Tuesday, February 16, 2010

HuffPo Focuses on Willets Point

In a lengthy piece on the Huffington Post, David Vines examines the proposed project, and some of the key issues that continue to vex the progress of the development:

"Willets Point sprawls across sixty-two acres between the Flushing River and the New York Mets' Citi Field in Queens. It is filled almost exclusively with small auto repair shops and junkyards--although it would be excusable for one to mistake the entire area for a junkyard. Almost all of the shops in Willets Point are family owned. There is not an AutoZone in sight...In May of 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan for urban renewal in Willets Point. Two years later, the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced that it would invest $100 million into infrastructure projects in Queens, including development in Willets Point. The NYCEDC aims to create more than 5,300 permanent jobs and 18,000 construction jobs with this project."

Vines goes on to cite our critique of the process: ""Any time you have eminent domain on the table, you're really negotiating with a gun to your head," says Richard Lipsky. Lipsky is a lobbyist for Willets Point United and the spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, where he fights for small businesses and against large-scale developments in New York. "The Willets Point businesses don't deserve to be thrown out on their behinds in a process that has been corrupted by political favoritism and the type of shenanigans that we've seen," Lipsky claims."

We were, of course, referring to the situation involving the phony Claire Shulman-led not-for-profit-and just where does that Cuomo investigation into the shenannigans stand today? Shulman, for her part, continues to lobby illegally while the AG drags his feet (while movinbg full speed ahead it seems in the case of Pedro Espada). As we told Vines: "The "shenanigans" of which he speaks involve the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC (Local Development Corporation) whose acting President and CEO, Claire Shulman, registered her corporation with the IRS as one prohibited from lobbying. After Willets Point business owners complained, she was fined a record $59,000 last July for failing to register as a lobbyist."

The political weight behind this project may be weighing heavily on the AG's mind-and our dealings with the NYSDOT underscores this since the agency has been getting real skittish about meeting with us to discuss the inadequacy of the EDC-sponsored traffic study for ramps that are proposed off of ther Van Wyck (ramps that are, according to the original EIS, essential for the project to go forward). DOT has been trying to whittle down who should attend our meeting for Friday-after it was cancelled last week because the agency didn't want reps from various state senate offices to attend.

In our view, this means that the folks at EDC are throwing their weight around-trying to dictate who can, or cannot, come to a meeting. Which is truly curious since the meeting was requested by Willets Point United and it was DOT that decided to bring EDC into the picture. The cancellation of last week's meeting was based it appears on the fact that DOT was concerned that it was becoming too political! As if the presence of EDC represented only good government and the public interest.

But Vines highlights just how important the environmental issues on Willets Point are to certain planners:

"If everything goes according to plan, there are enticing economic and business benefits in Mayor Bloomberg's development proposal. Julia Vitullo-Martin, the director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Tri-State Area's Regional Plan Association, doesn't like the idea of evicting the current Willets Point business owners and thinks that Bloomberg's proposal has "a ton of question marks attached to it." However, she believes that the environmental benefits are reason enough to support redevelopment in Willets Point. "There are very serious environmental issues at Willets Point--laughably so, as a matter of fact. People have been dumping all sorts of bad stuff on the street for decades and this stuff goes right into the bay," says Martin. Although she thinks that a perfect plan has yet to be proposed, she insists, "It's pretty clear that the one thing that cannot happen is a continuance of the current situation."

But, as we have been pointing out, the EDC proposed development would create new environmental hazards-like 80,000 new vehicle trips a day in and out of the new development. Vitullo Martin, a shill for development who castigated the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory deal, scoffs at the suggestion: "When asked about Lipsky's concern that developing the area would create 80,000 new vehicle trips in Flushing every weekday, therefore clogging traffic and increasing the city's carbon footprint, Martin chuckles. "I don't believe that's worthy of a response," she says."

Ah, if only we could reach a status so as to be worthy of a response from a pro-development shill hiding behind an urban planning veneer. The reality is that the 80,000 car trips have been revealed, not by yours truly, but by the original EIS done on behalf of EDC (a document that no one-certainly not Vitullo Martin-apparently read). So much for cleaning up the environment.

But this still leaves the question of the project's viability in these troubled economic times: "But Lipsky's concerns do not end with the welfare of the area's small business owners. He worries that because of the troubling economic times, this project could end in a disaster for everybody. "The question that the city needs to ask is 'Okay, given the economic climate, how are we going to pay for all of this work and will there be a developer at the end of the process that will have the money to complete this work, or are we just going to be left with some kind of empty lot like they have in New London?'" he said, referring to the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London."

And Vines also quotes State Senator Bill Perkins, a staunch opponent of the use of eminent domain, who scoffs at Vitullo-Martin's claims that the environmental clean up of Willets Point can only come after all of the businesses are evicted: "Regarding Willets Point, Senator Perkins believes the city made its own bed and now has to lie in it. "We in government are partially to blame for the condition of that area. We did not live up to our responsibilities to provide them with the appropriate infrastructure and environmentally-friendly waste-management systems." While he is adamant that the polluting of the Flushing Bay needs to be stopped, he believes that the city does have the capability to improve this blighted area without kicking the current business owners off their property."

So we continue to battle the Bloombergistas notion of economic development-the usurpation of small viable businesses to benefit mega-developers who frequent the same social circles as the mayor. That the mayor is advancing this particular development under an environmental rubric is, to paraphrase JVM, the developer's paramour,"...not worthy of a response."