Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Willets Point Owners Dig In

With State Senator Bill Perkins looking to change NY State law on eminent domain, and the state's Appellate Court ruling against Columbia, the members of Willets Point United are gearing up for a continued battle to save their properties. As the NY Daily News wrote yesterday: "The early innings of a $3 billion mega-development plan for the gritty industrial area near the Mets' new Citi Field saw the city with a lead, but many businesses there - fighting potential eviction - say the game's not over yet."

And, as we told the News, the focal point is going to be on the ramps-and the city's 5,000 page white wash that known as an AMR report (Access Modification): ""The focal point in the new year is going to be on the evaluation of the [building of] ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway," said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for Willets Point United, a group of business owners. For the city to condemn the land for redevelopment, plans for traffic flow to and from the north-south thoroughfare must be approved by the state Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration, Lipsky said."

The city, for its part, is confident of getting the approvals-but it was confident that the Kingsbridge Armory would be approved as well-and we saw how that went: "The city is confident an agreement will be made on the new construction." WPU attorney Michael Gerrard has, as you would expect a rather different view-and believes that the project's traffic would cripple the Van Wyck.

As Gerrard told the News: "The project would completely debilitate the Van Wyck," said Michael Gerrard, a lawyer for the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association. "The amount of traffic would create a multi-mile, perpetual gridlock."The group vowed to continue fighting the city to keep it from taking the land. "It will be a very contentious year at Willets Point," Gerrard said."

But back to the AMR report for a moment. What Brian Ketcham, the WPU's traffic consultant has already found, is that the geniuses who did the report believe that by 2017 traffic will be 2% less than it is today-something that is not only counter-intuitive, but nuts. As more and more community and environmental groups become aware of the fraud-something that we hope to expose in an open review process-the hue and cry over this hoodwinking will continue to build.

And then there's the little issue of Claire Shulman's illegal lobbying effort: " In July, a city-funded group that pushed to rezone the former ash-dumping site was hit with a record $59,090 fine because its leader, former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, didn't register as a lobbyist. Her organization, the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp., got $250,000 in city funds over two years to sway City Council members to vote for the redevelopment plan."

Going unmentioned in this story, however, is the fact that the Shulman front group is under investigation by the state AG-and, at least according to the Times' Jim Dwyer, this is a fight that won't go away quickly. Any significant penalty and censure could color how the Willets Point plan is perceived-and could help to undermine its sustainability.

At the end of this process, we believe that the city will have to go back to the drawing board to re-do the entire environmental review; something that the state, the feds, or perhaps the courts will force it to do. The era of collusion, phony grass roots lobbying, and dummied up reports is about to end.