Friday, February 11, 2011

EDC Outdoes Itself on Willets Point Chicanery

Business owners from Willets Point United joined with State Senator Tony Avella, workers and members of assorted civic groups yesterday to protest the actions of EDC in regards to the proposed development at Willets Point. NY1 has the story: "The city's Economic Development Corporation says they will use eminent domain to seize the property in the area near Citi Field. Protesters say it will change the dynamic of the neighborhood and force small businesses out. "To take these businesses, and again, people have built it up for years. These are family-owned businesses, and give it to a private developer who's gonna make millions of dollars, that is simply un-American," said State Senator TonyAvella."

But it isn't just the fact that EDC will be employing eminent domain that has bugged a wide array of folks-it is the underhanded manner and outright lying that has really riled those impacted businesses and their workers. As we said the other day:

"Talk about putting the cart before the horse! What EDC is trying to do here is to make an end run of the crucial approval process for ramps off of the Van Wyck ramps that it has said are the linchpin of the development's viability: "Opponents of the project have argued that the city isn't permitted to construct entrance ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway nearby that are called for as part of the project. Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist who represents business owners at the site, says that the eminent domain action was "an absolute disgrace."

In response, EDC’s Pinocchio Pinsky told the WSJ:"Mr. Pinsky said the city's position is that it isn't required to build the ramps—which would mitigate traffic congestion on the local streets—until later phases of the project."

As a falsehood, this ranks up there with the mayor's, "Christmas bonus," canard about police and fire pensions. Here's the reality. After the final EIS was completed, EDC drafted three technical memos-two of which addressed the possibility of scaled down plans: "Here's a money quote from Memo 003 (even the "Adjusted Plan" involves ramps!):

"Like the proposed Plan, the Adjusted Plan would include new connections to the Van Wyck Expressway in the northeast portion of the District. Because this development scenario would not include the early acquisition of all northern and eastern properties in the District, it is anticipated that the configuration of the new ramps would conform to the existing street network. Figures 2 and 3 show the potential configuration of the new ramps under the Adjusted Plan. The new connection to the Van Wyck Expressway would require federal (FHWA) and state (NYSDOT) approval of a Freeway Access Modification Report under both the proposed Plan and the Adjusted Plan." (p. 3)

In sum, EDC put out four separate plans that can be described thusly: "
The FGEIS pertains to a full build-out of 60+ acres. Ramps required (per EDC)? YES.

   The FGEIS also pertains to a "Staged Acquisition Alternative", which emphasizes the western side of the triangle, from Roosevelt all the way to Northern Boulevard. Ramps required (per EDC)? YES.

   Tech Memo 003, dated a year after the Council's ULURP vote, pertains to an "Adjusted Plan" which emphasizes the western side of the triangle, from Roosevelt to 34th Avenue (ONE block shy of Northern Boulevard). Ramps required (per EDC)? YES.

   The present "Phase 1" (recently distributed map) emphasizes the western side of the triangle, from Roosevelt to 35th Avenue (TWO blocks shy of Northern Boulevard). Ramps required (per EDC)? NO!

So EDC has shrunken the project, enough for it to, in its own jaundiced view, get away with building the project minus the ramps.

We know of no EDC traffic analysis that supports EDC's conclusion that Phase 1 does not require ramps. Wouldn't there have to be such an analysis? As no NYSDOT or FHWA action is required if EDC is NOT building ramps, would those agencies even have been involved in vetting such an analysis? NYSDOT and FHWA-as well as the city council-should be concerned with the traffic volume that Phase 1 will generate, even if the agencies are not being asked to approve. It seems to me we should be looking into all of this, aggressively. It is the corruption of the AMR, all over again.

Also, EDC now believes that if it does not intend to build ramps for Phase 1, then it is not bound by the representation made by Deputy Mayor Lieber in his affidavit, promising no acquisition of property via eminent domain until ramps are approved. Stated differently, Lieber's affidavit was made at a time when the ramps were presumed to be necessary, but EDC is now alleging that the reduced scale of Phase 1 makes that no longer the case.
 Consider this: When we last left off in the back-and-forth with EDC, the agency had prepared an Environmental Assessment for the ramps, which was delivered to NYSDOT and FHWA on October 28, 2010. EDC indicated there would be a public hearing regarding that EA, either by the end of 2010 or very soon. So, the ramps were considered to be essential, until very recently. While WPU has been off worrying about the EA hearing, EDC has been prepping condemnation. But any way you slice it, EDC is drastically shifting the nature of the project, probably as a result of fact that WPU put a substantial roadblock into the agency's ability to get approval for the Van Wyck ramps.
What this all indicates is that EDC is operating with extreme subterfuge to go forward on this development by ignoring all of its representations to the city council and the court. Its, “Phase 1,” is a fictional invention that has no substance to it-no one knows what will be built within these 20 acres. But without knowing-and EDC doesn’t explicate any of this-how can the agency assert that no ramps will be needed?
As we said to one elected official’s office: “Yet the so-called Phase 1 lacks any detail or traffic analysis that would serve to justify the conclusion that the ramps are not necessary Remember that this phase is still huge-and encompasses 20 acres of property; which would easily hold a Walmart and thousands of additional square feet of traffic generating retail. This all needs re-review under SEQR according to WPU’s attorney Mike Gerrard.”
The City Council never considered this current EDC development configuration-and there is no environmental review extant that considers any manner of Willets Point project that excludes the necessity of ramps off of the Van Wyck. This is a bold attempt by an agency, whose ramp consultants were exposed as duplicitous, if not outright fraudulent in their traffic analysis, to try to rig the game at the eleventh hour-avoiding proper environmental review and sneaking an unsustainable development in through the back door at a time when the city is flat broke.
If this Category 6 level of chicanery doesn’t compel a new city council and SEQR review, than no manner of underhandedness ever would. The ball is, or should be, in the council’s court-or perhaps in state supreme court where EDC’s representations have proved to be egregiously untruthful.