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February 28, 2011

Concern for Underclass as the City Progresses on Its Willets Point Plan

The New York Times
by Dan Bilefsky

Two years ago, as the mayor attended the Mets’ home opener at the new Citi Field, Adrien Nicolescue, an auto mechanic from Romania, joined a procession of honking garbage trucks to protest the city’s plans to condemn the nearby Willets Point area and build a $3 billion project of apartments, office buildings, stores, restaurants and a hotel.

But as his comrades geared up for another showdown with the mayor at a public hearing on the project scheduled for Wednesday, Mr. Nicolescue decided to pack up and leave. “I am going home, back to Romania,” he said, standing on the same pothole-pocked corner of Willets Point where he has been drawing in customers for windshield repairs for 36 years.

Willets Point, in Queens, is a 61-acre expanse of junkyards and auto-repair shops so squalid that local business owners compare it to Iraq. “I don’t want to leave,” Mr. Nicolescue said, “but I have nowhere to go."

Whatever the challenges, some are determined to stay. Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing 82 businesses that have refused to leave, said that he was preparing to file a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the project flouted environmental laws. But he acknowledged that history and precedent were not on his side.

In November 2009, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, ruled that the state could take businesses and private property for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. Legal experts said that decision reaffirmed New York’s right to use eminent domain even as many state legislatures have been moving in the opposite direction.


Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, If 29 developers are interested in Willets Point, why not the Vanderbilt Yard? Also, no Times scrutiny for Pinsky's projections

Two things jump out from a New York Times article today headlined Concern for Underclass as the City Progresses on Its Willets Point Plan:

Seth W. Pinsky, president of the corporation, said in an interview that the project would create 5,300 new jobs, provide affordable housing and generate $25 billion in investment over the next 30 years. He said that 29 developers had already expressed interest, and that the city would choose finalists this spring.

But opponents of the Bloomberg plan counter that the project is speculative and environmentally unsound.

Contrast with AY

First, if 29 developers have expressed interest in Willets Point, would a similarly large number have jumped at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard and/or the entire Atlantic Yards site?

But the MTA didn't reopen its RFP after Forest City Ratner in 2009 asked to renegotate the Vanderbilt Yard deal, and MTA board member Jeff Kay claimed, "But there is no other market. No one else has come forward with a credible proposal at this time, and we should take advantage of that.”

Optimistic projections

Second, Pinsky should not with any certainty claim such definitive numbers about jobs, housing and investment. Nor should the Times transcribe his claims without a glimmer of doubt.

Posted by eric at February 28, 2011 11:22 AM