Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Might Makes Blight

With the Willets Point development ULURP moving sluggishly out of the planning gate, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 62 acre site, neglected by the city for decades, is suffering because of the city's announced plans to relocate the existing small auto-related businesses. As the NY Daily News reports this morning: "Though the Bloomberg administration's sweeping Willets Point redevelopment plan is far from a done deal, the bottom has already fallen out of the once-thriving auto repair business in the gritty industrial zone, store owners and managers said.
"Welcome to hell," Dennis Skeahan, 50, manager of Sunrise Auto Parts on Willets Point Blvd., said while waiting for customers under a hot sun last week. "It's not slumping - it's dead!"

This is part of a pattern wherever the threat of the use of eminent domain is in the air-as we've seen over in West Harlem where Columbia has bought up properties, allowed them to fall into disrepair, and has then asked that the development area in question be declared blighted. This has been, as the News makes clear, a thriving business destination before the development scheme was floated: "Working-class people used to come from all over the city to have their cars repaired. But with the city poised to swallow up the tangled industrial haven, managers said customers are looking elsewhere to fix their flat tires and busted windshields."

Well, good news may well be on the horizon, as the city council begins to question the entire development proposal. As the NY Sun points out: "The plan has drawn criticism for its possible use of eminent domain. Earlier this month, business owners around the Willets Point area filed a lawsuit against the city, accusing it of willingly neglecting the area to allow it to fall into disrepair.

In a letter to EDC, 29 council members outlined their skepticism: "This plan would displace more than 250 businesses, which employ 1,711 workers. The plan provides no guarantees that the displaced workers and small businesses will be treated fairly or compensated with meaningful benefits to the surrounding communities such as housing affordable to the average family," the letter said."

And now, according to Crains Insider, some of the plan's key backers are, well, looking to back out: "The city could be in danger of losing two key supporters of its proposed Willets Point overhaul. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Queens Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Jack Friedman are angered by potential alternatives that were revealed in the project’s environmental impact statement, which was released yesterday."

When it rains it pours-and the administration's plan appears to be all wet when it comes to getting the kind of political support needed to obtain approval. This is one land use review that has not begun auspiciously.