Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Willets Point Scoped

According to NY World the Willets Point scoping session was a point of contention, with scores of community folks joining with WPU members to voice their objections to the city's bait and switch plan: "The city’s newly expanded redevelopment plan for Willets Point has revived a public review process closed four years ago — and reopened heated conflicts among businesses that stand to gain or lose from the transformation of the polluted district."

As WPU's Len Scarola told the gathering: "“The project did not work at 60 acres — how can it work at 109 acres?” testified Len Scarola of Willets Point United, a group of local business owners that has long fought the city’s plans to acquire land for the redevelopment through eminent domain."

Support  for the project was limited to a rag tag group of labor people who would be in favor of building a brothel in your back yard as long as one of their members was employed in the construction-and, oh yes, the Real Estate Board was there to give aid and comfort to its billionaire developers who were selected to take the land grab hand off from the city once the locals' property is condemned and transferred.

For its part the city still insists that most of the land has been taken-and the reporter tels us that, "few holdouts remain." This use of language is offensive because when you are under siege holding out is heroic and the story presents a different and less attractive picture of folks standing in the way of greatness:

"David Quart, senior vice president of development for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said at the meeting that the city has acquired about 95 percent of the property it needs for the redevelopment and is working with a real estate firm to help the business owners who will need to relocate. Gerrard said he was not sure whether any of his clients have yet been contacted with offers of relocation assistance."

Quart's being a half pint about this because the land owners are not looking to be relocated-they are not tenant businesses-businesses that have no relocation plan yet to surface anyway. And what's missing is that there are 9 owners and 17 parcels in this phase that belong to people who are unwilling to sell.

Then there is the bait and switch aspect of all of this. A good segment of the opposition last Thursday focused on the city's failed affordable housing promises:

"Another unknown also hung over the hearing: the fate of more than 1,900 units of affordable housing promised by the city among the 5,500 apartments initially planned for the site, after community and advocacy groups pressed for their inclusion. The new plan puts construction of the Willets West area before full development of housing, pushing back the completion of the residential units to the final phase of construction. Those who negotiated the deal are worried about what the changed development plan means for the 2008 promises, according to Joseph McKellar, the executive director of Queens Congregations United for Action."

The biggest environmental challenge in all of this is mentioned in passing-the huge over development of the area and the lack of infrastructure to support it: "The development work at Willets Point is expected to proceed in three phases, beginning in 2014 and ending in 2032. By the time it is completed, the $3 billion project is expected to fill the peninsula with more than 5 million square feet of new development."

Willets Point is on a flood plain and all of this planned development could very well sink the Iron Triangle into the Flushing River. But what the heck, that probably won't happen until the affordable housing is built sometime around the twelfth of never.