Friday, May 31, 2013

Peralta denounces "bait-and-switch" tactics of Willets Point developers

Jose Peralta letter to Bloomberg, Quinn and Marshall by unitedtriangle

Senator Jose Peralta demands that housing be guaranteed and prioritized in the Willets Point redevelopment. It has been put off indefinitely, when it was originally supposed to be the first part of the project to get done after remediation.

Reasons why the Mets' 1961 agreement with Robert Moses doesn't allow for the Willets West project

Urban Justice Center letter to EDC

Opposition to the Willets West / Willets Point project continues to increase, in the form of legal arguments that detail why the 1961 agreement made between Robert Moses and the Mets does not permit a shopping mall on the Mets parking lot.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Queens Community Board 3 nixes Mets mall

CB3 members compete to second the motion to disapprove Willets West mall / Willets Point development
By a wide margin of 30-1 (plus 1 abstention), CB3 voted on Thursday night to disapprove the proposed "Willets West" mall / Willets Point development. The landslide vote endorsed the earlier recommendation, on Tuesday night, of several CB3 committees, and took place after a public hearing on the matter. Reasons for CB3's disapproval include the project's huge and unaddressed traffic congestion and related negative impacts, failure to prioritize housing and a school, overcrowding of subway and bus lines as a consequence of the project, and disregarding the Advisory Committee and Queens officials when selecting the plan and the developers. CB3 concluded: "The proposed project would change the character of the surrounding neighborhoods and impact the livelihoods of 250,000 residents and many small mom-and-pop businesses."

Likely aware of the committees' Tuesday recommendation to disapprove the project, no representative of developers Sterling Equities and Related Companies, or the city, bothered to attend the Thursday night public hearing.

Although CB7 voted last week to approve the same development project by a very slim margin of 22-18 (notoriously, after the CB7 committee had rejected it the week before by a vote of 7-2), the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure ("ULURP") entitles other affected community boards to also evaluate a land use application that "may significantly affect the welfare of the district or borough served by such board". CB3 has exercised that right, and decided to disapprove the application. So at the moment, the Willets West mall / Willets Point development has been approved by CB7 by a very slim margin, and rejected by CB3 almost unanimously. ULURP does not give any greater weight to any particular community board's recommendation – so both boards' recommendations must be equally considered by the next decision-makers.
Donovan Finn speaks during public hearing

Donovan Finn, a former CB3 member and university professor who teaches urban planning, urban policy and environmental design, stated during the public hearing: "There are too many holes in this contract. It is completely designed to make Related and the Wilpons be able to build their mall, build their new parking lot, do a few nice things along the edges of the development, and if they choose – to pay what for them will be a piddly amount of money and walk away. The affordable housing will never get built. … I'm not a psychic, but that's the future I see.

This is not just a vote against a really bad plan, which it is, I think. Something will happen on that site – It just should be something better; it should be something that whoever builds it should come and ask us what we need, and what we think should be there, instead of just deciding and telling us that it's in our best interest."
CB3 Chairperson Marta Lebreton reads committee recommendation
The CB3 Chairperson, Marta Lebreton, read the following statement prior to the board's vote on Thursday night:

"I'm going to read the recommendation that was made on Tuesday night. … ULURP section 203, item (g.), allows for the review and vote on actions not in a community district. Willets Point may be geographically located within Community Board 7, but the proposed action will directly impact more than 250,000 residents in Community Board 3. Our board is merely a couple of blocks from the site, and therefore any and all actions that take place at Willets Point will directly impact the residents of our board.

On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Community Board 3 convened a joint committee meeting of the business, economic development, parks, land use and traffic/transportation [committees] to review the Willets Point redevelopment project, which includes 'Willets West' [mall] and the Willets Point Special District. After careful review of the proposal, the committee concluded that the plan in its present form be disapproved.

Community Board 3 Queens is opposed to constructing a mall on mapped public parkland; the demolition of the Empire Millwork Corporation building – a historic site listed in the state and national registries; and the proposed development schedule. The plan calls for soil remediation of 23 out of 62 acres of the proposed site, which will be in Phase One of the project. The anticipated completion date would be 2018, when retail and hotel space would be constructed. Affordable housing and the construction of a school would not come until 2028 – ten years later, in Phase 1B. The aforementioned school and housing should be included in the first phase.

The impacts that are not addressed in the current proposal are:

Traffic: Although a commitment was made to provide $1.87 million to establish an infrastructure and traffic mitigation fund for traffic improvements, there was no mention of how traffic congestion would be mitigated in Community Board 3 Queens, particularly at 114th Street, Astoria Boulevard, 34th Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard.

Transit and pedestrians: Community Board 3 Queens will be impacted by the increase of ridership on the subway line number 7 and the bus lines of Q48, Q66 and Q19.

Public health concerns: Community Board 3 Queens has been identified as one of the districts that has the highest incidence of asthma and other respiratory ailments. The applicants report that the increase in traffic would have no impact on Community Board 3 Queens. The increase in traffic volumes will surely adversely affect our fragile constituents. The committee strongly recommends that a complete environmental cleanup on all the acres in Willets Point be conducted, not just in the Special District. Further, cleanup of Flushing Bay and installation of a new sewer system so that Flushing Bay will no longer remain a dumping ground.

Environmental and social justice: The current plans do not consider our community needs, nor acknowledge the impact the proposed plan will have on the commercial and residential displacement of our most vulnerable residents in Community Board 3 Queens.

In conclusion, the Willets Point proposal – the city's largest development project in this section of Queens: The impacts of this major undertaking will affect not only the residents of Community Board 7, but all of the surrounding board areas. In July, 2008, the Borough President's recommendation approved the application with the condition that the Willets Point Advisory Committee be comprised of the Queens Borough President, local elected officials, representatives from Community Boards 3, 4 and 7, and other community leaders, should be continued for the duration of the project, including during developer selection, construction, implementation and all other phases of the Willets Point development. We strongly suggest that the Borough President's recommendation be complied with. Community Board 3 Queens recommends that the application be disapproved as presented. The proposed project would change the character of the surrounding neighborhoods and impact the livelihoods of 250,000 residents and many small mom-and-pop businesses. That is the recommendation of the committee. Do I have a motion – a motion is on the floor. Do I have a second? Okay. Any discussion? Okay; we're going to call the question.

The motion on the floor, seconded by Ed Westley, is to disapprove the application as presented. And we are going to include everything that I read."

A "Yes" vote is for denial.

Vote tally: 30 "Yes" [for denial of the application]; 1 "No"; 1 abstention.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Judge decides WPU's legal claim to reimbursement is valid

Eminent domain legal fee reimbursement decision

New York State Supreme Court judge Jaime A. Rios has denied a motion made by the city to dismiss the claim of Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") seeking reimbursement of legal and expert fees incurred by WPU when defending against the city's failed attempt to use eminent domain to forcibly acquire our properties.

The decision means that WPU's claim against the city in the amount of $1,102,035.41 is valid, and will proceed in court. We are confident that the city will have to pay the fees that we are entitled to recover – adding to the already exorbitant amount of city funds being spent to pursue the proposed Willets Point development.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

(I)t (R)eally (S)tinks

Word has come down that the IRS has been engaging in a partisan witch hunt against Tea Party and “Patriot” labeled groups - something that we have already spoken about here at length;

“Senior Internal Revenue Service officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general's report obtained by The Associated Press that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner.

The IRS apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware.” (
We commented on this partisan inappropriateness last year because we were concerned that the agency had ignored out request that it investigate the patently illegal political actions of the Claire Shulman LDC;

We have been tracking the lackluster efforts of law enforcement in bringing the illegal lobbying work of Claire Shulman's Flushing/WilletsPoint/Corona Local Development Corporation to some sort of just enforcement conclusion. We have harped on the fact the NYS Attorney General's Office has completely tanked its original investigation of the illegal lobbying (under Section 1411 of the not for profit laws of NY), but haven't dwelled too much on our complaint to the IRS-something that we had written to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about.

Now, however, a disturbing story prompts us to re-visit the federal aspects of Shulman's illegal lobbying scheming-the fact that the IRS is hounding Tea Party groups, forcing them through hoops to qualify for their not for profit status. (

What these new revelations tell us is that the IRS - supposedly an independent agency thoroughly detached from political bias - is actually no such thing. The nature of the inquiries were extensive and intrusive - as Kevin Williamson has pointed out;

“Third, and perhaps most troubling, those tea-party organizations were sent letters of inquiry demanding information that would seldom if ever be demanded of any other applicant in the process. The IRS demanded lists of donors, names of spouses and family members, detailed information about political views and associations — all of that “under penalties of perjury.” Many applicants dropped out of the process. The questions were remarkably invasive: For example, the IRS demanded to know not only whether political candidates participated in public forums conducted by the groups, but which issues were discussed, along with copies of any literature distributed at the forum and material published on websites. (
So the IRS, using a political litmus test, was singling out conservative groups in what can only be seen as a tendentious focus on groups that the Obama Administration didn’t like. Ann Althouse has the money quote on the injustice that is involved in selective enforcement;

"We can disagree about what the tax laws should be and how strictly or harshly they should be enforced, but everyone knows it is fundamentally wrong to vary the degree of enforcement, selecting victims by their politics. If government cannot be trusted to avoid that fundamental wrong, it cannot be trusted with any power at all." (
Even liberals like Joe Klein are outraged;

“The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups is outrageous. Those who did this should be fired immediately. That’s obvious…And now they have violated one of the more sacred rules of our democracy: you do not use the tax code to punish your opponents.” (
Which leaves us with the lawbreaking Ms. Shulman. Her LDC was a nonprofit that engaged in direct lobbying that was expressly illegal under the laws of NY State and she submitted fraudulent documents to the IRS claiming that her not for profit group was not engaged in the very lobbying that her group was formed to do-as she herself told the NY Times;

As the group’s director Claire Shulman told the NY Times in 2009 lobbying was the "primary purpose" of FWPCLDC and "the whole idea." However, when filling out the IRS forms under lobbying the group wrote, “No.” (

We plan to re-write to Senator McConnell and see if we can now get the agency to act on a matter that it should have acted on over a year ago but didn’t because apparently it was too busy violating its charter and targeting the political enemies of the president. We’ll give Williamson the last word:

“The misuse of government resources is subject to civil, misdemeanor, and felony charges under federal and Ohio law. The abuse of IRS resources, including the collection of “confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and [causing], in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,” were cited in the second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Landslide Committee Vote To Deny Willets West / Willets Point Application

Late Wednesday night, the Building/Zoning Committee of Queens Community Board 7 ("CB7") voted to deny the Willets West / Willets Point Phase One ULURP application of Sterling Equities and Related Companies. The vote tally was 7-2, against the application. Those who voted "No" included committee Chair Chuck Apelian and CB7 Chair Eugene Kelty. We believe that if Queens residents realized what is truly at stake, they would be applauding and supporting this very important decision, and the work of the CB7 committee and leadership.

Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") commends CB7 for finally taking a stand against this inappropriate development proposal of Sterling/Related – which calls for the construction of a huge 1.4 million square foot mall on 30+ acres of public parkland property, and would nearly double the size of the Willets Point development from 62 acres as proposed during 2008, to 108.9 acres as intended, now. The horrendous traffic impacts of such a large project at this Queens location, which will affect residents of surrounding communities as well as anyone who needs to commute efficiently past Willets Point, are just one key reason to deny this harmful application.

While the proposed Sterling/Related project prioritizes construction of an unnecessary, newly-added mall, key "benefits" of the Willets Point development that were touted during 2008 are not guaranteed, and instead are subject to contractual escape clauses. For example, housing and affordable housing were originally said to be linchpins of the development; but the present plan allows Sterling/Related to opt out of building any housing, upon payment of a penalty (which will be a mere cost of doing business). Moreover, Sterling/Related are not permitted to build any housing, unless new access ramps to and from the Van Wyck Expressway are first constructed – but the City has made it crystal clear in its contract with Sterling/Related, "for the avoidance of doubt, in no event shall EDC or the City be required to construct the Ramps as part of the Development". Without those ramps, there can be no housing – and Sterling/Related would not pay any penalty. Thus, it is entirely possible that not much other than a mall on parkland will be constructed if the project proceeds – hardly what was promoted during 2008.

Committee members were also troubled by the prospective abuse of eminent domain to forcibly acquire more property for this project – not for any essential public purpose, but to enrich private developers.

The Building/Zoning Committee convened four separate times during the past month to hear presentations by Sterling/Related and to discuss their application, for a total of roughly 13 hours. The developers had every chance to present thorough information in support of their application, and did so. Having considered everything, the committee voted to deny the application. We hope and expect that the full community board will recognize the wisdom of the committee's decision, and vote similarly after the public hearing on May 13, 2013.

We strongly encourage members of the public to attend and speak during the CB7 public hearing on Monday, May 13, 2013 at 7:00PM, at the Union Plaza Care Center, 33-23 Union Street in Flushing; 9th floor.

Please review the handout materials that we provided to the CB7 committee, reproduced below.

Founding Fathers

Rejected Developers

DENY Application

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ABRACADABRA – From Traffic Nightmare To Open Roads

Decision-makers confront Willets West mall developers' questionable traffic mitigation report, whose author has not committed to the "feasibility" or "effectiveness" of the alleged solutions it presents

The proposed Willets Point development was already considered a huge traffic generator back in 2008, when its size was limited to 62 acres of Willets Point property. At the time, traffic experts warned of severe impacts on many of the roadways that pass by and through Willets Point, should the development proceed. One such expert, Bernard Adler (former Traffic Commissioner of the town of White Plains), testified: "I have never seen this level of unmitigated impact, in the forty years I've been practicing."

Concerns about the traffic impacts of that original 62-acre project are well-documented (see, and were intensified by the proposed project's location at the nexus of popular Queens roadways that are routinely used by daily commuters, and that are also the main routes serving both of New York City's airports.

Flash-forward five years – and now Mayor Bloomberg, Sterling Equities and Related Companies have expanded the proposed development from 62 acres to 108.9 acres, and added a 1.4 million square foot mall called "Willets West" to be built on parkland property located west of Citi Field stadium. As intolerable as the traffic resulting from the original 62-acre project would have been, it can only get worse with the addition of a 1.4 million square foot mall (which adds 950,000 square feet of retail space to the development).

The developers' new traffic report prepared for the present project (Chapter 14 of the current Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement) describes future conditions if the development is built. The report includes separate analyses of "Non-Game Day" and "Game Day" traffic (naturally, there is more traffic when there is a Mets game at Citi Field). Since Sterling/Related are proposing to construct the Willets West mall and develop "Phase One" of the Willets Point property, let's see what the future traffic conditions will be if they do so and the roadways remain as they are now. Note that this example represents a "Non-Game Day", when traffic is less than when there is a game.

The top circled row in the chart above shows that the travel speed on the westbound Grand Central Parkway, mid-day during the week, will go down to 0.4 miles per hour with the project. In the weekday PM hour, the speed will be just 1.7 miles per hour. Saturday mid-day it will be 0.5 miles per hour. The proposed project would reduce this portion of the Grand Central Parkway to a stand-still. By comparison, without the project, travel speed would be roughly 40 miles per hour.

The circled line toward the middle of the chart shows the southbound Whitestone Expressway, where the travel speed mid-day during the week will go down to just 12.2 miles per hour with the project, versus 34.3 miles per hour without the project. Saturday mid-day it will be just 7.6 miles per hour, down from 33 miles per hour without the project.

The bottom of the chart shows travel speeds on various ramps. The second-to-last row shows speeds going down to 1.1, 0.1, 0.1 and 0.2 miles per hour, depending on time of day, versus an average of 43 miles per hour without the project.

These are just a few examples of significant impacts that result from constructing the Willets West mall and Phase One of Willets Point. Game days will be even worse. And these conditions already presume that new access ramps to and from the Van Wyck Expressway are constructed – as they must be, for all of Phase One to be built.

Another traffic chart marks each significantly impacted local intersection with an "X". The chart is loaded with "X"s.

To this point, we have discussed future traffic conditions if the Willets West mall and "Phase One" of Willets Point are developed, with the roadways remaining as they are now. A project with such severe traffic impacts might not be approved by decision-makers, and would create horrendous conditions. So, the developers devise and propose hypothetical "mitigation" measures that they hope may alleviate the traffic impacts.

It is the more favorable, post-mitigation traffic statistics that the developers then claim represent what the future conditions will be, with their project constructed – no matter how drastic, hypothetical and non-final those proposed mitigation measures happen to be. It is in the developers' interest to produce a traffic mitigation report that claims to eliminate project-related traffic impacts to the greatest extent, to convince decision-makers that traffic impacts are not a reason to disapprove the project.

Enter Babu

The person introduced by the developers during recent committee meetings of Queens Community Board 7 who is said to be responsible for devising mitigation measures for the Willets West / Willets Point Phase One project, is Babu Veeregowda, PE – referred to as "Babu".

Babu Veeregowda, PE; VHB, Inc.
Babu's work apparently consists of simulating combinations of potential traffic mitigation measures, and assessing whether they would improve traffic flow at particular locations, compared with the impacts of the development project without those mitigations; and if so, by how much. Potential mitigation measures – Babu's tools of the trade – include such things as manipulating traffic signal operation; signalizing intersections; installing louvers on traffic signals; lane re-striping; prohibiting parking; prohibiting turns; widening ramps; installing quick-curb channelization; and other more intensive mitigation measures.

Babu's written assessment for the Willets West / Willets Point project is found in the developers' mitigation report (Chapter 21 of the current Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement). Indeed, not every traffic impact can be mitigated; and in our opinion, the remaining unmitigated impacts are collectively so severe as to make this proposed development inappropriate and unworthy of approval. Even with mitigation measures in place, a number of intersections at major entry points to the proposed development will operate at Level of Service "F" (fail), with delays of between 100 seconds and more than 800 seconds (13 minutes!).

Nevertheless, the developers' self-serving mitigation report claims vast improvements in certain other areas when mitigation measures devised by Babu are in place. For example: Remember the chart, above, showing that the travel speed on the westbound Grand Central Parkway, mid-day during the week, would be just 0.4 miles per hour with the project built? Mitigation supposedly increases that travel speed to 42.4 miles per hour – virtually the same speed as if the huge project is not built at all. In the weekday PM hour, when the speed with the project built would be just 1.7 miles per hour, mitigation measures supposedly bring that speed back up to 37.3 miles per hour. Saturday mid-day, when the speed with the project built would be 0.5 miles per hour, mitigation measures supposedly bring that speed back up to 37.4 miles per hour.

The mitigation report contains many other similar instances in which very severe traffic impacts caused by the proposed development are completely reversed by the recommended hypothetical mitigation. We think it is dangerous to trust this mitigation report.

Unsettled "Effectiveness" and "Feasibility" of the Proposed Mitigation Measures

First, the mitigation report quietly states: "The effectiveness and feasibility of proposed mitigation measures will be further assessed between the draft and final SEIS" (page 21-2).

In other words, no one is committing to the effectiveness and feasibility of the specific mitigation measures that are being touted now to decision-makers, and which so miraculously improve traffic conditions. Rather, a future, final version of the mitigation report may conclude that all or some of the recommended mitigation measures are simply not effective, or even "feasible" – in which case improvements in traffic flow shown in the present mitigation report will not occur, and those impacts may instead be unmitigated.

How can anyone rely upon a report whose author is unable to vouch for even the "feasibility" of the alleged solutions that it presents?

How can the report represent that certain mitigations are essential – without knowing if they are even feasible?

NYCDOT and NYSDOT Have Not Reviewed – And May Reject – Proposed Mitigation Measures

Per the mitigation report, some of the recommended mitigations are "measures that may call for detailed review by both NYCDOT and NYSDOT and which represent preferred improvements that would benefit the overall traffic network. As discussed above, if these mitigation measures are modified or rejected by the review agencies, significant adverse impacts identified above would be unmitigated" (emphasis added; page 21-29).

In other words, achieving the vastly improved traffic flows described in the mitigation report requires measures that NYCDOT and NYSDOT have not yet reviewed or approved, and which they may eventually reject. At the present time, no one can guarantee that any such mitigation measure will actually be implemented.

"Cost Intensive Mitigation Measures"

Certain recommendations within the mitigation report are said to be "cost intensive". One example:
  • "34th Avenue at 126th Street … To fully mitigate significant impacts during six of the seven time periods, this intersection would require cost intensive mitigation measures including closure of the existing slip ramp from GCP/Astoria Boulevard to 126th Street and combining it with the existing ramp from eastbound Northern Boulevard to 126th Street".
"Combining" two existing ramps, a "cost intensive" mitigation measure – What will this cost? Who will pay for it? No funding is identified. Is there any more commitment to construct this proposed combined ramp, than there is to construct the proposed new Van Wyck Expressway ramps (i.e., the ramps that neither the City nor the developer is obligated to construct)? Moreover, has this mitigation measure been reviewed and approved by NYCDOT and NYSDOT?

Telling Decision-Makers What They Want To Hear?

As discussed above, there are indications that this traffic mitigation report is a smokescreen, and that mitigation measures it recommends may not be implemented: Its author has not committed to the effectiveness or even the "feasibility" of the mitigation measures it describes; NYCDOT and NYSDOT have neither reviewed nor approved – and may even reject – recommended mitigation measures; and "cost intensive" mitigation measures are proposed, with no funding identified.

But there is a larger context for this mitigation report – namely, it is presented by project proponents who have already demonstrated that they will say or write whatever is necessary at any given time to gain the approval of decision-makers and advance this project; then later abandon those same things, after decision-makers have relied on them. NYCEDC and the City administration are the same project proponents who:
  • Promised Queens Community Board 7 and the Willets Point Advisory Committee, in writing multiple times, that they would "participate in developer selection" – then blatantly reneged, by shutting them out of developer selection.
  • Obtained approval to develop Willets Point property – then selected developers that intend to build primarily on other nearby parkland property that was never mentioned during the 2008 approval process.
  • Testified to the New York City Council that remediating and developing Willets Point in phases was impractical, and that the entire 62 acres needed to be taken over – then issued a Request for Proposals to develop "Phase One".
  • Agreed in writing with the New York City Central Labor Council to include a "living wage" provision in the Willets Point Request for Proposals – then issued a Request for Proposals that omitted the required provision.
  • Submitted an affidavit to New York State Supreme Court, stating that they would not acquire property via eminent domain until the proposed Van Wyck Expressway ramps had first been approved – then commenced eminent domain proceedings, without the Van Wyck ramps being approved.
Considering the foregoing, the traffic mitigation report may be just the latest example of project proponents saying what they believe decision-makers want to hear – regardless of whether or not it will be honored or implemented, later.

Decision-makers need to ask themselves: Do I trust that the severe traffic impacts of the Willets West mall / Willets Point Phase One development can and will certainly be mitigated, as described in the mitigation report?

If the answer is "no", then the traffic impacts to be caused by the development could very well be the unmitigated disasters shown in the two charts above, and elsewhere throughout the traffic report. Tolerating such conditions in order to gain an unnecessary Willets West mall on parkland is not an acceptable bargain.

Or, as our own traffic expert, Brian Ketcham, puts it: "How can you justify so large a project with horrible traffic conditions reported in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement? When faced with breakdown conditions in all directions can you honestly say that this project will not create huge traffic delays along access roads, spilling back onto the surrounding expressway system? Can you not admit that it will have a huge negative effect on this community, imposing greater traffic delays, more traffic injuries and deaths and other costly externalities, borne by the million motorists already passing by Willets Point each day on nearby expressways and arterials?"

Babu Veeregowda, PE describes potential traffic mitigation measure.