Friday, September 13, 2013

A "Rare" opportunity

Crain’s has been erroneously reporting on the land use process in the run-up to the city council’s vote on the reconfigured Willets Point development. The online version of the magazine is telling its readers that there will be a first hearing on the city’s plan this Monday:
“The ambitious plan to put up a mega-mall next to Citi Field in Willets Point, Queens, will face its first hearing before the City Council on Monday. The session, under the auspices of the council's subcommittee on zoning and franchises which is chaired by Queens Councilman Mark Weprin, will be the first test of the council's willingness to approve the controversial project. Mr. Weprin has himself, publicly supported the project.” 
The reality is that the subcommittee had its first and only hearing September the 3rd. At this hearing, WPU was prohibited from presenting its Power Point critique of the city’s plan-and speakers were restricted from testifying for more than 2 minutes; while the developers were given all the time in the world to misinform the council members about the plan’s benefits. The fairness of restricting property owners who will be displaced and favoring the developers doing the eminent domain-inspired displacement, says all that needs to be said about the fairness of the process.

As WPU’s Jerry Antonacci has written in a letter to the Queens Chronicle, “The Fix is in.”
“The circumstances of the hearing were also newsworthy. With minimal advance notice, it was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on the morning after Labor Day, when many people were away. Less than half of the committee members were present for the Willets Point portion of the hearing. Subcommittee Chairman Mark Weprin only allowed each speaker two minutes, and prohibited Willets Point United from showing its PowerPoint presentation — even though people would have ceded their time for it. In our opinion, all this demonstrates the Council’s contempt for public comment about the proposed development.”
Crain’s goes on to cite unmanned development “experts” who see the plan as a boon to the city:

“Economic development experts and many elected officials insist that the development represents a rare opportunity chance to breathe new life into a run-down area long populated by auto repair shops. The mall will be built by a partnership between the Related Cos. and the owner of the Mets, Sterling Equities.”

C’mon, Crain’s, can’t we get any real reporting on this project? Like an even cursory discussion of the bait and switch that has left tax payers holding the bag for a $200 million gift to Related/Sterling Equities-a gift that should be labeled, “Bloomberg’s Folly.”

Can’t we get any reporting on the fact that the city engaged in an illegal lobbying scheme that was exposed by the NYS AG? And this throwaway line about housing needs to be more fully examined: “Neighborhood advocates have also complained about revelations in recent months that the 2,500 units of housing slated as part of the project won't be constructed until years after the mall opens.”

The fact is that the housing-and the disappearing living wage promise-was the linchpin of the deal that was crafted in 2008; and nowhere in that deal was there any mention of a mall being built on parkland. Keep in mind, that the original plan was premised on the city’s use of condemnation and the promises made in 2008 were in recognition that there needed to be some genuine public benefits in the plan to justify the taking of private property.

If, however, the city had told the council that the plan was for a 1.4 million square foot mall and a parking lot, this would have gone down in flames-even with Speaker Quinn shilling for the mayor. This is a bad deal for the city-and we haven’t even discussed the dishonest city treatment of the hundreds of immigrant businesses owners who are being dispersed into the netherworld by a callous Bloomberg administration that claims a concern for immigrants in theory, only to treat them with disdain in practice.

So, indeed, this is a rare opportunity-but one where the city council gets a chance to tell the Bloomberg administration that we are not going to be played like suckers. We’re not going to allow you to use the tax payers’ dime to gift property-bogarted from little guys-to some of you undeserving rich friends.