Thursday, February 10, 2011

EDC's Liars Choir on Willets Point's Denounced

As we have pointed out, the NYC EDC-last seen retaining an LDC to illegally lobby on behalf of development at Willets Point-has not completely gone back on its word about commencing eminent domain action against the businesses in the path of this massive and costly development. It is quite clear now, that anything the agency says isn't believable-and that is why the businesses and workers at Willets Point will be joined by State Senator Tony Avella and a number of community and civic organizations to denounce EDC's dishonesty and call for a moratorium on eminent domain proceedings until ramps off the Van Wyck are fully evaluated; as EDC promised in representations to the city council and in court.

Now, however, EDC claims it doesn't need to wait for ramps to be approved before starting what it laughable calls, "Phase 1." But here is what it has said on the public record:

(1) "The City will not take possession of property acquired by eminent domain before the NEPA process is complete and the ramps are approved." – Willets Point FGEIS, Chapter 29, General Comments, Response G-8, September 12, 2008.:

(2) "The City has maintained communication and close coordination with NYSDOT from the inception of the project, outlining a range of conceptual design options and working with options that NYSDOT determined were preferable. It is fully expected that such approvals will be obtained and the design will be progressed in light of design suggestions to be made by both NYSDOT and the FHWA. Furthermore, the proposed ramps are an integral part of the Willets Point Development Plan. The developer’s agreement would stipulate that following approval of the Van Wyck Expressway ramps but prior to completion of ramp construction, no buildings could be occupied unless the developer demonstrates that earlier occupancy of such buildings would not result in significant adverse impacts that have not already been described in this GEIS." – Willets Point FGEIS, Chapter 29, Section 17 (Traffic and Parking), Response 17-6, September 12, 2008."

(3) "The City will not acquire title to any property through Article 4 of the Eminent Domain Procedure Law (“EDPL”) until after ramps for the Van Wyck Expressway are approved by FHWA." -- Affidavit of Robert Lieber, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, June 29, 2009, filed with Supreme Court of the State of New York (WPU's Article 78 case)."

(4) And consider the comments of Judge Madden, the jurist who heard the original Article 78 case, about the city and the ramps: "At oral argument [for WPU's Article 78], counsel for respondent [City] stated that if the ramps are not approved, the respondents cannot 'proceed with the plan as conceived and approved.' Transcript at 33. For the purposes of this review, this court assumes that if the ramps are not approved, additional review under SEQRA will be required."

As can be clearly seen in the second quoted excerpt above, the FGEIS does not envision any circumstance in which development occurs and ramps are not at least APPROVED. There is also an implicit expectation that ramps will actually be built, exemplified by the text "prior to the completion of ramp construction". It is hard to see how the FGEIS provides in any way for the development to proceed -- at any scale, Phase 1 or otherwise -- without there being ramp APPROVAL. Nowhere in the FGEIS are the ramps said to be any less "integral", depending on the particular phase of the project to be implemented.

As we pointed out last week: "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."

All of this dishonesty needs to cease and desist-or else the city will find itself back in court to explain why it simply can't tell the truth. But the rationale for all of this is fairly simple: the proposed Van Wyck ramps-no matter how the EDC consultants gyrate-can't be made to work in order to accommodate the 80,000 car and truck trips generated by this massive over-development. In order to avoid admitting this, and starting from scratch, EDC now wants to do an end run around the environmental requirements and build this project on the sly-one block at a time.

                                      Press Release
                                     Senator Tony Avella to Keynote Willets Point Press Conference
             Willets Point United, Local Civic groups, Workers and Elected Officials to Speak Out At Press Conference Against Illegal EDC Eminent Domain Action on Willets Point
As a result of the efforts of the Willets Point United group, EDC has been unable to gain approval for key ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway. In spite of the fact that the agency-both publicly and in court documents-has stated that it would not commence any eminent domain proceedings against local businesses until the ramps were approved-and a developer selected, but none has yet been.
As State Senator Tony Avella points out: "What is going on in Willets Point is a disgraceful abuse of power and process by the Bloomberg administration," stated Avella.  "EDC repeatedly stated in news reports and court documents that it would not use eminent domain to acquire land before the ramps were approved.  The fact that EDC is beginning the condemnation process without resolving the ramp issue only demonstrates the agency’s lack of credibility and total disregard for the impact this development will have on the community." 
 When: February, 10, 2011
Where: 127-48 Northern Blvd.
Time: 12 Noon
          The proposed Willets Point development will be a massive 10 million sq. ft project that will include over 5500 apartments, and the city’s largest-auto dependent-retail mall, some 1, 7 million sq. ft. Naturally, a development of this size will generate considerable traffic-and EDC’s own estimate is that the vehicle trips will come in at around 80,000 a day.
          In order to accommodate this huge influx of traffic, the city has said that it is necessary to build two ramps on and off of the Van Wyck Expressway-ramps that are needed to funnel traffic off of already congested local streets. In fact the ramps are so important, that the city has argued in court papers that the entire Willets Point project-one that will involve the use of eminent domain to remove scores of businesses and thousands of workers-cannot go ahead without the ramps.
          In spite of the importance of these ramps, the issue of their construction-in particular the approval process needed to give the city permission to build them-was never brought up in the land use review conducted by the city council three years ago. In fact, council leadership, when questioned at a press conference, expressed total ignorance about this linchpin issue.
          So, while all of those interested in the fate of Willets Point assumed that the issue was more or less resolved with the council vote-minus the minor inconvenience of evicting the property owners-the question of the feasibility of building these two ramps moved front and center. But as press reports highlight, the NYS DOT has many reservations about the feasibility of the ramps
         Now, however, the WSJ says that, “Seeking to kick-start a massive Queens real-estate development project conceived in the boom years, the Bloomberg administration is moving to seize a portion of the site from private property owners. Next week, the city plans to initiate the eminent-domain process on holdout owners who own property in the first 20-acre phase of the 62-acre project. The city also is planning to solicit bids from developers in the spring, according to city officials."
          What about those pesky ramps? “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." What rot!
          If the ramps are essential and their approval is in doubt, how can the city proceed? What EDC is trying to do-emulating the underhanded tactics of the grasping Robert Moses-is to make the project a fait accompli; so the ramps, however flawed and unable to really mitigate the massive traffic influx, become necessary to approve just to avoid a calamity of an even greater magnitude.

         But the egregiousness of EDC's actions doesn't stop with the ramp detour. Put simply, the city is broke-tapioca city-and
doesn't have the funds and can't possibly justify this land grab under the current economic conditions. As WPU’s lobbyist Richard Lipsky told the Journal: "The city is going ahead with a project that no one knows what it will cost, with a developer that no one knows who it will be, and with ramps that no one knows whether they can be built," Mr. Lipsky says."
          The Willets Point project has been cut down into what EDC feels are more manageable smaller slices-but it is the overall massive negative impact that remains; and this can't be camouflaged by EDC's piecemeal approach. As Governor Al Smith would have said, "No matter how you slice it, it is still baloney."
          The community groups joining WPU on Thursday include the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, the John Bowne Civic Association, the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development the Malba Gardens Civic Association and the Juniper Park Civic Association. All of the local organizations are opposed to the EDC land grab and its irresponsible avoidance of a public review of the ramps. In their view, even with the ramps, the 80,000 car and truck trips generated every day by the Willets Point project will-along with projects like Flushing Commons-create havoc on Queens streets and roads-while simultaneously severely clogging the mass transit infrastructure.
          That EDC is trying to proceed in a manner that it told the court it wouldn't do, only underscores the complete lack of honesty and integrity in an agency that should be better known as the Economic Deception Corporation.
Contact: Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865)