Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wither Willets?

In this week's NY Observer, Eliot Brown takes a look at the Willets Point showdown at the City Council-the first hearing is tomorrow: "With less than five weeks until the Council must vote on the Bloomberg administration’s Willets Point plan, administration officials are going retail to win support, rushing to sway council members through individual meetings and to mitigate concerns about housing and the use of eminent domain...The rush comes as council members and others involved in the process say that the fate of the Willets Point proposal is marked by far more uncertainty than almost any other rezoning plan that has made it to this late stage of the city’s seven-month approval process in recent years."

In the past seven years only one land use item supported by the mayor has failed, at least in some form, to pass the council-and that involved the Alliance's opposition to a BJ's at Brush Avenue in the Bronx. Willets, however, is such a complex deal that it could topple from its sheer weight-and the current economic climate isn't helping the administration push this up the legislative hill.

Of course, the really big obstacle is the fiesty Queens councilman, Hiram Monseratte, whose opposition has spurred a majority of his colleagues to join with him in opposing the plan: "At the center of all of the efforts is Mr. Monserrate, the former Marine whose vote is likely to sway a significant portion—if not a majority—of the Council, as legislators typically defer to the local member. Without his support, the city would surely face a steep uphill climb to gain approval. In recent months, Mr. Monserrate has staked out strong positions critical of the current plan that would be difficult to backtrack on without appearing hypocritical, proclaiming strong opposition to the widespread use of eminent domain and saying that the amount of affordable housing needs to be “dramatically higher” than the 20 percent already committed by the city."

The plan, in all likelihood, would have been a slam dunk with Hiram's support-although the eminent domain issue is not insignificant here: "The prospect of widespread eminent domain has caused significant consternation on the Council, as many members say its use is becoming far too common. “I think eminent domain has factored into this far more prominently,” said Councilman John Liu, comparing the Willets Point plan with other controversial projects that have come before the Council."

So all of this will come to ahead on the 18th of November-enmeshed no doubt in the aftermath of the term limits debate. It's hard to see just what kind of deal the administration could craft to garner council acceptance; but it's wise to remember that not all of the council members are as stalwart as Monseratte when prognosticating the outcome of all this.