorize two other businesses, Fodera Foods and House of Spices, to stay in Willets Point even as construction progresses and later sell their land to a developer.“

Ah yes, there it is. What kind of poison pill is this for the supposed future developer? Giving these two businesses a gun to put to the head of the selected developer makes no sense. Why did the city do this and what does it mean for the tax payers-not to mention the smaller property owners? If this doesn't stimulate some thought at the city council then its more brain dead than we had first believed.

Than there's the matter of the $400 million that the city has allocated for the land purchases.What we know is that NYCEDC's written responses to questions posed by prospective Phase 1 developers includes the statement that no City capital funds are available to acquire Willets Point property beyond Phase 1 (other than the properties already acquired).

We don't know whether that means that the full $410 million will be consumed by Phase 1 acquisitions, or whether a decision was made to scale back the $410 million to a lower number sufficient only for Phase 1 (and if a decision was made, by whom). Inquiring minds want to know

So we understand why EDC will not reveal this information but why should the tax payer be allowed to foot the bill for behind closed doors sweetheart deals that give privileged property owners great financial leverage to hold up future development? When all is said and done on Willets Point it will go down in the city's history as a scandalous shame and perversion of basic democratic principles.

And with all that said, the ramps still don't work!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reo Far From Grand

In the Wednesday hearing on the Willets Point Order to Show Cause the city's attorney Chris Reo was at his histrionic best-underscoring the old maxim that when a lawyer has the facts she should pound the facts, but if not she should just pound the table. One of Reo's main points was that the Willets Point irregulars were simply spoiled sports standing in the way of Mike Bloomberg's field of dreams-and the ace WPU legal eagle Mike Gerrard was little more than an obstructionist.

Anything but confront the fact that the city is in this mess of its own making because it utilized environmental consultants who have grown so fat and arrogant with their favored nation status that they felt they could play three card monte with the traffic data-cause after all, who's even paying any attention. Well Brian Ketcham came in and gave these fraudsters an appropriate b-slapping by demonstrating to the state regulators what true professionalism really is.

Here's Reo in classic misdirection mode:"The city can’t be asked to sit and wait and not do anything when it has determined that the phase one impacts without the ramps are equal to or less than they would be with the ramps,” City Law Department counsel Chris Reo said in court Tuesday, later adding, “By Mr. Gerrard’s admission, the record could never be closed, and the government could never have the certainty it needs when pursuing an action.”

The city says? Is that like Simon? This attack on Gerrard is disingenuous because the city promised it would not proceed without the ramp approval and now Reo is claiming that its original promise is nothing more than an Emily Litella moment-because circumstances changed. Well they changed because the intrepid Ketcham caught the EDC so evil folks at their game-and Deputy Mayor Lieber swore to the court because he felt that the ramp approval was merely pro forma.

So as a result we get a phony Phase I that if it is built and the ramps are not approved will mean that the city council got totally snookered because the project will have all of the negative features of traffic jamming roads but no housing, convention center, etc, etc.

And how bad was the EDC traffic data for the ramp report" Think of this. WPU has virtually no political support and the development is being promoted by the entire political establishment. Yet the regulators are holding back and while they may be pressured to go against their better judgment the facts remain that the agencies are scared because they know that the EDC ramp data will not pass muster-and would be extremely vulnerable to the inevitable legal challenge.

So fly me down to Reo and watch the gyrations of the city's samba on this matter-but Judge Madden is pretty clued in to the facts on the ground and all Reo's dramatics won't change the fact that he was dealt a pretty bad hand.

City's Attempt to Avoid Ramp Cramp

WPU was in Judge Madden's court yesterday to argue that the city should be enjoined from proceeding with its bogus phase I on the Willets Point development because the crucial ramps to access the Van Wyck have yet to be approved. The ramps, as even the city has greed, are crucial mitigators for the 80,000 car and truck trips that this project is projected to generate each and every day. When WPU's original suit was dismissed by the judge she predicated her decision on the sworn affidavit submitted by Deputy Mayor Lieber that there would be no condemnation until the ramps were approve.

This was a bald faced lie!-as events have demonstrated. What EDC and the city didn't anticipate was that WPU would expose its fraudulent traffic data so that approvals-expected to be garnered in quick fashion-have yet to be received because state and federal regulators are grappling with, not only the immaculate deception, but the fact that the Van Wyck simply cannot accommodate this massive influx of traffic from the development.

This has left the city scrambling, and in court its lawyer was acting as a server at Burger King-serving up Whoppers! The city says that its own studies should suffice, the ones that miraculously have found that Phase I traffic will not burden local streets. The Flushing Times has this fable:

"The city counters that it should be allowed to proceed with first phase construction because it believes it has undertaken all necessary environmental review processes, and that for Madden to revisit a prior decision would cast uncertainty on all future public development projects in the city.

“The city can’t be asked to sit and wait and not do anything when it has determined that the phase one impacts without the ramps are equal to or less than they would be with the ramps,” City Law Department counsel Chris Reo said in court Tuesday, later adding, “By Mr. Gerrard’s admission, the record could never be closed, and the government could never have the certainty it needs when pursuing an action.”

When it has determined? This from a city that allowed a fraudulent analysis to be submitted to the state only to watch as state regulators spit it right back when WPU's Brian Ketcham exposed the deficient data? Should the court just take its word now? As Mike Gerrard pointed out:

"Michael Gerrard, attorney for Willets Point United, laid out his case to Judge Joan Madden that she should vacate her approval of the proposal based on the city’s April 2008 environmental assessment in light of new information related to the plan.

Gerrard argued that the city has not undertaken sufficient review of the traffic impacts its plan to build a 20-acre first phase of the project will have on area streets. He said the city never looked at what happens if final approvals for two ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway cannot be secured, which the city promised Madden it would obtain before building the project. The state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway

This is just the latest in a long series of underhanded moves taken by EDC-from the illegal lobbying of Claire Shulman and the sweetheart deals given to a few property owners-to the latest attempt to make an end run of proper environmental review. For a city awash in bike lanes to lower the carbon footprint this attempt to jam Queens with a massive influx of cars and trucks that its infrastructure can't support is a cruel hoax-and Judge Madden should expose it for all to see!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Willets Point on Ice

What we really enjoy is finding out how fluid the conceptual development of Willets Point is in the minds of so many people. Someone proposes a high tech concept and the political birds chirp-and the heck with the original zoning plan that passed the city council three years ago. Now the ghost of the NY Islanders have returned once again, and our old buddy Jack Friedman-head of the Queens Chamber of Commerce who never supported the local businesses at Willets Point because they are, well, local Queens businesses-wants them on our grave site.

The NY Daily News reports the story: "Queens leaders are renewing a push to score the New York Islanders after Nassau County voters downed a $400 million bond referendum on Monday for a new hockey arena and minor league ballpark. A day after the measure for a new Nassau Coliseum failed by a 57% to 43% vote, efforts to lure the Islanders to Willets Point - creating a sports complex with the Mets and U.S. Open - gained momentum."

What gets us is that there are so many people who feel that all of these various concepts are fungible-which tells you that there really is no solid plan for the Iron Triangle, just a whole bunch of thought experiments. And no one gets that a dramatic shift in the plans would entail a supplemental EIS and perhaps an entirely new ULURP process-as if the current scheme with its fraudulent traffic data hasn't run into enough trouble.

And in the midst of the country's dire economic problems-and the fact that NYC and State are draining people trying to escape the high tax and cost of doing business here-we have the indomitable Friedman looking to fund an arena. He even would build it next to Aqueduct-good luck with that: "Friedman suggested the Islanders arena could also be built next to the planned Aqueduct racino in southeast Queens."

Message to Friedman: The current multi-billion dollar speculative venture at Willets Point is one boondoggle that the city just can't afford. Bringing the Islanders into the mix is making thin ice even more dangerous.