The plans to initiate the eminent domain process soon in the Iron Triangle at Willets Point have left many private property owners up in arms.
The taking of private property for public use has been an ongoing battle between real estate development companies, local business owners, and residents in Willets Point, an area predominantly occupied by junkyards, auto parts and repair shops.
“Many years have gone by and they have neglected our community by not cleaning the streets,” said Marco Neira, 12-year shop owner of Master Express Deli and president of the Willets Point defense committee. “They want one way or another, to remove us.”
Neira indicated the owner of the property where his shop is located has the only live-in resident in the area and he has refused to leave.
Joseph Ardizzone, 78, opposes the plan.
“Total horror,” said Ardizzone. “Total lack of democracy, every move the government is making is dictatorial.”
The vastly industrialized area of the Iron Triangle bounded by Northern Boulevard on the north, 126th Street to the west, Roosevelt Avenue to the south and the Flushing River to the east has been highly populated with Latino workers.
“Hispanic people are totally being walked over, you have a language barrier, and it’s a great stress for them to support their families without the economic development saying ‘march,’” said Ardizzone. “They are supposed to relocate us and unless they relocate us as a group, they are all going to fail.”
Giovanni Narvaes, originally from Ecuador, has been a local worker for five years.
“Fundamentally, the ideal plan would be not to go through with it, but instead to have reform,” said Narvaes. “This community is a family and once it passes, everyone will have to take a different path, it’s sad.”
But the city council approved the use of eminent domain to acquire the holdout local businesses who have not sold their land to the city yet.
According to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the new plans will be executed in three phases, with the southwest corner of 126th Street and Roosevelt Avenue to 35th Avenue and 127th Street to be developed first.
“We have begun soil testing, provided more than 200 workers with education and job training, and negotiated to control nearly 90 percent of the Phase 1 area,” said Julie Wood, EDC spokesperson. “We will also begin the legal process that gives us the option to condemn these properties if needed, to move forward.”
The EDC indicated that businesses in Phase 1 would be contacted by the end of 2011 and property owners outside of Phase 1 to continue business as usual for at least three years.
“They say it’s in three phases, but once one is underway, everything else follows rapidly,” Neira said.
In addition to the scrap yards and auto body shops, Willets Point has several family-owned businesses which have been operated for many years.
Ecuadorian-born Olger Rogel, manager of a local restaurant, noted, “I agree with the progress of the city to make the neighborhood look good, but if the businesses will be closed, there will be many without jobs, especially for the Hispanics.”
“The city needs this area for the benefit of the community,” said Hector Ospina, 20-year owner of Colombia Auto Glass. “Many of us will be losing our jobs and the city has not found a space for us.”
“I come here for the cheap prices and I find everything here,” said Eric Alvarez of Jackson Heights. “We will have to go elsewhere and it’s going to be expensive and far.”
According to Ardizzone, for the locals it has been a fight for honor and territorial interest.
“Contracts are made to be broken,” said Ardizzone.