— Days Without Shea —

Willets Point protest August 13, 2008
Apparently things got a bit heated outside the City Planning Commission's rezoning hearings Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

Protesters for and against the Willets Point development plan clashed and some council members are still saying the plan could fail.

32 council members have now said they won't vote for the plan unless there is more detail provided on issues such as low income housing and business relocation.

City officials are still throwing around the "E" word (as in "Eminent Domain") which doesn't help matters. The NYT article does a good job breaking down the milestones ahead for this plan. "The Planning Commission has until the end of September to approve the plan. The proposal then would go before the City Council, which would be expected to vote on it by the end of November." So as Shea is coming down, the vote on the future of Willets Point may be coming up. Wild stuff.

Here is the full article:

Supporters and foes of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to turn gritty Willets Point in Queens into a $3 billion development of stores, offices and apartments faced off Wednesday in a confrontation that grew emotional and raucous at times.

The City Council must decide this fall whether to approve the rezoning plan, which would require the removal of more than 200 small businesses, including auto-body shops and industrial outlets.

Thirty-two of the 51 council members sent a letter this week to the City Planning Commission, which held a public hearing on the plan on Wednesday, saying they would not vote for it unless significant changes were made. The commission will make a recommendation on the plan next month.

The hearing combined public testimony on Willets Point and two other rezoning projects, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and at south Hunters Point, along the East River in Queens. Opponents of the Lower East Side and Willets Point plans protested outside the auditorium where the hearing was held through most of the day. Councilman Hiram Monserrate led two dozen opponents of the Willets Point proposal two blocks east, to a spot in Washington Square Park, to confront city officials holding a news conference there.

The opponents interrupted the news conference, which was organized by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, and drowned out advocates for the proposal, chanting “Justice for Willets Point!” and “Save Willets Point!”

The police told the city economic development officials that they could not remove the protesters, saying they had a right to be there, even if they were being disruptive.

Rejection of a rezoning measure pushed by the mayor would be unusual; the Council typically agrees with mayoral plans, and the administration has rezoned one-sixth of the city since 2002. The recent rezoning of 125th Street in Harlem encountered similar resistance, but key opponents, mainly Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens, were won over after several modifications.

What is different this time is the organizational muscle of the opponents. In addition to the council members who have expressed concerns, a group of Willets Point property owners has hired a former Council speaker, Peter F. Vallone Sr., and a former mayoral candidate, Fernando Ferrer, to help them fight the plan.

“They have been floating this project for two years, and there are still questions that haven’t been answered,” Mr. Monserrate said.

Bloomberg administration officials said on Wednesday that they would go ahead with the plan, and that they were trying to negotiate with Mr. Monserrate and others to win their support. One issue is affordable housing; council members have said more is needed, and city officials have said they are open to adding more homes for low-income families.

Another concern among the opponents is eminent domain. The city’s deputy mayor for economic development, Robert C. Lieber, said in an interview that the city was trying to avoid using the procedure and was working to reach agreement with all the landowners at Willets Point, “but at the end of the day, if there’s one holdout, we’ll resort to eminent domain if we have to.”

Councilman Monserrate, who persuaded many of his colleagues to sign the letter, said in an interview, “We have a real problem with a project that threatens to take property from the people who own it.”

Mr. Monserrate’s support may be crucial, since his district includes Willets Point and council members traditionally follow the lead of the one who represents the area to be rezoned.

“If a compromise and a consensus is not reached, we will support Hiram, and what that means is that the zoning could be defeated,” said Councilman Robert Jackson of Manhattan, who signed the letter.

At an unrelated public event on Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg played down the Council opposition, saying, “I think you will find virtually all of the City Council in the end signing on.”

The mayor said that of the council members who signed the letter, “there was nobody or almost nobody from Queens.” In fact, 8 of the 14 members from Queens signed it.

At the City Planning Commission hearing, 54 people testified, 14 of whom spoke against the project. Proponents included union leaders, environmentalists, small-business owners and a representative of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

The area known as Willets Point occupies an oddly shaped triangle in northeastern Queens sandwiched between Shea Stadium and the Van Wyck Expressway, close to a stop on the No. 7 subway line. The area has no sidewalks, sewers or houses. Its perennially potholed roads are home to auto-body shops, scrap yards, towing companies and various other businesses, like a manufacturer of Indian spices. Much of the soil beneath the shops is contaminated with oil that leaks from junk cars.

Under the rezoning plan, 5,500 homes would be built at the site, which comprises 62 acres. A fifth of the homes are supposed to be affordable to low-income families, although what the criteria will be for those who wish to live in those homes remains a matter of dispute.

As it stands, the plan calls for a hotel, convention center, offices and retail stores, which city officials say will create 5,300 jobs and generate $25 billion in economic activity over 30 years.

About 200 people attended the hearing, which was robust but not nearly as colorful as the scene outside, where a black garbage truck with a banner on its side reading, “Mayor Mike Only Cares About His Rich Developer Friends,” rode by repeatedly, tooting its horn.

The Planning Commission has until the end of September to approve the plan. The proposal then would go before the City Council, which would be expected to vote on it by the end of November. That process is likely to be contentious.

And on Wednesday, it was clear that emotions were already frayed. Claire Schulman, a former Queens borough president and a proponent of the Willets Point rezoning, was one of the speakers at the news conference organized by city economic officials. When Mr. Monserrate and his demonstrators arrived, she was forced to cut short her remarks. Before she walked away from the microphone, she grumbled, “Shame on you, Hiram Monserrate.”

The councilman seemed unfazed.

[August 14, 2008 9:41 AM]  |  link  |  reply
bobster said

To quote Shakespeare: "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Bloomberg will get what he wants. Here's why:

"At the City Planning Commission hearing, 54 people testified, 14 of whom spoke against the project. Proponents included union leaders, environmentalists, small-business owners and a representative of the Queens Chamber of Commerce."

When business, labor, environmentalists and the mayor all want something, is usually gets done. My guess is that all the shouting is just an attempt to cut a better deal. The city ain't gonna let a big junkyard remain across the street from Citi Field.

[August 14, 2008 10:51 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Kingman said

Agreed but it's amazing it has dragged out this long. Bloomberg has had some defeats in his last year (including his green initiative, killed by Albany last spring). Ferrer and Vallone smell vulnerability.

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