Thursday, September 25, 2008

Error of Commission

As expected, the City Planning Commission voted to support the administration's plan to redevelop Willets Point. The lone dissenter was our old friend Karen Phillips, an appointee of Betsy Gotbaum. Here's Eliot Brown's take at the Observer: "The Council has about two months to act, and typically takes much of that time for negotiations with the administration. Willets Point is the most contested large-scale project to come before the Council in years, as a majority of members have signed onto a letter of opposition to the plan in its current form. A Council defeat would kill the project, and would be an unprecedented step for a project of this size in the land use approval process."

Which makes the following exchange between some of the EDC folks and one of Hiram Monseratte's staffers all the more amusing. When the fellow in question bumped into the EDC contingent, they supposedly regaled him with all of the encomiums that were heaped on the project by the various CP commissioners. It kinda reminds us of a time-quite long ago sadly-when, as a teenager I bumped into a friend who had just come from a maiden voyage, so to speak, at a brothel. When asked how it went, he told me: " The woman told me I was the best lover she ever had."

Such is the naivete of our good agency folks, who better be prepared for the more critical response that they will receive from council members. The council is particularly concerned about the abuse of eminent domain: "Also on the table is the use of eminent domain—never very popular among Council members seeking reelection or higher office—which the city has said is needed to guarantee that the entire 61-acre site can be assembled and developed. The existing landowners have vehemently resisted the plan, particularly the eminent domain aspect of it, and have been fighting back with a constant stream of rallies, lobbying and campaign donations."

Not to worry, apparently the Bloombergistas have all of this potential displacement under control. According to NY1: "The mayor's office has announced an initiative to provide training and job placement for displaced workers." Reminds us of the relocation charade that went on with the Bronx Terminal Market merchants. Not anything to inspire confidence.

As Monseratte told the NY Sun this morning: "The current Willets Point plan sets a precedent for community planning by decree, rather than discussion. The City Planning Commission's vote is further proof that the Administration is more interested in steamrolling this process rather than accepting the community's many pleas for collaboration..."

Which means, as the NY Daily News reports, that a showdown is definitely on the way: "The controversial plan to turn Willets Point into a glitzy megadevelopment got the green light Wednesday from the City Planning Commission, setting the stage for a final showdown in the City Council.The potential for the city to use eminent domain to acquire private land in the gritty industrial zone is expected to fuel fierce debate in the Council, which now has 60 days to cast a make-or-break vote on the project."

Monseratte continues to make the abuse of eminent domain a major issue: "Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights), who has led opposition to the Willets Point plan, called the Planning Commission's vote a "rubber stamp." He faulted the commission - and the administration - for ignoring concerns of the Council majority, who want eminent domain off the table, more affordable housing and a relocation plan for the 260 businesses at the so-called Iron Triangle."

So now we'll see just how much skill the mayor can exercise-and whether the chip of term limits will be played-in order to get this shot in the dark approved: "Last month, 31 council members signed a letter that expressed "absolute opposition" to the plan. The council vote will vote on the issue in November, and in the coming weeks the deputy mayor for economic development, Robert Lieber, will continue negotiations with local business owners and Mr. Monserrate." At this juncture, it doesn't appear likely that the plan will pass without major changes.