Willets Pt. Group Gains Allies In Fight
By Joseph Orovic
Opponents of the use of eminent domain in Willets Point’s redevelopment have begun rolling out their political and legal heavy artillery as the City’s Economic Development Corp. began condemnation proceedings that would strip a small group of property owners of their land.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined members of Willets Point United in decrying the City’s approach to the matter at a rally on Thursday.
“Once again, the Economic Development Corp. has lied,” he said. “It has lied to these business owners, lied to elected officials and lied to the people of this city.”
“We’re here today, as we have been for the past couple of years, to say, ‘Mike Bloomberg and EDC, we’re going to fight you until the bitter end.’”
The gathering sought to highlight inconsistencies between the EDC’s past statements in courts and its contradictory actions in seeking the condemnation proceedings that would eventually lead to the takeover of property via eminent domain.
WPU contends the City promised to keep the controversial land acquisition tool off the table until the state approves its proposed ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway.
The City has not provided a viable plan for ramps, but contends its new phased approach to developments means they do not need one.
“The City’s mantra is ‘my way or the highway,’ and in this case, we don’t even get the highway,” said WPU spokesman Dr. Richard Lipsky. “If there are no ramps, all of the local roadways will be inundated with traffic and that’s a real concern.”
Lipsky also reached out to local elected officials, namely City Council members, calling for a hearing into the EDC’s dealings with Willets Point.
“Despite representations to the contrary before the council, EDC has failed to negotiate in good faith and is now commencing an eminent domain proceeding against the remaining 52 property owners – something it told the Council (and the court) that it wouldn’t do before gaining approval of two crucial ramps off of the Van Wyck,” Lipsky wrote in an email to various members of the council.
The contentious nature of the ramps and the EDC’s exact intentions have led to a groundswell of confusion, according to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).
“The people at Willets Point clearly are upset and confused,” she said. “I think the EDC has to do a bit of a better job to get accurate information out.”
Ferreras has sought to act as an intermediary between all parties throughout the process. She said she may call a hearing into the EDC’s handling of Willets Point, though has not decided entirely.
“I am very strongly leaning towards a hearing if it’s going to answer some questions,” Ferreras said. “But there may not be any need if the questions are answered prior.”
WPU also enlisted the services of attorney Michael Rikon, who said this attempt to stop condemnation proceedings will succeed where others failed.
Whereas past challenges have debated the definitions of “blight” and “public use,” Rikon said Willets Point’s case calls into question the City’s whole method since Day One.
“The entire process that has been obliged in this particular case has been contrary of the law,” he said. “It’s an absolute of violation of the eminent domain procedure of the law, the constitution and every other basic fundamental right.”
But according to Avella, all this effort surrounds a moot point.
“This development is never going get built,” he said. “We’ve been down this road before.”
Reach Reporter Joseph Orovic at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.