Last night's eminent domain hearing was the culmination of 15 months of utter frustration for the Bloombergistas-despite all of the city's huffing and puffing at NYS DOT, it was unable to move the Van Wyck ramp application that was supposed to be, and was self-described as, a prerequisite for any move to condemn properties at Willets Point. Stymied in this fashion, the city simply threw up its hands and said, the hell with waiting-hence the concocting of a Phase I for the development of Willets Point that, mirabile dictu!-doesn't need those stinkin' ramps.
The NY Times is on the story: "At the emotional hearing, opponents of the city’s plans for the $3 billion development project vowed to try to kill it in court, while city officials said they would forge ahead with plans to rejuvenate Willets Point, a 61-acre expanse of junkyards and auto-repair shops — and one resident, Mr. Ardizzone — so blighted that locals refer to it as Iraq. The four-hour hearing was the latest showdown in a four-year battle that has flared tempers and inspired furious lobbying. It was peppered by loud heckling from a crowd of Hispanic workers who say they stand to lose their jobs when the businesses at which they work are seized by the city for the project."
Mike Gerrard made the case for why the ramps are going to be the Achilles' heel of this ill conceived venture: "But opponents said Wednesday that they would fight on and that they planned to reopen a case against the city in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on the ground that the project breached environmental rules. Michael B. Gerrard, a lawyer representing a group of small business owners, said his case rested on a seemingly arcane but decisive issue: two ramps that the city had pledged to build to connect Willets Point to the Van Wyck Expressway and help offset the up to 80,000 vehicle trips a day that experts say the entire development will generate. Opponents of the development insist the city cannot use eminent domain unless the ramps are approved by the Federal Highway. Administration and the State Transportation Department. In August, the State Supreme Court in Manhattan turned down a request for an injunction by Mr. Gerrard that focused on the two ramps. But Mr. Gerrard said Wednesday that the city had reneged on its promise to gain approval for the ramps, thereby breaching its assurances to the court.
And the Times lets the city lead with its chin on those pesky ramps: "City officials said that the city’s initial pledge to build the ramps had been based on development of all 62 acres of Willets Point and that subsequent environmental assessments undertaken by the city had determined that the traffic generated during the first five-year phase of development would not make construction of the ramps necessary in the short term. “We are continuing to work toward the necessary regulatory approvals for the ramps and anticipate approval in the coming months,” Mr. McKnight said at the hearing."
Well, as we have said repeatedly, the city has never even hinted that it would proceed with a partial development of Willets Point sans ramps-not once, either in city council testimony or in its court pleadings. But what struck us the most about the statement above was the city's allegation that it, "had determined that the traffic generated during the first five-year phase of development would not make construction of the ramps necessary in the short term."
Just how ballsy is this assertion? Consider the fact that this is the same group of prevaricators that submitted traffic data to the state for the Van Wyck ramp application that was exposed as either fraudulent or woefully inadequate-take your pick. Put simply, EDC's consultants were undressed by the righteous critique of their work by WPU's Brian Ketcham-and State DOT sided with the critic.
That this same gang that can't calculate straight is now claiming that they, "have determined," the ramps are unnecessary for this new Phase I, is simply risible-as Mike Gerrard has cogently argued. The basis for the legal challenge lies with the fact that the city needs to demonstrate that its allegations have some merit-as Gerrard told Crain's: "Mr. Gerrard said if he succeeds in his attempt to force the city to compile a new environmental impact statement assuming the highway ramps were not built, the project would be set back “probably a year, at least.”
Of course, when the city brings out its bulldozers, it isn't arcane issues about ramps and environmental niceties that are most compelling-it is the people who are impacted by the land grab. At Willets Point, one man stands as a symbol to the arrogance of the mayor and his minions-and we'll give Joe Aridizzone the last word: "He came dressed as a revolutionary soldier, complete with tights and a cap reminiscent of George Washington’s. But Joseph Ardizzone, 78, the last remaining resident of Willets Point, conceded on Wednesday that the fight against the Bloomberg administration for a bedraggled piece of real estate in the shadow of the Mets’ new stadium in Queens was not a battle for the faint-hearted. “I’ve been in the same block for 78 years,” he said, accusing the mayor of a shameless land grab. “Where will I go? The city should be ashamed of what it is doing.”