The groundbreaking for a massive sewer project in Willets Point last Thursday is a mixed blessing for area businesses and workers, who have been calling for infrastructure improvements for years. But that’s just the precursor of the massive development project many don’t want.
Mayor Bloomberg and several agency heads came out last week for a ceremony marking the beginning of a $50 million project to build a sanitary sewer main and reconstruct a storm sewer and outfall. It is expected to provide more than 350 jobs and take two years to complete.
The storm sewer will move stormwater north toward Flushing Bay, while the sanitary sewer main will convey wastewater to an existing pump station west of Citi Field and the Grand Central Parkway.
“This major investment in infrastructure will create jobs, catalyze private sector investment and lay the groundwork for New York City’s next great neighborhood,” the mayor said.
“These investments mark the first physical steps after years of planning and working together with local leaders in reimagining Willets Point as a vibrant commercial and residential community,” he added.
Work will be done between October through March to prevent any traffic delays during the baseball season at the adjacent Citi Field. Cruz Contractors will carry it out .
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said for years Willets Point has suffered from “not so benign neglect” with flooding “a constant problem,” adding, “This sewer project will help clean up the environment, provide essential infrastructure and, most importantly, help create local jobs.”
As a union-led operation, the project would not be affected by the living wage bill now under consideration by the City Council. That proposal would require developers who receive public subsidies to pay workers $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without.
The measure would apply to Phase 1 work of Willets Point, which will follow. The $3 billion mixed-use development plan calls for retail and office space, 400 housing units, a hotel, two acres of open space and parking for the first phase. It will take in 20 acres across the street from Citi Field on 126th Street
Two other phases call for building a school and a small convention center.
The total project calls for taking over the entire 62-acre area also known as the Iron Triangle that is bounded by 126th Street, Roosevelt Avenue, Northern Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway. Since some of the businesses do not want to leave, the city plans to use eminent domain proceedings to get them out.
Although no developer has been selected yet, the Economic Development Corp. indicated that proposals are under review and that one should be chosen in early 2012. Work is scheduled to start a year later and the entire development is projected to take 10 years.
The city has acquired 90 percent of the properties in the Phase 1 location with nine holdouts. Businesses in that area will be relocated in the second half of 2012, acording to the EDC.
Fighting the move is Willets Point United, a group made up of owners who do not want to leave and say the groundbreaking for the sewer work is premature.
WPU believes the city does not have the necessary state permits to begin and may not get them since 1,800 Hispanic workers would be displaced and the project guidelines says it cannot have a serious impact on minorities.
But the city denies the charges, saying it has all necessary permits
WPU blasted the city in statements issued by members on Friday, saying that the optimism displayed by officials at the groundbreaking was premature.
“The city is trying to create an impression of a fait accompli when there are serious legal and financial issues unresolved,” said Joe Ardizzone, 78, who has lived his entire life in Willets Point and is its last resident.
Jerry Antonacci, whose family has run a carting company in the Iron Triangle for 35 years, said it is not the business owners’ fault that the area lacks basic infrastructure, despite their having paid taxes over the years.
“It’s gotta be over a million dollars over 30 years in taxes, and what do we get for it?” Antonacci asked. “We’re getting kicked out. I mean, we didn’t get no streets, we didn’t get no sewers, we didn’t get no sidewalks, no street signs, no stop signs, no snow plowing, nothing.”
WPU announced on Monday that the EDC will hold an informational meeting at 6:15 p.m. on Dec. 19 at the Al Oerter Recreation Center, 131-40 Fowler Ave., in Flushing.
WPU contends it told the state Department of Environmental Conservation that a previous meeting violated DEC regulations by the city failing to make available documents to the public in a timely fashion.