Council Tackles Willets Point Plan
By Joseph Orovic
Buried under headlines about term limits, the story at Willets Point continues to develop.
The mayor’s controversial proposal to remake the 62 acres of the Iron Triangle finally hit the City Council in the form of a Land Use Subcommittee Planning, Dispositions and Concession hearing last Friday.
Council members questioned Deputy Mayor Robert Leiber and Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky on the plan. From the controversial use of eminent domain to the fiscal responsibility of such a project, no topic was left untouched.
As businesses are slow to sell their land to the City, eminent domain continues to be on the table. Flushing’s own Councilman John Liu said, “Seizing 90 percent of the land would be wrong and inexcusable and we cannot, in good conscience, support a plan that amounts to that.”
Part of the proceedings called for a statement from Michael Gerrard, a noted environmental lawyer. Procedural hassles prevented Gerrard from speaking, though he has made his statement openly available.
“The City has not demonstrated that there is much more than surficial contamination of the sort that is found in many manufacturing areas and that is routinely cleaned up without extraordinary effort. The City is adopting a “we must destroy the community in order to save it” approach,” Gerrard said. “To the contrary, our experts’ comments on the Draft [Environmental Impact Statement] showed that the project increases, rather than decreases, the risk of contamination.”
The Subcommittee Members also didn’t see the necessity of using billions of taxpayer dollars to fund the project while the City faces its greatest fiscal crisis in decades.
Staten Island’s Councilman Vincent Ignizzio called handing taxpayer money to private developers while using eminent domain “fundamentally wrong.”
Meanwhile, the City acreage count in Willets Point grew to six through the acquisition of three properties previously held by private owners. The sales are subject to approval by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
The development plan also received strong backing from bold faced names. Congressman Joseph Crowley, Borough President Helen Marshall and former president Claire Shulman all restated their support of the project, along with a group of City labor and business leaders. They flaunted the economic power of the development.
“We’ve faced times like these before and we all know that the way to reenergize our economy is through projects such as Willets Point,” Shulman said.
The City Council has 50 days after the Planning Commission’s approval to vote on the proposal, though the no further hearings have been scheduled yet.