Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Faith in New York Says No to Willets West

A growing opposition to Willets Point has emerged from the faith community in Queens. In Sunday’s NY Daily News, Msgr. Thomas Healy, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Corona and Patrick Young, pastor of First Baptist Church of East Elmhurst, editorialize against the Bloomberg boondoggle. Speaking of the top down, failing to trickle down, development policies of the current mayor, the religious leaders point out:
“Economic development over the past decade in New York City has overwhelmingly benefited those at the top, while leaving the rest of us behind. Today, it has become much more difficult for working people in our congregations and communities to find dignified work, pay for housing, send their children to college and save for retirement. That is not good for families, congregations, or our city.”
As the men of faith go on to point out, this is particularly true of the bait and switch at Willets Point-but first they go on to lay out a statement of principle for development fairness:
“We believe every development in NYC that receives public subsidies should meet an “equity test” — a set of common-sense standards we should expect of developers and city leaders before a single shovel is placed in the ground. To get the go-ahead, a project must provide living-wage jobs, real affordable housing and enhanced open space, and it must be the product of sufficient community input.”
So how does this righteous goal compare to the reality of Willets Point? Not very well:
“While New York could greatly benefit from this brand of equitable development, the proposal to build a massive, 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is a poster child for everything that is wrong with development in our city. We strongly oppose the proposal, which would be the largest mall in NYC, for three reasons:

* The Mayor and Economic Development Corp. broke their 2008 promise to build 2,000 units of affordable housing at Willets Point. The project developers have inserted a dangerous clause into their contract, whereby affordable housing will be abandoned if Van Wyck off-ramps are not built.

* The City and developers have not considered the negative impact of the city’s largest mall upon surrounding communities and businesses, including increased car traffic, overcrowded subway trains and poverty-wage jobs.

* The proposal represents another example of public land being exploited for private benefit, without meeting community needs. The Joint Venture, which represents some of the country’s wealthiest corporations, are already enjoying more than $99.9 million in taxpayer subsidies, and being given public parkland worth nearly $1 billion, while not being required to meet real community needs for jobs, housing or open space.”

The current development plan for the Iron Triangle fails at every turn-and it is frankly incredible that the city council is even given this lame duck proposal any serious consideration; especially after EDC has pulled the rug out from under all of the negotiated deals contained in the original 2008 approvals.
And the idea of a massive mall-nowhere seen in the original plan-is particularly galling to the men of faith and those congregations that they represent:
“The development represents a huge opportunity to construct affordable housing, enhance open space and create living-wage jobs — and yet the Economic Development Corp., Mayor Bloomberg and the developers are deciding instead to build a mall. While we believe our city could greatly benefit from responsible development at Willets Point, the current proposal takes us further down the road toward inequality.”
So, what’s the antonym of responsible? Yes, irresponsible it is. This is irresponsible development by an administration that has made these kinds of projects mundane-always a gold mine for developers and a shaft for the community and its small businesses. We’ll give the pastors the final word (Hint it has a resounding No in it):
“Faith and community leaders from across the city strongly urge the City Council to vote “no” this Wednesday if the current proposal isn’t significantly improved, so that our communities and city leaders have more time to create a better development proposal for Willets Point that would deliver real community benefits to the people of New York City.”