More than 50 concerned community members and business owners crammed into a small meeting room in Union Plaza, in Flushing, on Tuesday for an update on the environmental, engineering and business implications of the Willets Point redevelopment plan.
In a back and forth between current business owners and the city Economic Development Corp., long-time Willets Point stakeholders claimed that no one had given them answers or valuations on their property, while the EDC claimed that it had reached out to every business and property owner on the 60-acre site.
“This is why we’ve asked the EDC to log all contacts, otherwise it goes on and on,” said Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty.
This meeting was the second in a series of three hosted by C.B. 7’s Willets Point subcommittee. The first meeting dealt with transportation costs, and the third, to be held on June 18, will focus on businesses. On June 30, the public hearing will be held and the proposal will be voted on by the community board.
Once the board makes it recommendation, the plan moves to the Borough President’s Office, then the Department of City Planning and finally to the City Council.
The plan calls for redeveloping the area into a mixed-use development featuring housing, a school, a hotel, retail and office space and a small convention center, all of which would cost upward of $3 billion.
The series of meetings came about as a result of a reprieve on an earlier date for certification of the redevelopment, originally set for April 28, gained by a group of City Councilmembers, led by Hiram Monserrate of Corona. They had threatened to vote against the proposal at the City Council level— which has the final right of approval — unless more time was granted for public comment on the proposal.
Tuesday’s meeting was addressed by Asima Jansveld, a project manager with EDC, who went through a list of environmental studies and plans for the future development of the site. She reported that 40 samples had been taken from the public areas on the site, which consisted mostly of the roadways, and while only 22 of those samples were tested, it has become clear that there were pockets of contamination from petroleum and seepage from septic tanks and dry wells.
She presented a comprehensive plan to address the environmental issues and rehabilitate the site, including establishing a sewer system and filling the land with an estimated 1/2 million cubic yards of fill.
When told the standard for fill had to be set at the 100-year flood level, current Willets Point business owner Dan Scully asked why the standard had to be set so high.
C.B. 7 Vice Chairman Charles Apelian wondered why anyone would choose a lower standard, especially in the light of recent rainfall trends, which have water reaching the 100-year flood level on a regular basis.
Scully retorted that if the standard was lower, he and others could keep their businesses.
The most contentious issue was the assertion by EDC officials and by former Borough President, and current President and CEO of Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corp. Claire Shulman, that the EDC had reached out to all 75 property and business owners currently on site. Joe Ardizzone, the sole residential owner in the area, repeatedly claimed that no one had contacted him, although he had talked to other land owners. They told him that any discussion taking place between business and property owners and the EDC consisted of the EDC asking the owner how much they wanted and trying to settle on a price.
Officers of the EDC admitted that no contracts had been signed. Thomas McKnight, another EDC project manager, explained that the city’s current plan encompassed paying business owners market price for land, buildings, fixtures and relocation costs, but he added that contracts are a slow process.
Anthony Fodera, of Fodera Foods, a third generation business owner and member of the 10-member Willets Point Realty and Industry Association, claimed that collectively they brought in $1 billion in annual sales. He was not happy with the proposed redevelopment, likening the city’s offer to having to negotiate with a gun at his head.
He said that New York City should be encouraging businesses with this level of success; instead, they were deliberately driving them away. He claimed that an earlier 1992 study had been buried, which suggested that if the city put in infrastructure such as sewers, road surfaces and sidewalks, the area businesses would flourish .
He accused then Borough President Shulman, who was now one of the major forces behind this redevelopment, of deliberately hiding the report. “The local businesses had not created the eyesore at Willets Point, the city had,” Fodera claimed, adding that relocating is not a simple matter.