2008-10-22 / Political Page

Willets Point Fate In City Council's Hands

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Congressmember Joseph Crowley, above, favors the Willets Point proposal.  Congressmember Joseph Crowley, above, favors the Willets Point proposal. A broad coalition of Queens public officials and business leaders urged approval of the controversial Willets Point redevelopment plan at a City Council Committee hearing last Friday, but property owners facing the possible taking of their land and businesses on the 62-acre site called for the plan's rejection.

A final vote on the issue is due in about a month and a coalition of city councilmembers, led by Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, has promised to reject the plan.

Leading the coalition favoring the proposal were Congressmember Joseph Crowley, Borough President Helen Marshall, former Borough President Claire Shulman, and many members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce and other business and labor leaders.

Shulman, who heads the Flushing/Willets Point/Corona Local Development Corporation (LDC) urged the members of the council's Land Use Subcommittee for Planning, Dispositions and Concessions to judge the plan on its merits, arguing it will transform an area covered with car wrecks and oil-slicked streets into a thriving center of open space.

Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, at left, has promised to reject the plan. Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, at left, has promised to reject the plan. Plans call for affordable housing as well as upscale high-rise condominium apartment buildings, a new school, convention center and hotel, community space and retail and restaurant space.

Shulman stated, "In such turbulent economic times, we must do everything we can to promote initiatives that will spur job growth and new business. We've faced times like these before and we all know that the way to re-energize our economy is through projects such as Willets Point.

"In addition to creating jobs, the development of Willets Point will also clean up one of the most contaminated areas in the region and turn it into New York City's first green neighborhood."

The project is sponsored by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). Seth W. Pinsky, president of the agency, reported to the subcommittee: "We are pleased to have made good on our promise to reach as many negotiated acquisition agreements as possible in Willets Point prior to the city council's vote. Our three latest agreements demonstrate EDC's commitment to working together with local businesses and landowners to achieve fair and negotiated terms."

Pinsky said the three latest acquisition agreements bring the total land the city controls to almost six acres. In all, the city has concluded eight deals to acquire properties. The city also owns 14 acres of the 62-acre site.

Under the city's plan, the 62-acres will be remediated and prepared for a new mixed-use community.

A large contingent of property owners, members of the Willets Point Industry & Realty Association (WPIRA) came to the hearing to rebut the EDC and LDC statements. WPIRA officials argued that the EDDCplan was reckless and would waste $1 billion in taxpayer's money "to seize their private property through a massive abuse of eminent domain", which is the government's acquisition of land through court procedures for the public good.

WPIRA's attorney, Michael Gerrard, told the councilmembers, "The city's own studies have failed to detect the terrible contamination they claim is present in Willets Point. There are official federal and state processes for identifying the most contaminated sites and those processes have never shown that Willets Point is contaminated at even a fraction of the levels that would warrant remediation."

Also opposing the project was Congressmember Nydia Velazquez who stated, "Shame on the city of New York. The plan just doesn't make sense. Don't we need to protect manufacturing jobs and blue collar jobs?"

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