Willets Point United, the group fighting eminent domain and the city’s plan to redevelop the area, is considering its “legal options” after it was announced Monday that the Federal Highway Administration had approved proposed ramps for the Van Wyck Expressway.
The agency said that the ramps would have “no significant impact” on the surrounding area, but the WPU disagrees. “This decision flies in the face of the city’s own traffic studies showing that the ramps would allow intolerable traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway,” said Michael Gerrard, a law professor who represents the group.
The city’s Economic Development Corp., which is overseeing the $3 billion mixed-use development project in the area also known as the Iron Triangle, praised the decision from Washington: “The findings and approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the Van Wyck Expressway ramps is a significant milestone for Willets Point, and the next step in realizing this ambitious project. ... we are literally laying the foundation for the site and unlocking its long-term potential for future generations of New Yorkers.”
But the WPU says the federal agency relied on the assumption that the project was actually being built, without looking at the impact the ramps would have without the redevelopment.
“Lost in this spectacularly inane judgment is that the ramp approval is itself the linchpin of the ability of the city to go forward with the Willets Point Project” and that the highway administration “needed to use the ‘no build’ scenario as its baseline,” the WPU said in a statement.
The WPU believes the expressway will not be able to handle the estimated 80,000 cars a day the project is expected to generate..
The redevelopment plans calls for taking over the entire 62-acre area. It is now scheduled to be done in three phases, though no developer has been announced.
Phase 1 involves using 20 acres across from Citi Field on 126th Street and calls for building 400 apartments, retail space, a hotel and two acres of open space. The EDC maintains that it does not need to build the ramps for Phase 1, though some of the housing, a hotel and stores are expected to bring in a lot of vehicles. The remaining phases include building a public school, 5,100 apartment units and a small convention center.
The city still needs approval from the state Department of Transportation on the ramps issue, but with the federal OK, that doesn’t seem to be a problem.
While the city has acquired nearly 90 percent of the properties in the Phase 1 area, there still remain the nine landowners and business owners who do not want to leave the area, who comprise Willets Point United.
Jerry Antonacci, a Willets Point business owner who has been outspoken in his charges against the city, called the federal approval “a sham.” Antonacci added that WPU members are assessing their legal options “and plan on protecting our property like always.”
The WPU is also fighting the city’s decision to use eminent domain to force any unwilling owners to sell. But a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the municipality in a similar 2005 case in New London, Conn. It decided that economic growth qualifies as a permissible public use, permitting eminent domain.
Homeowners in the affected areas were forced to move, but the project never materialized because the main company involved left.
The Willets Point area is filled with car junkyards and parts stores. The city never put in sewers or sidewalks or made improvements to the streets. Nevertheless, the city called the area blighted in announcing plans for the redevelopment.