Thursday, July 11, 2013

Willets Point Opposition Grows

On Monday night a rally was held at Willets Point and affordable housing advocates joined with the property owners to voice their opposition to the current “bait and switch” deal the city has come up with to redevelop the Iron Triangle. Yesterday, opponents of the plan came down to the City Planning Commission hearing on the project to forcefully voice their concerns. As property owner Irene Presti told the Commission:

“This unneeded and unnecessary mall will be built on the site of the current CitiField parking lot. So where will the Mets fans park? They will park on the land that the city has purchased from Willets Point property owners for $200 million! So the city used the threat of eminent domain to grab land that will now be used for a parking lot.

Back when the mayor extolled the virtues of this deal he called Willets Point the “city’s first green neighborhood.” Not in our lifetime. What the city is getting for its overall investment of around $500 million dollars is a mall and a parking lot. Everything else is simply smoke and mirrors with no guarantees whatsoever.

Making all of this so much worse is that the city administration told the city council that it would recoup its investment when the selected developer was chosen. Instead, the city has decided to gift the property to Related and Sterling Equities for $1!”

On the heels of the rally and hearing political opposition is also growing-and the NY Daily News has the story:

“Two City Councilmen — who happen to both be running for Queens borough president — are trying to block the plate against a proposed mega-mall next to CitiField. The lawmakers, Leroy Comrie and Peter Vallone Jr., announced Monday they oppose the current plan, which includes a 1.4-million-square-foot mall and is currently rounding third and headed for home in the city’s land-use review process.

“The community has responded negatively,” Comrie said. “They don’t feel their needs are being kept in the forefront.” Comrie heads the powerful Council Land Use committee, and said changes may be needed before it gets the Council’s rubber stamp.”

In addition to Vallone and Comrie, WPU’s old ally Tony Avella has also weighed in on the plan and has found it wanting: “Shame on any politician who votes for this,” said state Sen. Tony Avella, a third candidate opposed to the proposal.

All of this took place at a Queens BP candidates’ forum. Vallone also made the strong point that the current plan was not the plan that the council approved in 2008: “That’s not what we approved,” said Vallone (D-Astoria).
“You can’t change it after we approve it.”

The one candidate who voiced support of the project was Melinda Katz who has decided to forego her self-described libertarian philosophy (and her stated uneasiness with eminent domain) and go all-in with the Queens Democratic Party that is supporting her:

“But former Councilwoman Melinda Katz appeared more bullish on the Iron Triangle overhaul. She said there weren’t any aspects of the current plan she would change. “It’s an urban renewal plan.” said Katz. “It’s so easy to talk about amending. We have to look at how to make it happen and move it forward.”

Shame on her, but we’re not surprised because Katz was one of the council members who publicly expressed bewilderment over the ramp issue back in 2008-and has done little since then to educate herself on the project. But then again, ignorance is bliss when the Party’s big guns and the entire real estate and you’re making big bucks as a land use lawyer.

What we now can see that if Katz is elected borough president, the communities of Queens will have been abandoned for the special interests and the small businesses of the borough be damned as well. Keep this in mind Queens Civic Congress when, in the future, a developer comes into your neighborhood.

Comrie, for his part, understands the foolishness of the housing and ramps issue:
“Comrie (D-St. Albans) blasted a “ridiculous” provision that hinges the construction of the affordable housing to connecting ramps to the Van Wyck Expwy.”

We’ll give Irene Presti the last word:

“When the city came for my property and the rest of the land owned by small owners like me, they claimed it was for the purpose of cleaning up Willets Point-alleging that it was essentially a toxic waste dump. Ladies and gentlemen the only thing toxic here is the deal for Willets Point-a spectacular example of crony capitalism and bad faith.

For the citizens of New York and the property owners of Willets Point, the current development proposal should be relegated to the dustbin of history-and a planning commission that lived up to its name would unceremoniously send this proposal back to the city. Do the right thing. Don’t be a rubber stamp for the mayor. Say no to Willets West.”