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Queens Chronicle

DOB shutters Citi Field neighbors

Biz owners say surprise vacate orders are prep for redevelopment

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:41 am, Thu May 30, 2013.

At Willets Point, they come quickly and unannounced. And usually, they leave their mark.

Local business owners claim city agencies conducted a sudden sweep of the Iron Triangle on Friday morning, shutting down nearly a dozen stores along 126th Street, right across from Citi Field.

Now some business owners, who are tenants of the city, are claiming the Bloomberg administration is strong-arming them into vacating the property to allow for the creation of the proposed redevelopment of Willets Point.

The raid comes a week before Community Board 3 is set to vote on a plan that includes a 1.4-million-square-foot mall atop what is currently Citi Field’s parking lot. The redevelopment also calls for a mixed-use development that will include retail and affordable housing on the 23 acres the shuttered shops currently occupy.

“We’ve never had issues with the city,” said Jamshid Sabeti, who owns a discount muffler site on the corner of 126th Street and 38th Avenue, just in the shadow of Citi Field.

Sabeti said Department of Buildings inspectors came, and ordered his business to clear out immediately.

“They told us if anyone enters, they’re going to be arrested,” he said.

In some cases, the agency handed out orders to vacate that had been in effect since 2009 for construction work and structural instability.

But for Sabeti’s business partner Akram Mohibi, the sudden and swift sweep by the city is endemic of life as usual under the Bloomberg administration.

“There’s always been harassment from the city and the cops,” he said.

The sudden sweep of the Iron Triangle left Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) scrambling to rectify the situation.

The lawmaker was mostly concerned with allowing owners to have access to the interior of their businesses, where many of their supplies and, in some cases, customers’ cars, are located.

“It is my first priority to help them regain access,” she said in a statement. “As we work on the future of Willets Point, we cannot allow for our local business owners to be bullied into a hasty eviction as we saw with these particular business owners.”

For auto body shop owner Alex Rodriguez, the city’s shutdown of his business leaves him and his employees in the lurch.

“I paid my taxes; I paid my rent to the city,” he said.

Rodriguez falls into a sizable class of business owners who had their landlords sell the ground from underneath them as the city was acquiring land for the redevelopment of Willets Point.

Rodriguez pays rent to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The redevelopment of Willets Point in its current iteration passed CB 7 two weeks ago, and faces CB 3 today at 6 p.m. at 107-20 Northern Blvd.

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