Thursday, February 24, 2011

Willets Point Development Defense Fund

The Queens Tribune has a story today giving the defenders of the Willets Point project the opportunity to put their feet in their mouth-reacting it seems to the "reams" of publicity that WPU has garnered: "As the redevelopment of Willets Point marches onward, opponents of the plan have often successfully kept themselves in the media spotlight, staging press conferences and reacting to the City’s every move. They have garnered a consistent trail of newspaper ink and TV time in the process."

Those poor supporters! All they have is the weight of the city and the muscle of eminent domain-but apparently not a very good narrative, so let's give these neglected folks a chance to have a voice. If the stakes weren't so high, this would all be quite funny: "But less often heard are the plan’s supporters, who include elected officials and local business leaders. Each harbors specific reasons for supporting Iron Triangle’s redevelopment, which looks to transform the 62-acre patch of industrial business and junk yards into a mix of housing, commerce and community space."

Whose up first? None other than the state senator whose son was the lead lobbyist for the project: "“I’m a yea-sayer,” said Stavisky.
“When I look at the derelict, debris-ridden site, I cringe.” The area is in dire need of an economic rejuvenation, one that takes it away from its current state, according to Stavisky. “[The redevelopment] will improve the area but also make it a destination, not an area where you speed up on the highway so you don’t have to look at it,” she added."

We wonder who's writing her material? Perhaps Jackie Mason-since the senator is unaware of how ironic and comical her comments about speeding on the highway are. If she bothered to carefully examine the environmental review-and the subsequent traffic studies for ramps on and off the Van Wyck-she would discover that if this 80,000 a day car generator is actually built, no one will be speeding anywhere, since the highway will be gridlocked!

But, of course, no one would dispute her observation about the area's blight-just as to the equity and constitutionality of the city's remedy. That doesn't disturb the other booster that the Tribune calls upon-the head of the Queens Chamber of Commerce: "The project’s opposition befuddles the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Vice President Jack Friedman, who sees nothing but benefits from the plan’s completion. “Whoever is opposed to this project, God bless them, but this area is not helping anyone,” he said. The plan’s convention center remains the lynchpin (sic) of the Chamber’s support, Friedman said, but the overall economic boon redevelopment will bring sustains the group’s position. “Right now, the current situation in Willets Point is not helping anybody,” he said."

Is he serious? The area isn't helping anyone? What about the hundreds of workers who are earning a living at the site-not to mention the property owners who are paying taxes to the city for nothing in return in the way of services? But Friedman remains befuddled by people who object to the government taking their property at eminent domain gunpoint? God bless his flippant insouciance about basic constitutional rights. We suspect that he would feel differently if his own house was in the way of the eminent domain bulldozer.

All of this dragging out of the usual suspects is no accident. EDC needs the cover for its outright lying to all manner of public officials and the judiciary-a practice that, in reading the comments in the Tribune, is a habit that the agency obviously finds hard to break.

Here's the main whopper: "Opponents grew more vocal at the beginning of the month, when the EDC began formal proceedings that would eventually lead to the acquisition of the remaining land in Phase 1 through the use of eminent domain.The agency has maintained it will keep negotiations open and says the landowners will get fair market value for their property, should it be obtained through eminent domain. “As we seek to reach agreements with the nine remaining businesses, we will also begin the legal process that gives us the option to condemn these properties if needed, so that we can continue to move forward,” Wood said."

"Keep negotiations open?" How about institute them in the first place? Let's hook Wood up to a lie detector and see how the needle jumps. We won't even go into the canard about fair market value-a concept that really only has merit when one business person makes an offer to purchase another's property. A court ruling is fair only to the gun owner-and when you're commencing eminent domain before having had a single negotiation with the vast majority of remaining property owners, the entire concept of fairness is rendered obsolete-EDC's own oxymoron.

Than there's the fictitious Phase I: "Opponents have taken the EDC to task for past promises made by the City to keep eminent domain off the table until exit ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway were approved by the state’s Dept. of Transportation.The EDC maintains its new phased-in approach eliminates the necessity for the ramps’ approval, adding it anticipates their revised plan’s approval shortly. The first part of the redevelopment will include affordable housing, a hotel, infrastructure improvements, retail and two acres of open space." (emphasis added)

Who in Jack Friedman's name is going to approve this plan? Perhaps a committee of Seth Pinsky, the state senator and the former Queens BP would suffice? Seriously, though, any plan modification needs to have a new traffic study-and go through a new SEQR review. And shouldn't condemnation await this review process-as the city and the court has previously agreed?

The Tribune concludes with the following admission from EDC: "The EDC plans to release a Request for Proposals for Phase 1’s developer in April." The admission here is that there is no developer, hence no plan-which makes the entire condemnation process both speculative and illegal. The ramps have not been approved. The underlying soil conditions remain unexamined. The cost of remediation is unknown-and there is no clear indication that the city, or any potential developer, has the money to undertake this venture (or the will to do so).

That friends, is the essence of speculative condemnation. We have a mayor in his swan song on the municipal stage using his remaining power to condemn property for a use that may never come to fruition-and we're, like Diogenes, looking for the honest person to stand up and say it. The City of New York is heading on the same road as New London after it condemned poor Suzette Kelo's house for a phantom project that was never even commenced. Empty fields of bad dreams is in this city's future if no one puts the brakes on the hubris of this mayor.


Crain's Insider is reporting that some folks (unwilling to go on the record) are upset by State Senator Tony Avella's critique of the Willets Point development: "State Sen. Tony Avella reiterated his opposition to the redevelopment of Willets Point in a Daily News column Wednesday that irked proponents of the plan. “He's carpetbagging,” an insider close to the project said. “Avella doesn't even represent the district.”

Is that you Evan? Well, whoever it is, misses the larger point-the Willets Point development, with its 80,000 car trips a day, will overwhelm the all of the surrounding communities. This is not some small project that Avella is sticking his nose into-violating normal political protocol.

As WPU's traffic expert Brian Ketcham has pointed out to us in his critique of the EDC consultants: "For Willets Point the problem is that AKRF knows precisely what they are doing and they have to lie to make their case.  They know that Willets Point is too big for the Flushing area.  They know the surrounding roadway network cannot accommodate Willets Point traffic.  They know that the Van Wyck Expressway and connecting expressways cannot accommodate so much additional traffic.  They know there is no additional transit capacity to accommodate Willets Point and the other projects like Flushing Commons and that even more traffic will be forced onto the area than reported.   They lied and they got caught.  They have lied repeatedly."

Given the size and scope of the Willets Point mega-project, Avella is well within his rights to open up on it-the real conundrum is, why he is such a lonely voice in the Van Wyck wilderness? The silence of the lambs on this is deafening.