Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unaffordable Hosing

The WSJ is reporting this morning on the failed promises surrounding two of the signature development projects of the Bloomberg administration-and in the case of Atlantic Yards and Willets Point the failure involves affordable housing:

"The promise of more than 4,000 units of low- and middle-income housing was a significant selling point for two of the city's largest new developments, Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Willets Point in Queens. Today, they are moving forward, but the housing pieces have been pushed back for years behind other portions of the multibillion-dollar projects, as the boom-era visions are proving to be difficult to see through in a slowly recovering economy."

Promises, promises. But the difference between the two projects is that Atlantic Yards didn't do through the city's ULURP process and Willets Point did-and for the approval of the latter affordable housing was the deal maker. After all, how to create a green new neighborhood without, well, neighbors. So while Brooklyn can look forward to a new NBA franchise what does Queens have to look forward to if the new configuration at Willets Point is approved? The answer is depressing-two new auto-dependent malls that will cripple Queens roads and highways.

Is this why the city council approved the use of eminent domain? We don't think so. The Journal lays this out and we invite rational folks to ponder the future: "In recent weeks, the Bloomberg administration reached a tentative deal with the Related Cos. and Sterling Equities to redevelop a large industrial swath of land at Willets Point, in a plan that now calls for housing to be built as a third step with a groundbreaking by 2025, according to people familiar with the matter. The companies would first spend years building a hotel, and a large retail center in the area before moving on to constructing the housing in an unproven and polluted site near Citi Field."

Yeah sure, that will happen. This is the classic bait and switch with the Wilpons as the master anglers-hooking a land grab that they have been envisioning for over twenty years. Having already hosed the tax payers with their stadium deal the Wilpons have won the daily double-and have done so by crafting an illegal lobbying scheme that created a phony not for profit to camouflage their own self interest. Hats off to them!

But shame on the city-and the city council needs to take a long hard look at this scam. Two malls and all of the attendant gridlock was not the deal they bought into four years ago-and they don;t have to accept the EDC/Sterling Equities sleight of hand. The new deal is a bad deal that needs to be set aside-letting the next mayor decide what, if anything, needs to be done at Willets Point.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Planned Obsolescence at Willets Point

The Times Ledger has another report on the city's stealth efforts to hand over property at Willets Point to favored real estate developers to do something really innovative-build another mall (or two)!

"The city is staying mum on its deal with developers to put retail space and hotels around Citi Field after the mayor withdrew his bid to use eminent domain to acquire property in Willets Point earlier this month, but members of the real estate community are expecting an official announcement

“I thought the whole world would know by now,” said one developer after the city dropped hints it would be announcing the fate of a re-imagined mega-project that once sought to completely transform the Iron Triangle."

Silence apparently is golden-or at least it is to the city's co-conspirators at Related and Sterling Equities who are the chosen darlings of this absolutely nonsensical plan to turn Queens into one giant parking lot: "The plan now includes a 1.4 million-square-foot mall and parking lot to the east of Citi Field, according to a report in The Wall Street
Journal, which the city hopes will replace the portion of Willets Point immediately across from the stadium. Updated plans also include more retail space on the site of a current parking lot to the west of the stadium, which can only be
developed after the hotel and parking lot are complete, the Journal reported."

Gone is the grandiose concept of the city's new green neighborhood-unless by green EDC means the money flowing into the developers' coffers. But this is by no means a done deal: "The plans will probably require a new proposal, public hearings and eventually City Council approval, which means it could be years before a shovel is in the ground."

The alterations of the Willets Point plan resembles a grotesque extreme makeover-and it should be sent directly to the garbage heap by anyone concerned with what's good for the neighborhoods of Queens. Hopefully that will include a quorum of the members of the Queens council delegation-folks who originally voted for housing and a convention center but who now must consider a shameful bait and switch.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parking Lot Plan

You know we bet that when the city council was contemplating the Willets Point development plan-and the use of eminent domain-it didn't think that the local businesses would be removed to build a parking lot. But that's what the city is apparently looking to do on the heels of the collapse of its original scheme. The Queens Chronicle has the story:

"Plans to move Citi Field parking across the street to Willets Point and other details of the city’s redevelopment project were leaked to news sources last week...Although nothing has been officially confirmed, more information on the plans has surfaced. Published reports say that the developers will first clean up about 20 acres and then build parking lots, a retail strip and a 200-room, 10-story hotel on 126th Street."

The EDC's lack of imagination doesn't stop there-and as if one retail mall isn't enough it proposes to double the pleasure: "Once that is completed, a one-million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex would be built on the existing Citi Field parking lots. Only then would the developers go back to the city’s original plan and build housing in Willets Point."

In the year 2025! Sure they will. But the city and its developers are not a sure thing: "Once the plan is formally announced, the overall project has lots of hurdles to overcome. It will require a new environmental review, public hearings and approval by the City Council."

We wonder how the traffic generated by 1 and 1/2 million square feet of national retailers will be mitigated? And how the original traffic studies will be explained-you know the ones that offered a Chinese menu of contradictory data? This should actually be quite entertaining-as will the explanation of why property should be condemned so that Related-and its partner in crime Sterling Equities-can make a big score over the dead bodies of small property owners.

That's us at WPU-and we're not just going to disappear: "One group leading the attack is Willets Point United, made up of businesses that don’t want to move. They have successfully fought eminent domain and continue to oppose the city’s plan to add new entrance and exit ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway...One of the businesses determined to stay is Bono Sawdust Supply Co. located on 127th Place, just a block from 126th Street. It’s headed by Jack Bono and his son, Jake, who said in 2008 that they were certain a portion of Willets Point would eventually be used by the Mets for parking. Their prediction proved to be true."

All of this is complicated by the fact that Mike Bloomberg will soon leave office and the next year will be politically contentious. WPU plans to continue to fight and we are looking forward to joining forces with those elected officials that understand the unfairness of the city's myopic approach to development.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pro Immigrant Mayor?

The NY Post is reporting on Mayor Bloomberg's push for more immigrants to come into the United States-and seems to be basing this advocacy on the entrepreneurial impulses of the proposed newcomers: "Ratcheting up his controversial proposal for revitalizing America’s cities, Mayor Bloomberg yesterday suggested that the federal government “deliberately force” large municipalities to take in immigrants as the only hope for salvaging their battered economies."

This is pretty droll. We have just seen how the mayor wanted to evict hundreds of immigrant businesses from Willets Point in order to create the next "green" neighborhood-not to mention the thousands of hard working immigrant workers who would thrown out to make way for some big developer to make a score.

Of course we have seen the same policy myopia at work with the mayor's regulatory efforts against neighborhood businesses-many of whom are those kinds of entrepreneurs he wants to force into Detroit in order to lift that city's economic decline: "Ratcheting up his controversial proposal for revitalizing America’s cities, Mayor Bloomberg yesterday suggested that the federal government “deliberately force” large municipalities to take in immigrants as the only hope for salvaging their battered economies."

What Mike Bloomberg does is to declaim in the most stentorian tones how immigrants are the saviors of American inner city economies-no argument from us-while at the same time enacting what could only be described as a virulently anti-immigration public policy right here in NYC-if not be conscious design, then simply by its effect. NYC immigrant business folks would feel a lot better if he was more pro-immigrant right in his own backyard.

Critiquing the Bloomberg Megadevelopment Model

From the Great Minds Think Alike Department comes this Op-ed from the NY Daily News by Stephen Smith, a contributor to Forbes magazine:

Let smaller players redevelop Willets Points: The top-down model isn't good for New York

This is sound advice-and mirrors what we have already said: "In the first place there is no reason why redevelopment must occur over the dead bodies of the property owners. Why can't the public sector partner with the owners in a joint venture that doesn't involve taking private property and handing it over to another private interest?"

Smith is on to something-and he rightly sees the Bloomberg mega-model as flawed: "Willets Point needs to be redeveloped, desperately. But not this way. Instead, the city should start over — and allow the neighborhood to be built as the borough’s best neighborhoods were built a century ago: by many small developers, marketed locally and according to need and financial reality. The current Willets Point proposal follows the usual pattern of controversial Bloomberg-era megaprojects like Atlantic Yards and Columbia’s Manhattanville plan: The city identifies a tract of ailing and poorly zoned buildings, then allows huge developers to build something that the original owners were forbidden from doing by zoning."

What the current administration has demonstrated at Willets Point is that the top down approach is not only morally wrong-it uses condemnation to take away property and hand it over to favored cronies-it is also unworkable. And the new malling plans make no sense since the city's crying need is not for more malls but, as Smith points out, for more housing:

"A bottom-up vision would work far better, and may even yield affordable housing without the handouts that a luxury builder like Related needs. The demand for new housing at Willets Point, no doubt, is there. Communities along the 7 train have been experiencing huge waves of immigration in recent years as Asians and Latin Americans stream into older, built-out neighborhoods, and there is a real need for new development."

The problem is that the current development regime at EDC is compulsively top down in its approach-how else to dole out favors and pave the way for future employment in the private sector? But Smith's advice makes good sense-unfortunately because it does it is unlikely to be heeded. This means that we should anticipate a full blown fight over the new iteration of the city's plan-something that is as wrongheaded and poorly designed as the originally designed monstrosity for the Iron Triangle.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ledger Doesn't Add Up

In this past week's Times Ledger the paper editorializes that-after WPU's great victory over the forces of condemnation-the property owners should simply take the best deal the city has to offer and get out of town:

"The city’s decision to drop its bid to use eminent domain in Willets Point to force property owners to sell brings the fight to develop this underused property back to Square 1...Why the city changed its mind is not clear. Perhaps the city attorneys believed they stood a good chance of losing in court.Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing the remaining property owners, argued in court that the $3 billion development planned by the city was not “public use.” He was elated when he heard the news. Hopefully, now he will work on getting his clients to negotiate with the city. If the city walks away from the redevelopment, everyone loses."

This is so wrong we don't know where to begin. In the first place there is no reason why redevelopment must occur over the dead bodies of the property owners. Why can't the public sector partner with the owners in a joint venture that doesn't involve taking private property and handing it over to another private interest?

In the second instance it is by no means clear that the city can be trusted to do any economic development properly-with Willets Point being the foremost case study of the limitations of the public imagination. The past ten years have demonstrated that the city's primary understanding of development revolves around throwing tax dollars at companies like Related to build retail malls that drain business from existing retailers.

Just look at the city's back up plan for Willets Point-two malls with a combined retail space of over one and a half million square feet of development! As the Observer points out graphically: "An 800,000 square-foot mall will be built on the Citi Field parking lot (right), followed by a 680,000 square-foot mall on the edge of Willets Point (left). Because who doesn’t want to go shopping after the Mets lose? " (http://observer.com/2012/05/17/citi-fields-suicide-squeeze-redone-willets-point-will-bracket-stadium-with-malls/)

Additionally, when the Ledger calls for the owners to sell their property it fails to consider whether any large scale development of the area is feasible given the environmental challenges and the city's own fiscal condition. It might make more sense to think about ways to maximize the economic impact of making the area a better place for the existing businesses to grow and prosper-after all, there's a lot of economic activity in this one run down site.

Finally, the Ledger should consider attempting to become a bit more skeptical of the economic development fancies of the NYC EDC-and not print unchallenged the mendacious pronouncements emanating from City Hall. This last remark was a real side slapper: "We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic progress we’ve already made there,” a spokeswoman for the mayor said."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Give Us Streets!

The Times Ledger is reporting on the effort by WPU to get the city to finally provide Willets Point with the infrastructure it needs-and deserves now that the original grandiose plan has fallen flat on its face: "In the wake of a city decision to drop its eminent domain proceedings, property owners from Willets Point called on the city Department of Transportation to repair the streets of their neighborhood at Monday’s Community Board 7 meeting and had a unique guest speaker to help make their case.Ralph Paterno, who owns property where the city wanted to build the first phase of a $3 billion redevelopment project for the area, took to the podium flanked by large posters of the pothole-strewn streets."

As Paterno says: “The city will not be in the position to actually develop Willets Point anytime soon or perhaps ever,” he said. “So I and other Willets Point property owners are here tonight to publicly ask Community Board 7 to please help us put pressure on DOT to repair and maintain the Willets Point streets.”

Much of this appeal seemed to fall on deaf ears-although it was board chair Gene Kelty who had told the owners in 2008 it were him he would withhold his taxes if the city wasn't providing proper services: "Would you tolerate conditions in front of your house that looked like this?” Paterno asked before turning to CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty. “Mr. Kelty, back in 2008 you actually chastised the people of Willets Point for not being vocal enough in demanding city services.”

A young man who came to the meeting then activated a CD player and Kelty’s voice from 2008 was immediately audible.“I can tell you this — if someone was taking taxes from me and I wasn’t getting my services, I certainly wouldn’t be paying my taxes,” Kelty said on tape."

The city's response?More of the same prevarication: "DOT said in a statement it already repairs potholes in the Willets Point area on an ongoing basis. DOT replaced 100 potholes within the last year, according the department, but due to ongoing sewer work and potential infrastructure work in the future, cannot begin a widespread paving campaign."

As Groucho Marx might have said, "Who are you going to believe, me-or your own lying eyes?"

City's Field of Bad Dreams at Willets Point

The Politicer's Matt Chabon has an insightful look at the administration's failure of imagination at Willets Point-and how the latest iteration is simply throwing good money after bad. He begins by citing a comment by a reader-someone who really gets how bad the new mall concept really is:

"What a horrible idea. A parking lot and a mall? That neighborhood is a mess already, though. Just a few hundred feet from the bay in one direction and Flushing Meadows in the other, and they’re both nearly impossible to access. It should be a wonderful spot to hang out before a ballgame, and instead it’s just a tangle of highways. Thank you, Robert Moses."

Chabon wonders why the mayor is going for another auto-dependent mall on the site-and misconstrues the fact that almost all economic development in the past ten years has been of the same cookie cutter variety-thanks to the role of Related:

"This is still a dense area, one well-served by mass-transit, one begging for improvement. The proposal for two huge malls actually makes the original plan conceived by the mayor five years ago, to build an actual neighborhood here, look even more impressive than it already did. Something new, with plenty of jobs and affordable housing, maybe even a convention center.Now, instead, Queens is getting more suburban development, when it deserves better. As our reader points out, wouldn’t it be nice to extend the park all the way up, doubling it in size? Here is a place where capping some railyards would make sense—push the development to the edges, and open up the rest. Madison Square Garden has no parking, and it gets along fine."

It's hard to imagine anything worse than the original plan-one whose density would have chocked the area's roads and highways-but the new plan does just that. It keeps all of the original's worst features and eliminates what at least had some interesting features-housing and a convention center are to some extents understandable, but another mall?

What a mess-and the cost of remediating this area is still daunting: "There is the added advantage that the expense of remediation and infrastructure to build up Willets Point to where it needs to be—it’s seven feet below the flood plane in some places—would be considerably cheaper were it to be turned into a park rather than streets and homes and shopping malls. Instead, we sell it off to the highest bidder, and do their bidding at that, so that the development might commence cost-free."

But it never is cost free and the tax payers always end up subsidizing the aftermath when the area becomes impassable and shoppers and residents complain. (Remember Rego Center?)

The lesson here is that Willets Point needs to be treated totally differently from the way this administration does economic development-something that's outside of the little box of the current geniuses. But any plan that does go forward should not be at the expense of those who own the property-they should be partners and not patsies.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bloomberg Prepares for New Battle at Willets Point

The WSJ is reporting on the evolving plans of the Bloomberg administration for Willets Point-and it appears that it wants to use a retail mall as a stalking horse for the future grandiose plan for the entire area:

"New York City officials are shaking up one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's key development priorities, putting off for years the creation of a new neighborhood in Queens' Willets Point and calling first for a large retail center next to Citi Field, said people familiar with the matter. The tentative deal between the city and the developers—the principal owners of the New York Mets and the developer Related Cos.—upends the original vision for Willets Point, a project for which the city has committed $400 million and cleared the use of eminent domain.

Instead of housing and retail, parking lots for Mets fans would initially replace dozens of businesses in an area known as the Iron Triangle to the east of Citi Field. The new neighborhood is still intended to be built on that61-acre swath of land, but years later and only after a new shopping center is built on a parking lot to the west of the stadium."

New "Green Neighborhood" Is Auto-dependent Mall

"The first step for the developers would be to take on a costly 20-acre environmental cleanup and build the new parking lots for the stadium, the people said. They would also be required to build a hotel and a small amount of retail just to the east of Citi Field. Then they would be able to build more than 800,000 square feet of retail onthe parking lots to the west of the stadium. Only then would construction begin of the new neighborhood first envisioned by the Bloomberg administration, with the construction of the 400 apartments and 680,000 square feet of retail. That aspect of the project could grow, the people said."

Imagine that, an 800 square foot retail mall. Will this include those pesky ramps? Keep in mind WPU's objections to the Federal Highway Administration's approval of the ramps-predicated as it was on the assumption that the project will be built. Now that there is a completely new project the FHWA should be required to revisit its approval and use a no build baseline scenario to determine whether the new ramps would degrade the Van Wyck-as they most certainly will. (http://www.willetspoint.org/2012/04/federal-crimes-and-misdemeanors.html)

The Journal's story begins to delve into the managerial incompetence that lay behind the original pie in the sky plan: "The city had sought bids for the project, initially conceived in 2007 as another in a line of Bloomberg-backed housing developments on which construction would begin before the mayor left office. But people familiar with the matter said the housing and retail project has become unfeasible as once envisioned, as developers have been unwilling to fully commit given the site's challenges. The site—an industrial area full of car-repair shops that officials have sought to develop for decades—would cost tens of millions of dollars to clean up, and developers were concerned about being able to quickly lure residents andretailers to the unproven area."

And nothing takes away from WPU's continuing opposition-and the group is sure to be joined by others with an axe to grind against Related, the city and Wal-Mart: "The new details are sure to embolden critics of the project and existing landowners in Willets Point, many of whom have long said the city's project wasn't feasible. "The small businesses don't want to leave and will continue to fight any efforts to take their property," said Michael Gerrard, an attorney representing remaining business owners in Willets Point."

Of course the fact that this will all be sent back to the city council is a further complication: "The changes also open it up to the potential for more alterations: part of the new plan must be approved by the City Council given that the extent of the proposed changes would trigger a new environmental review."

What this tells us is that we were right about the dangers of this entire fiasco-and that Mike Bloomberg should have been considering property rights as seriously as he views marriage equality. The only certainty here is that this development-whatever it turns out to be-will be the purview of the next mayor.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quinn Critiques Bloomberg: Sky Doesn't Fall

The Politicker has an interesting little report on how uncomfortable Speaker Quinn was at the Council's Stated Meeting when the body was overriding the mayor's veto on a bill to pay services workers:

"Council Speaker Christine Quinn seemed a bit flustered at a news conference before the City Council’s monthly stated meeting. She spoke louder and faster than usual. She interrupted herself at one point to take a long drink from a glass of water underneath the podium...If Ms. Quinn seemed a bit anxious, perhaps it was the City Council was today voting to override a veto by her erstwhile ally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on legislation that would require the tenants in city-owned buildings to pay service workers a prevailing wage, and voting on another bill that would set up examine how financial institutions where the city does its banking serve local communities."

The mayor's objection? The usual hypocrisy about "meddling" in the private sector: "Asked by a reporter about comments by the mayor which suggested that the City Council was telling private enterprise what to pay employees, Ms, Quinn, said that her bill was merely engaging in the free enterprise system in the same way that Mayor Bloomberg’s economic development strategy was."

Here here. One cheer for Quinn-who goes on to elaborate on the mayor's hypocrisy: "The mayor has also said this is kind of mixing in the marketplace, but if you think about it the entire economic development package of the City of New York, hundreds of millions of dollars, is mixing in the marketplace to try to cause positive things to happen for the public interest,” she said."

And Quinn is absolutely right-but she falls far short of taking the argument to its ultimate conclusion: that the mayor believes when he intervenes it is in the public interest, but only when he does it! After all, both Bloomberg and Quinn enthusiastically supported the Willets Point development-and what could be a more profound meddling in the free enterprise system than actually taking away someone's property and giving it over to a favored developer?

And when Bloomberg subsidizes Related to build a mall at the Kingsbridge Armory it is also meddling-using tax payer dollars to generate retail competitors against existing store owners in the area. So Quinn is right and the mayor should refrain from using the meddling argument-it is rank hypocrisy. What he should say is that there are times when it is good to meddle and times when it is bad to meddle-and that I am the only legitimate arbiter of the decision when to intervene. That at least would be honest.

All Star Mistake

The news is out that MLB has designated CitiField for its 2013 All Star Game-and that friends is a big mistake. It is a mistake because-as we pointed out in January-the Mets and their owners the Wilpons are knee deep in controversy:

"What does the Great American Pastime-baseball-have in common with the un-American abuse of eminent domain, the eradication of scores of minority-owned businesses, the City's decades-long willful neglect of an entire neighborhood? Well, absolutely nothing as it turns out, but if MLB gets its way and schedules an All Star Game at CiitiField than the great American game will be colluding with a project based on lies and deception-and WPU intends to aggressively promote all of this to world-wide media, if Major League Baseball dares to hold its 2013 All-Star Game right next to our property at Willets Point."

And even though the city has pulled out of the grand scheme to take away our land-see this NY1 story-the Wilpons are still mired in the entire corrupt deal that was started by the Shulman LDC. Sterling Equities is about to be designated as a co-developer of a mall contiguous to the ballpark and it should have been disqualified if law enforcement hadn't fallen asleep at the wheel.

So what we will have next summer is likely to be an ugly confrontation with all of the neighbors that the Mats have conspired to evict from their property-and the workers that hold the jobs that would have also disappeared if the Wilpons had succeeded in their conspiracy. Not the best place to hold a venerable event-yuh think?.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shulman LDC: Still Shilling Along

It appears that the Shulman-led front group for a select number of Queens based real estate firms is continuing to act as a surrogate for private interests. As the Queens Courier reports:

"The Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation (LDC) held a cocktail reception on Tuesday, May 8 in the Delta Sky360 Club at Citi Field.Distinguished guest Michael Stoler, President of NY Real Estate TV and Managing Director of Madison Realty Capital, talked about the increasing importance of Queens to the state’s real estate market.Guests watched a presentation on the work currently underway at the Flushing waterfront, 60 acres undergoing a serious transformation.According to LDC spokesperson Nicholas Roberts, the project will revitalize and combine two distinct neighborhoods – Flushing and Downtown Flushing. He alleged that the group hopes to move activity westward, creating a greater amount of open space and loosening up some area congestion."

Let's be clear the LDC's "work" on the Flushing waterfront-and front is a good word here-has been subsidized-fraudulently in our view-by the state: "The LDC is funded by the New York State Department of State Brownfield Opportunity Grant. It received this funding about a year-and-a-half ago and it is expected to run through May of 2013."

The grant was issued in spite of the fact that the LDC is still under investigation for illegal lobbying-and also in spite of the fact that the "not for profit" has no legitimate community-based constituency-unless you count Sterling Equities and TDC as neighborhood watch groups. It is high time that this charade was terminated by law enforcement.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

WPU's Jerry McGuire Moment

Well it looks as if the little engine that could-aka WPU-may be looking at getting all of its money back since the city has abandoned its condemnation effort. The NY Daily News has the man bites dog story:

"A group of Willets Point property owners want the city to pay their hefty legal fees after pulling plans last week to take over their land through eminent domain proceedings. The city halted its controversial approach because it was instead nearing a deal with a developer to overhaul the industrial cluster of auto body shops and scrap yards next to Citi Field."

Show us the money-the city must be made responsible for putting the property owners through a living hell. All for nothing:

"Michael Rikon, an attorney representing about two-dozen Willets Point business owners, said he will file a petition for the city to repay his clients’ legal fees. Willets Point United members have shelled out more than $300,000 in legal fees since 2008, he said. That number is on top of the money group members paid to attorney Michael Gerrard, who represented them in their fight against new exit ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway. Rikon said his clients are entitled to the money under section 702 of New York State eminent domain law."

For its part, the city isn't digging in its heels: "City officials said they will examine the petition and make a decision as to whether or not to reimburse the stakeholders.“We will review any claims they submit and will determine how to proceed at that time,” a spokeswoman for the city Law Department said in an email."

But WPU isn't finished quite yet-there still is the question of what to do about those pesky ramps that the FHWA has erroneously approved. The answer: Sue the bums: "Gerrard said his clients are also contemplating whether to file a suit alleging the Federal Highway Administration violated federal law when it approved the Van Wyck exit ramps without performing a full environmental review.“We’re really waiting for the city to come out with its new formal plan,” Gerrard said."

After all, this would be a law suit that would be funded by house money.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bloomberg's Folly

In all of our commentary surrounding the big victory of the Forces of Light at Willets Point we have been remiss in not mentioning the extent to which the entire project underscores Mike Bloomberg's lack of managerial acumen-not to mention his grandiosity that informs it. The Observer's story on the city's stunning about face is right to the point:
"Another reason the initial plan was abandoned was that all the developers interested in the project—other contenders were Silverstein Properties, TDC, and Avalon Bay—were unsure of the ability to execute even such a modest proposal for one of the most complex sites in the city. Part of the reason Willets Point became the Iron Triangle is the land is essentially a bog, lying a good six feet below the rest of the area. It would require significant excavation and landfill to bring it up to grade. Further complicating matters, centuries of industrial activity—remember the valley of ashes?—has left the ground heavily polluted. Any development would require significant remediation of the site before it could move forward."

So Bloomberg wasted the past four years-and spent millions-pursuing his "sustainable green new neighborhood," only to discover that the entire project is a costly white elephant. Great job, Mr. Mayor! In the process he has put small property owners through the ringer trying to defend themselves against eminent domain taking of their land.

And make no mistake a bout it, the city withdrew because it was facing an embarrassing legal defeat that would have exposed all of its extra-legal shenanigans employed in the Willets Point land grab. The Observer says it all:

"Another factor beyond the toxicity of the site is, or rather was, the pending eminent domain case, which was to have been heard on Monday. “There were a lot of things going against the city here, and in view of all that, I think someone made the executive decision that this was going against the city and would set a bad precedent for all future takings,” Michael Rikon told The Observer.

Mr. Rikon, an attorney for Willets Point United, a landowner group fighting the city, said that the city faced a tough case because of issues ranging from a failure to have translators at the eminent domain hearing (many property owners are Latino) to not providing notice in person and having no clear public use yet assigned (there was not yet a developer in place at the time of the hearing). “It’s strange, too, because rarely do you win these kinds of cases,” Mr. Rikon said of eminent domain defendants, “but I really thing this could have been different.”

Who says you can't fight City Hall? But kudos to the intrepidness of folks who didn't feel that the city had the right to take their land and hand it over to a rich friend of the mayor's-like Steve Ross of Related.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bloomberg's Black Eye

There can be  no doubt about it, the Bloomberg administration's capitulation on Willets Point is another black mark on a third term that the mayor would, in hindsight, probably wished he had avoided, Crain's has the story: "The city on Wednesday withdrew its bid to condemn land in Willets Point to clear way for development. Eminent domain is still possible, but the city will restart the process after the new plan is officially announced. A group of Willets Point landowners that has fought the city's efforts called the delay a "victory" in a post on its blog, declaring, “Mike Bloomberg's grandiose plans have gone up in smoke.”

Crain's then goes to the heart of the upcoming difficulty that Bloomberg faces-time is not on his side: "“There was always reason to be concerned whether Willets Point would get done in our lifetime,” said one business executive. “Now the question is whether it will get done in our kids' lifetime.”

As the magazine goes on to point out: "The proposal by Related and Sterling Equities for a retail and residential development in the shadow of Citi Field involves zoning changes that require a new environmental impact study and City Council approval. The study will take about a year to complete, making it likely that one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's signature projects will not get off the ground before he leaves office in 20 months."

And the small ball that the administration is playing with its new 12 acre site is no slam dunk:

         "The city's goal is to get the environmental study and zoning amendment done before the mayor leaves office, an official said. That could prove challenging...It will also likely lead to a battle in the City Council, which would have to approve the zoning amendment even though a second land-use review will not be needed. Related has been in discussions about leasing space at a Brooklyn development to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for several years, angering council members who oppose the retail giant's potential entry into the city and feel they were misled about whether a Walmart store would be built there. Regaining control over the Willets Point approval could give the council leverage to pressure Related to drop its dalliance with Wal-Mart. The council has rejected two Related projects—a mall at the Kingsbridge Armory and a BJ's Wholesale Club, mostly over concerns about workers' wages."

Crain's gets to the crux of the mayor's problems at Willets Point-grandiosity: "The challenges of Willets Point—a rundown, 61-acre swath of land in northeast Queens—have for decades bedeviled officials, including Robert Moses and Mayors Robert Wagner, Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. In 2007, Mr. Bloomberg appeared to be on his way to a solution, calling the future of the area “very bright indeed.” But the city's ambitious plan was based largely on the hubris of the mid-decade boom, and the path to that future quickly developed Willets Point-size potholes."

But as challenging as the environment was, Crain's also recognizes the role played by WPU's band of irregulars: "Moreover, a gritty group of area business owners used legal maneuvers to throw the project off course. City officials found themselves without full control of the site, challenged in their quest for highway-ramp approvals and staring down a brutal financing environment. They divided the project into three stages to help it get started faster.

So what everyone said couldn't be done has been done-and once again, as with the Kingsbridge Armory, the Bloomberg attempt to mall New York City has been thwarted. Kudos to WPU and those elected officials like State Senator Avella and CM Halloran who stood up for the community-and for what is right.

Sterling Inequities

The city's dramatic reversal of its grandiose-condemnation based-Willets Point development does not mean that it has emerged unscathed from controversy; not with its decision to include the the Mets and its real estate arm, Sterling Equities, in what amounts to the third incarnation of the city's plans to change the face of the Iron Triangle. The NY Daily News has the story: "The owners of the cash-challenged Mets are close to a deal with the city to build a mall at Willets Point over the objections of existing businesses in the grubby area next to Citi Field, sources said Wednesday."

Sterling Equities, the firm that was the driving force behind the Claire Shulman-led LDC that engaged in an illegal lobbying scheme still under investigation by the NYS Attorney General? How can that be? The city forwards $500,000 to the group made up of Sterling Equities and other real estate firms to lobby the city council in behalf of a project that the city now is awarding to Sterling to develop. Can you say fraud and conspiracy here?

The LDC was a not for profit in name only and the developers that helped to fund the entity had enough money of their own to lobby-they didn't need the taxpayers to front them the dough but doesn't it look better-oh so good government-when a benign sounding local development corporation acts in your interests?

But the Wilpons are no strangers to fraud. After all they were up at the top of the Bernie Madoff fraudulent ponzi scheme-so high up on the food chain that they were confidants of the world's biggest swindler. So it doesn't shock us to find that their real estate company is poised to benefit from the fraudulent lobbying conspiracy-the Wilpons keep getting better at this with practice, don't they?

The fact is that the Bloomberg administration-by picking Related and Sterling to do this development-has placed itself in double jeopardy. The Wal-Mart loving Related should be denied any application to develop this site unless they agree to a binding MOU on the Gateway Mall that excludes the bribery linked retailer. And there should be unanimity at the city council that the fraudsters at Sterling be kept away from profiting from their illegal machinations.

In any case the outlook for developing Willets Point is not a good one-at least not from the standpoint of Mike Bloomberg. What was to be his signature legacy project will now have a different legacy: fraud, deception, illegal lobbying, and a grasping overreach that found the diminutive chief objective biting off more than he could possibly chew.

Bloomberg's Collapse at Willets Point, WPU's Fight Vindicated

What a shocking set of circumstances. After more than three years of relentless fighting against Mike Bloomberg's pie in the sky plan to take away our property at Willets Point, the city has apparently thrown in the towel on its grandiose plan to redevelop all 62 acres of the Iron Triangle-slapped down by our rag tag army of small property owners and a select few consultants who are without a doubt some of the best minds that the city has to offer.

All of this came down as WPU's date in the Appellate Court-slated for this coming Monday-was rapidly approaching. Late yesterday afternoon the city reached out to Mike Rikon, our eminent domain attorney, to let him know that it was withdrawing plant to condemn the property in the bogus Phase I of the redevelopment scheme. This was unprecedented. As the NY Times reports"

"The problems came to light on Wednesday morning, when city officials notified the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court that a hearing next week on the project was no longer necessary. Local landowners who are opposing the city’s use of eminent domain to gain control of the site have appealed a lower court decision in favor of the Bloomberg administration.The city said it was withdrawing the bulk of the legal findings on which it based its case for eminent domain. It plans to submit a new set of findings, after the environmental review and the public review. Those, in turn, will almost certainly generate a new lawsuit opposing the project."
Keep in mind that it is next to impossible for property owners to win any eminent domain case because the way in which NY State law is stacked against those who want to keep their property away from the political usurpers. The city's stunning withdrawal can only mean that it had concluded that there was a more than decent chance that it would be dealt a serious and embarrassing defeat at the Appellate Court-owing to all of its illegal maneuvering and lying over the past three years.

So instead of suffering this ignominy the city has drastically changed course and is looking to give its redevelopment a drastic makeover-with, of all people, Related and Sterling Equities designated as the real estate ringers. But the about face means that the entire project must be sent back to the drawing board and its unlikely that anything will be accomplished before the billionaire mayor flies off in his private jet into retirement

The WSJ has the story:

"The Bloomberg administration is nearing a deal with the Related Cos. and a real-estate firm controlled by owners of the New York Mets to build a retail and residential development on a gritty swath of Queens near Citi Field, according to people familiar with the matter.

But the tentative deal to develop Willets Point isn't a home run. It would require significant revisions to a signature initiative of the Bloomberg administration: an ambitious $3 billion vision for the area that includes 5,000 apartments, stores and a hotel.
The idea was unveiled with great fanfare in 2007 and passed a complicated public-review process in 2008. But during recent negotiations, developers rejected the plan as financially impractical and called for some changes, the people said.

Among the changes Related wants: more retail in the development's first phase, according to people familiar with the matter.

That means the city and Related are likely to head back to the City Council for another review process and approval—not a certainty amid vocal opposition from a handful of businesses still operating in Willets Point."

The Journal is missing, however, a key facet of this stunning reversal-it wasn't the developer' qualms that scuttled this deal alone. It was also a result of the three years of incredible advocacy and opposition that was generated by WPU. And the only conclusion that any rational observer can make here is that Mike Bloomberg's grandiose plans have gone up in smoke-along with all the money it has wasted in the effort-make no mistake about it, this is a dramatic scaling down that the city council needs to take a very close look at:

"The deal requires changes to City Hall's ambitious $3 billion vision for the area...Even if the city and Related reach an agreement, the new delay would likely make it challenging for the developer to break ground before the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term in 2013, something the administration has hoped would occur. The Bloomberg administration has long aimed to transform the 61-acre Willets Point—a forlorn corner of the city that lacks even underground sewer lines—into a dense new hub near Flushing. But the economic downturn, coupled with heavy environmental contamination at the site, have proved formidable hurdles. Basic infrastructure is needed, with even soil needing to be trucked there to raise the ground level."

The NY Times also weighs in to report the nature of this reversal of fortune:

"The Bloomberg administration has spent more than $130 million in recent years trying to speed up the redevelopment of a pockmarked, 13-block stretch of auto repair shops near Citi Field in Queens. But even as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce a deal with a developer for the site this month, the project at the area known as Willets Point suffered another setback, which will delay construction for as much as two years. The proposal for a mix of retail space and housing on 12.75 acres, the first phase of the project, does not conform to existing zoning regulations and will require a new environmental review, public hearings and a journey through New York City’s often treacherous review process.
“This slows them down a lot,” said Michael B. Gerrard, a lawyer who is representing landowners opposed to the redevelopment plan."

It not only slows the city down it exposes the grandiosity and mendacity of the economic development officials who simply bit off more than they could chew-and are now left with putting lipstick on a pig: "The administration tried to put the best face on what could be a lengthy delay. “We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic process we’ve already made there,” said Julie Wood, a Bloomberg spokeswoman."

We will save our opinion about the city's apparent choice of Related and Sterling Equities for a separate post but we'll conclude this by saying saying this is a great day for property rights in New York and its a great day for the Army of Davids that have fought long and hard to prevent the ugly ogre from destroying their lives. Hats off to the property owners, the tenant businesses and the thousands of workers that the city was prepared to discard into the garbage in pursuit of its real estate Holy Grail.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


In 2008, Willets Point United Inc. vowed to challenge and defeat the billionaire Mayor's elitist Willets Point development plan. Now, against all odds, we have done it.

We are thankful to the many people, some known to the public and others unknown, who have tirelessly helped us to defend our property ownership against the City of New York, and to demand that the City begin providing essential municipal services to our area that it has deliberately denied us for decades despite our payment of taxes. We will continue doing so.

What remains, is to bring to justice those who have had the audacity to violate the law and threaten our property ownership.

Stay tuned, New York. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quinn Exits-Stage Right

What a show yesterday. In the middle of the celebration for having labored long and hard to give birth to a bill that had so many birth defects that it isn't even clear that the effort was worthwhile, Speaker Quinn walked out from the victory lap because someone called Mike Bloomberg "pharaoh!" How lame is that?

As the WSJ reports: "It was supposed to be a celebratory news conference for New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a moment to herald passage of a living-wage bill she personally helped craft. Instead, in a move that could damage her potential mayoral candidacy, Ms. Quinn abruptly walked out of the City Hall event at the beginning of her remarks after a supporter called Mayor Michael Bloomberg "Pharaoh Bloomberg."

Her reasoning was almost as faulty as the bill itself: "Look, that's not appropriate," Ms. Quinn said, telling the crowd to respect opposing viewpoints and requesting an apology. When no one responded, she raised her right hand and said: "Congratulations on the bill—I'm not going to participate in name-calling."

Please! This was pure theater-orchestrated by juggler Quinn who is trying to straddle support for a union sponsored bill alongside her seven year love affair with the billionaire mayor. All the speaker had to do was to chastise the remarks as inappropriate-and then move on.

But what wasn't said yesterday-and it was obscured by the calculated dramatics from the speaker-is that this bill will only impact around 600 workers a year, at best. And the measure was diluted when the retail workers were kicked to the curb by the Related-loving Quinn. Also obscured was the fact that a living wage had been negotiated in the city's largest development project-Willets Point-only to be sh*t canned by the mayor without any concomitant temper tantrum from the speaker or anyone in organized labor.

This labor requirement was arguably the linchpin of the city council's approval of the redevelopment plan in 2008. As we have pointed out: "Which brings us back to Willets Point. It is unclear whether the current legislation would apply to Willets Point but shouldn't labor and the council be holding Bloomberg to his commitment? Was the Willets Point living wage promise simply a ruse to gain approval of a controversial project? If so, isn't it time for the council to exercise its oversight authority?"

So all of the drama surrounding living wage hides the fact that the legislation is purely symbolic and that any real commitment to struggling workers is absent-either with elected officials or the union that's supposed to champion their cause. That was clear the moment that Bloomberg removed the requirement from the mayor's signature development without a peep from labor or a single council member.