Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Avella Blasts EDC's Dishonesty

In this morning's NY Daily News, State Senator Tony Avella lashes out against the rank dishonesty of NYC EDC: "Recently, the city announced that it would commence eminent domain proceedings against nine Willets Point businesses in what has been described as Phase I of the overall plan to redevelop the 62 acres known as the Iron Triangle. What is particularly distressing about that announcement is that the city, through the Economic Development Corporation, is once again going back on its word."

Avella, however, was ahead of the curve on this land grab-voting against the ULURP application because of his principled opposition to the abuse of eminent domain: "As a former member of the City Council, I - along with many of my colleagues - was concerned that the use of eminent domain in this instance was an abuse of the process. Eminent domain should only be used to take private property for a specific public benefit not, as in the case of Willets Point, to turn the property over to a private developer who will make millions. Where is the public benefit?"

But if eminent domain is to be used in this fashion, shouldn't at least the process be a fair one? Not when EDC is involved-which brings us to the rampant dishonesty of the agency over the crucial traffic mitigating ramps: "Following the city's approval, Willets Point United, a group organized by area business owners, hired a traffic consultant, Brian Ketcham, to review the city's environmental review of the impact this massive project would create. It was discovered that the city, in order to mitigate very serious traffic congestion issues, had proposed the creation of several ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway. The city had argued in the environmental review that the ramps were the linchpin of the project, primarily because the development was estimated to generate 80,000 car trips a day."

But the ramps proved to be deficient: "Without the ramps, the Willets Point development would overwhelm local streets and would be environmentally unmanageable. Nowhere in any of the environmental documents was there a scenario whereby the project in whole or in part could proceed without these crucial ramps. However, the ramp design is faulty, and necessary approval from the state Department of Transportation has not been forthcoming."

Never mind! Scrap the ramps, and full speed ahead-in spite of all that EDC had assured the council concerning the timing of any condemnation process: "As part of public comments, EDC had promised that eminent domain would be used only as a last resort, and it would not be used prior to the approval of the ramps. Well, despite the unresolved ramp issue, EDC is moving to condemn family-owned businesses. In essence, EDC, stymied by a difficult state and federal approval process, is looking to make an end run around this impasse and create an entirely new project - one that has never been properly reviewed by the Council."

Which is precisely why we have called for a re-review by the council-and Avella agrees with this assessment: "In my view, this is a complete violation of the land use review process and requisites that the Council approved in 2008. EDC alleges that the ramps are not necessary for the first phase of the project, a phase that encompasses 20 acres and will include, according to EDC, a retail corridor, hotel and housing. But since no study was done on this partial development, the assertions of EDC are without merit or credibility."

Nothing new there. EDC also promised that eminent domain would be used as a last resort, but the 53 businesses that have yet to sell their property to the city-most because they don't want to-have never been approached to negotiate a sale. In typical bully fashion, EDC paid through the nose to get the large land owners to sell, and now want to muscle the little guys out-violating the environmental law, and all of  its promises, at the same time.

What Avella wants, and what the council should be demanding, is for a new SEQR to be instituted for the never before seen Phase I: "There is simply no way that the city can argue that the first phase does not need these ramps. As a result, the only credible alternative is for the Council to demand a new environmental review and a completely new land use application to determine if what EDC is arguing has any validity. The public must have an opportunity to comment on this new plan."

But the council remains curiously silent so far-even in the face of huge budget cuts and a multi-billion dollar price tag for the mayor's speculative legacy project. Avella deserves the last word: "The entire Willets Point development has taken a turn for the worse. It now needs to be reevaluated in light of the city's current fiscal situation and the questionable nature of the ability of the project to mitigate huge and potentially disastrous environmental impacts. If this reevaluation doesn't occur, the city is in grave danger of bequeathing to future generations an empty field and significant loss of business/sales tax revenue."