Contentious testimony on EDC’s Willets Point Plan

Concerns over eminent domain dominate hearing. On November 29, 2007, the City Council’s committees on Land Use and Economic Development held their second oversight hearing on New York City Economic Development Corporation’s proposal to redevelop 61 acres of Willets Point in Queens. The site, located directly east of Shea Stadium, largely consists of a range of auto-related, light industrial and manufacturing private businesses. EDC seeks to acquire the entire area and create an urban renewal plan for a new 8.9 million-square-foot mixed-use development. 4 CityLand 87 (July 15, 2007).

At the hearing, EDC President Robert Lieber testified that EDC is working with Willets Point businesses on a relocation plan by which the businesses would move to private property or City-owned or controlled property. Lieber also stated that some businesses have already agreed to relocate so long as EDC purchases similar industrial property on their behalf. Moreover, to address potential job losses, Lieber announced that EDC would work with LaGuardia Community College and run a workforce assistance program.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Queens State Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn testified in support of EDC’s proposal. Mayersohn praised the long overdue project, citing the 5,500 units of affordable housing and 20,000 jobs the redevelopment would generate.

Ed Ott, Executive Director of the New York City Central Labor Council, testified in support of EDC’s proposal, but called upon EDC to adopt labor standards that would to apply to any developers or other agents working with EDC in Willets Point.

The 10 largest property owners in Willets Point, several of whom are third-generation business owners, produced video testimony against the proposal. In the video, Former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. appeared alongside the property owners, claiming that the City had deliberately blighted the area by not installing sewers and streets in order to justify an eventual condemnation.

In the same video, the property owners claimed that the specter of eminent domain, coupled with the City’s purposeful neglect of the area, hindered investment in the area, further contributing to the impression of blight. They also claimed that their businesses required M3-1 zoning, for heavy manufacturing uses, and that the City failed to offer them similarly zoned sites.

Council Member and Land Use Committee Chair Melinda Katz commented that EDC had historically issued a request for proposals and selected a developer before it applied for land use approval, whereas here it planned to seek approval first. She worried that if Council gave its land use approval before EDC acquired the necessary property, EDC could use eminent domain to acquire the property it needs without any mechanism in place to ensure community involvement. Council Member Eric Gioia was also wary of the eminent domain component of EDC’s proposal, arguing that what may appear as a “blighted” area may in fact be home to thriving, legitimate businesses.

Council Member and Zoning & Franchises Subcomittee Chair Tony Avella expressed his distaste for EDC’s unwillingness to incorporate the area’s businesses into its proposal, and promised not to vote for it when it reaches his subcommittee unless EDC makes further changes or takes further remedial measures.

Council: Oversight Hearing on Willets Point Redevelopment (Nov. 29, 2007).

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