Group will question validity of the city's proposal to use eminent domain to force sale to developer
A group of land/business owners from the Willets Point section of Queens NY are gearing up for a battle with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at the final City Council oversight hearing on November 29, 2007, before the city files a Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) that would allow the use of eminent domain to condemn and take private properties in Willets Point and sell the land to a developer for a sizeable profit. The commercial and residential redevelopment project in Willets Point and is projected to cost upwards of $3 billion. This will be the City's first Urban Renewal plan in close to 40 years.
Representatives from the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA), a group of the 10 largest land/business owners in Willets Point will testify before the New York City Council's Land Use and Economic Development Committees on November 29, 2007 at 1 p.m. in the Committee Room, City Hall.
The City Council is expected to examine the economic and technical viability of the city's redevelopment plan for Willets Point and seek answers to questions that were posed during the first oversight hearing in June 2007. The city issued an RFP in November 2004 but has not released results of their environmental impact analysis of the area in question nor has it presented a viable plan for the development of the area and/or identified a developer. "Unlike all other major rezonings during the Bloomberg administration, the EDC is asking the City Council to vote on a condemnation and rezoning of an area before a developer has even been selected and a plan has been presented. It's outrageous and it's undemocratic," said Daniel Feinstein of Feinstein Iron Works Inc.
In May 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced the city's redevelopment plan for the area that includes building 1.7 million square feet of retail space, 500,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, 5,500 residential housing units and a convention center in the 60-acre neighborhood that is currently zoned for heavy industry. To execute this plan, it would require the condemnation and taking of approximately 45 acres of privately owned land.
Willets Point employs an estimated 3,000 highly-skilled workers in ironworking, construction, sewer parts production, auto repair and service businesses, and the manufacture of bakery and food ingredients that includes the largest distributor of Indian foods in the U.S. The area is mostly blue-collar and has provided a valuable opportunity for local residents to start up their own businesses and live the American dream. Willets Point business owners provide billions of dollars of economic activity and millions of dollars of tax revenue to the City of New York. In spite of this longstanding tax revenue, the city has blatantly neglected the area and withheld municipal services for decades.
"The city wants to redevelop land that has been in my family for three generations without giving us the option of expanding our profitable business that has thrived despite the fact that we've been operating without basic services. We don't have paved streets, sanitation services, street lights, sanitary or storm sewers," says Anthony Fodera, Senior Partner of Fodera Foods Inc. "We've pleaded with the city for the past 30 years and they just say no – we're not giving you these services. The city intentionally created blight in Willets Point, so they can steal our land from us. And to top it off, as soon as they kick us out they will provide the infrastructure and services that they have denied us to the developers."
"Former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman said that she wasn't going to invest in the area because we're not worth it," said Anthony Fodera, "If we're not worth it, then the city shouldn't take our tax dollars."
WPIRA representatives insist that if the city were to provide basic services, the current land owners would invest and expand their businesses and re-develop the area themselves. "The owners would develop the land and the junkyards that are eyesores couldn't afford to be here anymore," said Jerry Antonacci of Crown Container Co. Inc. "Give us a chance to develop the land where our grandfathers built these businesses over 70 years ago."
In April 2006, Dr. Tom Angotti of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development conducted a land use study of Willets Point that described the area as a "unique business incubator that provides jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to diverse new immigrant populations." The study recommended that the city establish a public-private planning partnership in which Willets Point businesses, workers and city agencies would be equal partners in a process that would develop plans that could accommodate existing businesses and promote new commercial and industrial development. "It's a disgrace the city didn't come to us first to discuss redeveloping this area—we could have worked together. We want it to change as well, nobody wants the status quo," said Dan Scully of Tully Construction Co. Inc.
At the November 29th hearing, WPIRA will question why the city has not considered the creation of an industrial business zone to accommodate the already profitable businesses in the area. While the city promises assistance with relocation, moving is simply not a viable option for most businesses that require M3-1 manufacturing zoning, which is quite scarce in all five boroughs. And for many of these businesses, their current location in Willets Point is essential for the daily operation of their business and the distribution and transportation of their products. Preliminary discussions have taken place, but the city has very little to offer the landowners.
WPIRA has produced a 15-minute videotape profiling the business/landowners whose livelihoods would be placed in serious jeopardy if eminent domain was to be instituted by the city. Moreover, it would have a major adverse impact on the employees who work at these corporations. WPIRA seeks to enter the video as testimony during the November 29th hearing.