Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pointed Questions

Yesterday the city unveiled the plans it has to redevelop Willets Point. The only thing missing? Well, an actual developer for one thing. In what is certainly a most unusual case, the city is trying to evict hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees from an area, and ULURP its rezoning proposal, before it actually designates a firm to do the redevelopment work.

What this means is that the city council will really be asked to accept a pig in a poke, a development scheme that lacks any tangible details, and without these details it really is giving the mayor carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants after the council approves the vague vision. The city could, it it wants, bring a Wal-Mart into the project or any other use that. in hind site, the council might have found objectionable, if it had only known the truth beforehand,

Even worse, after rezoning and clearing the land it might be determined that no developer had any interest in the site until after the city spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, to remediate a site that has been known as a dump for toxic materials-and as an area with virtually no infrastructure.

On top of all this, of course, is the fact that in doing this the city will need to remove business owners through the use of eminent domain. The BTM contract killing was bad enough, with its scores of businesses and hundreds of employees. The Point, however, as Tom Angotti points out, has hundreds of businesses and thousands of predominately minority workers. The so-called blighted nature of the area is in reality a tribute to the years of municipal neglect, a neglect that has been so severe that the businesses would be within their rights to sue for the city's failure to provide services to these tax paying firms.

One major irony in all of this is the mayor, on his Kermit the Frog kick, is touting the development for its greenness, "a model for sustainability and environmental stewardship." Is he kidding? The proposal calls for 5,500 units of housing. How are these people going to get to work? On the 7 Line that is way overcrowded? If not, than I guess the roadways in this area will be able to accommodate the residential, commercial, retail and convention traffic that the site is being hyped for.

So much for the touted reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Earth to mayor. Manhattan is not the only part of the city contributing to the air quality challenges you've been harping on ad nauseum over the past few weeks. The current traffic capacities in this area are already at their limits.

So now the gauntlet will be thrown down to the council, a body that has not exhibited the kind of checks and balances that we've come to expect from a healthy legislature. Will the council rubber stamp this effort without being privy to any of the details of the actual development? Or will it, in New York lottery fashion, simply take a chance on, "A dollar and a dream?"

The Willets Point businesses are waiting nervously to find out the answer to this serious question, because, as one business owner told the NY Sun, "There's no place to go-where are they going to relocate us?" Clearly, the use of eminent domain and the "relocation" of the existing businesses is little more than a thinly disguised death sentence from an administration that has absolutely no use for small businesses.