Willets Pt. Owners Want Say In Merger
By ROSS BARKAN
|Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s vision of a developed Willets Point.
A collective of Willets Point property owners wants to know why they are being shut out of a potential court hearing on the restructuring of the New York City Economic Development Corp.
Willets Point United wrote a complaint to the attorney general’s office last week arguing that they should be present at a State Supreme Court hearing on NYCEDC’s imminent merger which will bring the quasi-public entity into compliance with existing laws. In July, NYCEDC admitted to illegally lobbying the City Council, ending a three-year probe into their lobbying practices by the AG.
In a settlement, NYCEDC said it would shed its status as a local development corporation—LDCs are barred from lobbying— to comply with the law. They will merge with the New York City Economic Growth Corp. and keep the NYCEDC name.
WPU argued that NYCEDC was simply circumventing the law on a technicality, and would now be able to lobby elected officials, unfettered by previous restrictions. Though NYCEDC shot back that WPU has no place at the hearing on their merger, WPU, always highly-critical of NYCEDC, wants to be present. They believe state law entitles them to be there.
“This corporate shell game will ultimately allow the ‘new NYCEDC’ to circumvent the restriction on lobbying that had previously applied to NYCEDC, and which applies to all local development corporations…a restriction which the Legislature [sic] has deemed appropriate to economic development entities,” said WPU in a statement.
The AG investigation vindicated WPU’s claims that NYCEDC, and more specifically the Flushing Corona Willets Point Local Development Corp. headed by former Borough President Claire Shulman, was illegally lobbying elected officials. A development arm for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, NYCEDC will play a crucial role in the contested development of Willets Point, now a swath of auto repair shops and junk yards. Property owners are fighting Bloomberg, who announced in May a far-reaching plan to bring retail outlets, offices and housing to the site. Supporters of the development hope it will eventually be a commercial hub like downtown Flushing. Related Companies and Sterling Equities Inc., headed by the owners of the neighboring New York Mets, will develop the property.
In a letter to the Supreme Court, a counsel for NYCEDC states that, “…there is no entity, person or governmental body whose consent is a prerequisite to this proposed merger with the exception of the AG…Such hearing is not intended to provide a forum for an unrelated group of property and business owners to voice their opposition to a development project.”
Detractors of the proposed development, in addition to defending the property rights of Willets Point business owners, also contend the development will overburden the surrounding infrastructure, bringing more traffic to already clogged roadways. The City does not plan to complete the construction of affordable housing until 2025, a delay that critics argue is far too long.
The Supreme Court will ultimately rule whether WPU can be present at the hearing. A date for that ruling is not set. NYCEDC confirmed a letter was sent to the Supreme Court but would not offer further comment.
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.