Thursday, May 3, 2012

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.