Tag Archives: Willets Point United

A Willets Point wish list for de Blasio


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Thad Komorowski

THAD KOMOROWSKI

The $3 billion plan to transform Willets Point from a grungy haven for auto shops into a slick shopping mega center has sparked protests, petitions and even a hunger strike since the Bloomberg administration announced the project.

But opponents largely fell silent after the City Council voted to approve the plan on October 9. Now, they’re waiting to see what the incoming mayor might do.

Willets Point United, an organization that has protested the proposal since it was announced, has kept quiet in the wake of the Council’s decision. Normally updating its blog and Twitter feed with the frequency of a teenager, the group has been unresponsive to reporters’ calls and emails.

The silence has even extended to the group’s attorney Michael Rikon, who also represents business owners in Willets Points, located in the shadow of Citi Field.

“Maybe the organization is so exhausted from the fight that they would not come up to my office,” Rikon said. “They may be in a really bad bind. But I can’t represent an organization that won’t meet with its attorney.”

While Willets Point United may be quiet, resentment of the plan is alive and well among the affected business owners.

Arturo Olaya, proprietor of Arthur’s Auto Trim, said the city is displacing him and other Willets Point business owners without giving them enough money or understanding the area’s way of life.

“People here can’t pick up a business and move it,” Olaya said. “Willets Point grew up by itself with no help from the government. Now Bloomberg is just concerned with big business and wants to level everybody out.”

Queens residents are suffering from the redevelopment plan too, said Alan Gross, a Census Bureau field representative who lives in North Flushing.

“Those shops provide an important service to people in Queens, and I experienced that firsthand,” Gross said. “People can’t afford to go to the dealerships and get parts from part stores themselves.”

Locals say they would have preferred to improve the neighborhood in small ways. If simple sewage, street and gas repair were done, Rikon said, Willets Point would repair itself.

But John Choe, director of One Flushing Community Economic Development Center, said that smaller community needs getting abandoned in favor of large-scale development is a hallmark of the Bloomberg era.

“We have fallen by the wayside,” Choe said. “Maybe the next administration could do a better job addressing the needs of the surroundings here.”

Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio has not commented on the Willets Point redevelopment, and didn’t respond to inquiries.

The construction of the project’s mall is set for completion by the time of the next mayor’s second term or exit in 2018. Choe said locals can only hope Bloomberg’s successor will take the small communities’ needs seriously as the project progresses.

“We’re looking for more of a presence of the mayor, where they’re actually coming to the neighborhood besides in election time,” Choe said. “We’re hoping the next mayor will have a longer outlook of what’s going on here and an active interest in us.”

 

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$3.5M in payouts on table for Willets Point business owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com


A pooled $3.5 million in payouts is on tap for some Willets Point business owners who agree to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of January.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sent letters earlier this month to 90 auto shop owners in the Phase 1 area of the Willets Point development site, alerting them of the extra millions now on the table.

Shop owners who relocate by November 30 will be given a payout equal to one year’s rent, city officials said. Those who leave between December and the end of January will receive a payment equal to six month’s rent.

Under the payment plan, if a business owner who currently pays the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development $2,000 a month in rent leaves by the end of November, he or she would get $24,000.

The new pooled funds are on a first-come, first-serve basis, city officials said, and are added onto the $9 million in relocation aid already offered.

The EDC, which has said the entire Phase 1 area must be vacated before environmental remediation can begin, has been urging shop owners to relocate since this February.

Only one has left the Phase 1 site so far, an EDC spokesperson said, but two others have struck relocation deals and others are in “serious negotiation.”

Plans for the larger $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point include cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land and eventually constructing housing units and a mega mall near Citi Field.

“I think we’re getting pushed out,” said Tommy Cohen, who owns ACDC Scrap Metal. “We don’t have a choice.”

Willets Point United said on its website the deal is “fool’s gold and is little more than a bus ticket out of town for these immigrant Hispanic business owners.”

About 120 people attended a city-hosted informational meeting in Corona last week to discuss the new payouts and additional free services.

Representatives were available at booths to talk about relocations, business loans, job and education training.

There are still ongoing talks between the city, developers and Willets Point shops, said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area. These include possibly relocating the affected businesses as a group.

 

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More testing ordered at Willets Point


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Further environmental testing at Willets Point has been ordered by a court ruling, but is not expected to hold up development at the site, a member of the project’s team said.

The August 14 decision by the Manhattan Supreme Court said development of what is commonly called the Iron Triangle would not move forward until the city conducts a better environmental review of the area.

“The city will not proceed with development in Willets Point,” the ruling reads. “The appropriate environmental review will be prepared and any additional approvals that are necessary will be sought for future development in Willets Point.”

This ruling was not driven by the June announcement of concrete plans for what will become a major retail area and destination spot; rather, it refers back to a case between the city and Willets Point United, an advocacy group against development of the area.

“The city had filed a stipulation of discontinuance prior to our being designated,” said Jessie Masyr, a land use lawyer for the joint venture of Related Companies and Sterling Equities. “We’re doing a do-over, in essence, of the environmental review…we just saw it come out.”

The filing dates back four months before the decision was released, Masyr said.

The city currently has 95 percent of the land in the Iron Triangle, and only about four or five shops are holding out, Masyr said during a Courier editorial board meeting.

Cleanup for the Willets Point area is expected to be completed by 2015, according to a plan provided by the joint venture. This cleanup effort includes leveling the scores of auto body shops, inserting new soil and creating an infrastructure such as drain sewers, developers said. Development of the project is not expected to be held up by the court decision.

One shop owner said the city should have done additional testing years ago, as the area is poorly cared for and has scores of potholes.

“They should have done it 30 years ago,” said Michael Nieto, owner of Gringo’s Auto Parts Express. “This area’s been so neglected by the city, and it just seems like sometimes to their convenience is when they want to buckle down and follow the rules.”

Nieto, who rents his property, said he’s allowed to stay until 2015, when the cleanup is expected to be completed. The city had neglected the area, he said, and was now trying to blame the tenants and owners for the crumbling infrastructure.

“Now they want to do soil,” he said. “I think it’s just a joke. They’re [the city] only doing it to try and gain some advantage to say that we’ve never taken care of the property here.”

Willets Point biz owners fighting for repairs, legal fees


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Willets Point

A coalition of Willets Point business owners are urging the city to repair severely deteriorated streets in their “forgotten land” before emergency response times are more hindered and further revenue is lost.

“There is no reason to deny our neighborhood essential services. We are New York City taxpayers, and we will not tolerate having to operate our businesses under ridiculous conditions that are direct results of the city’s deliberate neglect,” said Ralph Paterno, who owns Empire Commercial Corps on 37th Avenue. “It’s been neglected for 40 years on purpose. Now we’re just fighting to get basic services that any other community has.”

According to Paterno and his group, Willets Point United, the dilapidated conditions of city streets in Willets Point — a district they say employs close to 1,800 people — obstruct the productivity of more than 250 businesses that operate there and discourage customer access.

Besides the streets being pockmarked with deep craters, Paterno said there are no sewers and few sidewalks in the area. He also said there is no sanitation pick-up, forcing business owners to pay for their own carting services.

According to Janice Serrone, also a Willets Point property owner, the poor condition of the roads directly impacts emergency responders.

“Right now, if a medical or fire emergency was to occur in Willets Point, emergency response vehicles — including ambulances and fire trucks — cannot get to their destinations within Willets Point efficiently or in spots at all,” she said, adding that in 2010, an entire fire truck got stuck in a deep pothole for an extended period of time. “By deliberately denying street repairs and maintenance services in Willets Point and allowing the terrible roadway conditions there to fester, the city is going to be legally liable if and when an emergency occurs and emergency response times are extended with deadly consequences.”

Willets Point United members said they have sent out about three written complaints to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) but said they have never received a response back.

A spokesperson at the DOT said the agency repairs — and will continue repairing — potholes on an ongoing, as needed basis both in Willets Point and throughout the city. More than 500 were fixed since 2008 in the Willets Point area, the spokesperson said, including nearly 100 in the past year.

According to the spokesperson, the agency completed a targeted strip-paving project in October 2010 to resurface a two block stretch from 34th Avenue going from 126th Street to nearby 128th Street. However, given ongoing repairs to sub-surface infrastructure in the area, the DOT said full resurfacing projects cannot be scheduled.

“Financially, I’ve suffered quite a bit,” said Joseph Ardizzone, the only homeowner left standing in Willets Point. “I think it’s a disgrace. Democracy is not alive in this country at this point in time right now.”

Last week, the city rescinded its bid to acquire and develop Willets Point through eminent domain, according to opposing lawyer, Michael Rikon. Rikon, who represents property owners in Willets Point, challenged the city’s legal bid to condemn property on the 12.75 acre piece of land. He said his firm is seeking about $281,000 in legal fees and disbursements spent on the case over three years. Combined with Arnold and Porter — the other firm working against the city — he said the bill could go as high as $800,000.

Meanwhile, city representatives said they will continue to pursue a revitalization of the neighborhood, which would transform the area into a retail, hotel and entertainment center in place of the established businesses.

“We anticipate an announcement soon for the future of Willets Point,” said Jennifer Friedberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “Since breaking ground on the offsite infrastructure in the fall, we have made enormous progress and are scheduled to complete the project in 2013.”

- Additional reporting by Liam La Guerre