Friday, July 01, 2005

Willets Point Mobilizes

The businesses at Willets Pont have organized their forces and formed the W.P. Business Association (WPBA). The Alliance, in what certainly will be a major city-wide battle, will be working with the group to preserve the private property rights of the businesses. The Willets Point business leaders want to have the right to develop their own land and, undoubtedly, get the same kind of support that Michigan University’s 100 Million Dollar Man, Steve Ross, has gotten from his friend Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.

If developers are interested in the site they can approach the Alliance. There is no doubt that a creative redevelopment scheme can be promulgated that includes the preservation of area businesses. The model developed by Professor Fainstein for the Bronx Terminal market shows how, if political will exists, such a synthesis can be achieved.

The eminent domain fight at the Point has already begin to attract allies. Kudos to the Queens Courier for its coverage in this week’s edition. The article by Melissa Hendricks highlights the issue and underscores how difficult the fight will be since the jackals are already salivating over property that doesn’t belong to them.

Particularly disturbing were the comments made by William Egan, Executive VP of the Queens Chamber of Commerce who noted that the area has “tremendous potential.” The Chamber, according to the Courier, spent $70,000 to try to figure out how to develop someone else’s property. Hey Bill Egan, where do you live? Maybe we can find a “higher and better” use for your property.

The Courier also printed a strong editorial condemning condemnation of the Willets Point Businesses. While giving its support to the new Shea and the Olympics, the paper went on to say:

But seizing property at the Iron Triangle in order to build projects around Shea would ruin a thriving community of small businesses. Willets Point has evolved into a remarkable boom town – own filled with vigorous competition and customers eagerly seeking a deal.”
Taxation Without Services

Another disturbing comment in the Hendricks story was from Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. When asked about the failure to the city to the install an adequate sewer system, lights, fire hydrants and paved roads for many years, Andrews admitted that:

“The revenue from the area never justified spending the millions it would cost to put in sewer lines."
Aside from the fact that we would challenge the factual accuracy of Andrew’s observation, it is the underlying logic of the comment that needs to be fully deconstructed. So now, in Andrews’s view, certain areas of Queens don’t deserve the full city services that all others receive because they’re not generating enough tax revenue?

This philosophy is certainly reminiscent of the situation in the 1970s when city government was accused of “planned shrinkage (first articulated by Roger Starr),” whereby certain areas of the city, generally communities of color, were systematically deprived of services. Once deprived and run down, of course, those areas of “blight” were ripe candidates for urban renewal.

Right-Left Coalition

Our observation that eminent domain will spark a right-left coalition got further credence with Nicole Gelinas’s on-line article for The City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute. Gelinas quotes Dan Doctoroff’s exulting vision for the area – what he calls “really a junkyard” – but she goes on to point out that:

"... one man’s junkyard is another man’s business. Ajray Kshora runs a tire shop in the area: “If they want to take my business,” he asked the Daily News, “then what am I supposed to do?”
Gelinas, citing the Alliance’s Richard Lipsky, goes on to talk about the development of a left right coalition. The money quote:

Some small-business owners in New York are already cobbling together a right-left coalition to fix this. They’ll target conservative lawmakers worried about property rights, and liberal ones worried that officials will use “economic development” to bull-doze modest but intact low-income communities.
Monseratte Speaks Up

We also need to give props to Hiram Monseratte whose eloquent editorial defense of the WPBA appears in the Courier. As he points out (scroll down):

… in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent decision that governments can use eminent domain for economic development, no one's business, property or neighborhood is safe from well-connected developers and misguided city officials.