Friday, April 6, 2012

WPU's Letter to Borough Board: Deny Willets Point Approval

In this week's Whitestone Times WPU's letter to the Queens Borough Board forcefully states that the Board should turn down the approval for Willets Point because of all of the decepotive practices and drastic changes made to the development by EDC. The Board's role is crucial because the City Council had abdicated its oversight role:
"Your role in this process is important, because during 2008 the City Council, which ordinarily would have vetted the qualifications of the proposed developer firm and its proposal, ceded its authority to do so with the understanding that the QBB would have the final say in this matter."
Here are some of the key issues we raised:

(1) Ability of the developer to actually fincnace and complete the project; With New London and Kelo fresh in our minds this is not an insignificant issue. We don't think it is wise to take away people's property only to end up with a vacant lot-as what happened to SSuzette Kelo and her neighbors;'
(2) City's use of an illegal lobbying effort that deprived property owners of their political rights to fair representation by funding real estate companies with a vested interest in taking away their properties;
(3) The removal by EDC of the promise of a living wage;
(4) The reneging by EDC of its promise to develop the entire 62 acres without segmentation. The creation of a "Phase I" that was never envisioned when EDC submitted the original plan for approval. As the letter states: "But the proposed Phase 1 would remediate only 12.5 acres of the entire site, leaving nearly 50 unremediated acres purportedly with the potential to recontaminate the remediated property. Phase 1 also has no provision for new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps and the city admits that the adverse traffic impacts of Phase 1 without the ramps may be as severe as those of the entire development with ramps;"
(5) The fact the Barry Grodenchik is currently deputy borough president and was a principal lobbyist for the plan; "To the best of our knowledge, Grodenchik has neither recused himself from involvement with the board’s evaluation of prospective Phase 1 developers and Willets Point property disposition, nor sought any conflict-of-interest ruling — although we believe Grodenchik should have done so."
(6) The use of eminent domain for something other than a public use: "Finally, the city is attempting to exercise eminent domain to forcibly acquire privately owned property to facilitate the proposed Phase 1. Forty-four states other than New York have enacted their own legislation to prohibit or curtail the use of eminent domain for such purposes."
As our letter concludes-urging that the borough board disapprove the project: "Thus, the proposed Phase 1 project that requires the approval of the board not only fails to realize benefits that were intended by the Council, but relies upon eminent domain abuse that violates basic constitutional rights and is contrary to public sentiment throughout this country."