The business owners at Willets Point are suing the city for-well, theft of services sounds about right. As the NY Times reports this morning: "Business owners in Willets Point — the district near Shea Stadium known mostly for its auto repair shops and potholes — filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday accusing the city of depriving the neighborhood of services so property values would fall, easing the way for the land to be taken through eminent domain."
This situation is similar to the one up in West Harlem where Columbia University has bought properties and allowed them to deteriorate, as a ploy to get the state to label the expansion area as "blighted." The Willets situation is actually exponentially worse since it is the city itself that is culpable for the blighting-and now wants to penalize the businesses for its own misfeasance and neglect.
As the NY Daily News points out this morning: "The suit says the city has withheld services such as trash and snow removal and police surveillance; refused to maintain drainage, roadways and sanitary sewerage lines, and allowed curbs, gutters and fire hydrants to deteriorate beyond repair." There's an old anecdote about two Germans passing a Jewish ghetto in the late 1930s that's illustrative of this outrage. One of the Germans says to his companion; "Boy, don't those Jews smell." To which his companion replies; "That's not the Jews who smell, that's the stench of Nazism."
Sure the Iron Triangle is blighted, but in spite of the blight, and just as it was in West Harlem, businesses are thriving and employing lots of folks. In the Point the numbers are in the thousands. As Tom Angotti's study has underscored: "While the Economic Development Corporation claims there are 80 businesses in this 48-acre area, a recent survey I conducted through the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development instead found 225 businesses that provide an estimated 1,300 jobs. The business survey was part of a land use study, including maps prepared by the CUNY Mapping Service, commissioned by Council Member Hiram Monseratte, who has questioned the city’s plans to relocate area businesses from his district."
And what's the view of EDC on all of this? "Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the city Economic Development Corp., called Willets Point "a blighted and seriously contaminated site that has developed haphazardly into a hodgepodge of small businesses...It requires a comprehensive remediation and redevelopment plan to clean up the mess and provide infrastructure for future sustainable growth," added Patterson, who did not address the property owners' allegations of neglect."
So now the city is going to throw out the hundreds of businesses and the thousands of workers so that a few real estate companies can reap the benefits of the city's belated investment in infrastructure? This is seriously messed up, and cries out for a new approach to eminent domain that allows for greater scrutiny of blight claims-and yes my friends the undeveloped acreage around Atlantic Yards is different from the living, breathing businesses in West Harlem and on the Point.