Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Point and Counterpoint

The decision by CB# 7 in Queens to approve, by a 20-15 vote, the controversial rezoning plan for Willets Point may be less than it appears. As the NY Sun reports today: "The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, a group of 10 business owners who oppose the rezoning, called yesterday's 1 a.m. vote "tantamount to a rejection," based on the long list of conditions the community board said would have to be met for it to agree to the plan. The community board "said we're going to say yes, but we're going to put so many restrictions on the plan, that we're not approving it," the owner of Feinstein Iron Works Inc., David Feinstein, said."

And just what are these conditions? The NY Daily News lays some of this out this morning: "Community Board 7 voted 22 to 15 earlier yesterday to back the controversial plan, though it had asked the city to give the Queens Borough Board veto power over the proposal after it goes through the normal land-use review process." For those of us with a bit of memory, it was the Manhattan Borough Board that came within one vote of killing the Pathmark plan in East Harlem when everyone assumed that all its approvals had been garnered.

The reason for this unusual situation is the fact that the city has yest to choose a developer or announce exactly what the plan for the Point will be; so this amounts to little more than the Blind Man's Bluff of land use decisions, and the local elected officials aren't pleased which makes the final City Council decision less than certain. As the Daily News points out: "But Councilman Hiram Monserrate said the borough board is "not the appropriate venue" for such oversight. Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights) is one of 29 Council members who oppose Bloomberg's sweeping vision to transform the so-called Iron Triangle into a commercial and residential megadevelopment. Normally, a project would move forward once the Council approves a land-review process."

It's instructive to point out that a similar process is at work in East Harlem with the city's Uptown USA project. Approving rezonings without the developer being named is a risky business for both local communities and for their representatives. After all, there are developers, and than there are developers. And if Vornado's involved in East Harlem there's sure to be fire works over that ongoing ULURP. East Harlem could easily follow Willets Point's lead on all of this.

Which brings us to the enlightened comments of the mayor. As the News indicates: "Mayor Bloomberg called local approval of his Willets Point redevelopment plan "a major step forward" Tuesday - and suggested some business owners are standing in the way of progress. "You can't let, unfortunately, a handful of people stop progress for the vast bulk of people or we would still be living in tents or in log cabins or not be in America at all," Bloomberg said."

Progress indeed. But the eviction of property owners is not an easy prospect, and certainly shouldn't be treated in such a cavalier fashion. If, however, the mayor feels that eminent domain and progress are inextricably linked, than what about ED and public health? He has, after all, made public health his signature issue.

If it is than surely he will intervene in the Vornado decision to evict the Key Food supermarket from the Bruckner Plaza shopping center that it owns. As we've said before, it would go a great deal towards legitimizing the use of ED as a public policy tool, if the mayor used it against the property interests of a multi-billion dollar real estate firm, and not just to bludgeon small property owners with less resources than the cantankerous Steve Roth.