Friday, May 21, 2010

Comet-Like Opposition to Willets Point

The Times Newsweekly of Queens covers Willets Point United's county-wide tour against the EDC effort to wrest their property away against their wishes; and we get the featured role in the story:

"The spokesman for a group of Willets Point businesses stopped by the Communities of Maspeth of Elmhurst Together’s (COMET) May 3 meeting at Bethzatha Church of God in Elmhurst. Richard Lipsky, representing Willets Point United, has been making the rounds at civic associations throughout the city (including the Juniper Park Civic Association, as covered in last week’s issue of the Times Newsweekly). Telling COMET that his group is “fighting for everyone’s right in this city to protect their property,” he urged the group to support businesses at Willets Point by joining their fight to save the area from a city project that includes the use of eminent domain to seize “blighted” properties. His group is pushing legislation that would expound on what it means for an area to be “blighted,” claiming that currently, “if the city says it’s blighted, it is blighted.” Lipsky claimed that the project would cost $1.5 billion in city finds at a time when money is lacking, and charged that the city has yet to fully flesh out their plans. “Whatever you read in the paper, don’t believe it,” he stated. “There is no development, and there is no plan. They’re closing libraries, firehouses,” said Lipsky. “Why are we going to spend $1.5 billion to take out 200 businesses and 2,500 workers who are employed by those businesses and who pay taxes themselves?”

Comet also listened to one of the property owners from Willets Point describe her frustrating plight: “He then passed the microphone to Irene Prestigiacomo, a Willets Point property owner. Having taken over her late husband’s property and business (she would eventually rent out the property), she claimed to have spent years lobbying to have the area rehabilitated. “I set about fighting the conditions that he himself fought,” she said. She went to a local lawyer, who referred her to an architect who pledged to work with Prestigiacomo to lobby city officials. “I wanted to correct the conditions: the streets, the lights, the sewers,” she said. “There’s nothing there, but yet we’re paying the taxes.” Eventually, however, the architect began to avoid her phone calls; eventually reached by Prestigiacomo, he told her that “‘the city greases its own way. ... I cannot help you.’ That’s when the light bulb went on and I had to stop.”

And the paper focused in on the WPU's ramp crusade: "He then explained Willets Point United’s plan to derail the city development project by focusing on two vehicular ramps the city intends to build leading to and from the nearby Van Wyck Expressway. According to Lipsky, persuading the state not to approve the construction of the ramps would effectively kill the project, which he called “a colossal boondoggle and a waste of money.” At President Rosemarie Daraio’s urging, COMET voted for a resolution urging the state to delay the con- struction of the ramps, citing a bad economic climate."

This makes it eight for eight-and the only civic to fail to endorse an independent ramp review is, ironically, the one closest to the development. It is, however, not only ironic but tragic-and reflects the blow back efforts from the Queens BP who, quite frankly, ought to be ashamed of herself for her interference with the expressed wishes of her community. Make no mistake about it. When we visited the East Elmhurst Corona Jackson Heights Civic Association earlier this year, the assembled members were aghast at what we told them about the traffic impacts of the Willets Point development.

Now, let's keep in mind the fact that we were simply asking the civic to endorse an independent review-and not come out four square against the plan. Such a review is an integral part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the state's leading environmental organization is supporting such a review because the applicant, EDC in this case, can't be relied on to do a righteous review-something that WPU has already proven to NYSDOT; that is why the local agency has been forced to revise its ramp traffic report. That BP Marshal is muscling her own local community is beyond shameful-and is indicative of the larger fear, from the mayor on down, that an independent review will kill the Willets Point plan because the ramps simply do not work.

But a state hearing on the matter is being scheduled for the end of June-and we hope that the well meaning Lynda McDougald, who heads the civic, will bring her group down to listen to the testimony and hear both sides. WPU isn't afraid of a real debate on the traffic issues-but we certainly know why EDC and Helen Marshall are terrified of the facts.