2008-10-01 / Political Page

CPC Willets OK Sets Stage For City Council Showdown

BY JOHN TOSCANO

"I look forward to finally having an open discussion and solution on the issues that the administration so far has not resolved—..."—Monserrate "I look forward to finally having an open discussion and solution on the issues that the administration so far has not resolved—..."—Monserrate Slamming the City Planning Commission's passage of the controversial Willets Point development plan as "a rubber stamp" action, City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate predicted the measure was headed for a doomed fate in the City Council when it comes up for a final vote.

Monserrate (D- Corona), whose district includes the 61-acre area in Flushing that has been the subject of a bitter battle between the Bloomberg mayoral administration and a large coalition of opponents, said after the CPC's approval vote: "I look forward to finally having an open discussion and solution on the issues that the administration so far has not resolved— guaranteed affordable housing, fair-market compensation and relocation plans for property owners on the Willets site, traffic mitigation plans and a commitment to take eminent domain off the table."

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that Planning Commission approval demonstrated unmistakenly and conclusively, "This plan must go forward."

The mayor stated: "The environmental contamination that exists at Willets Point cannot stand, and the opportunity to create new housing, parks, office space, retail amenities and more than 5,000 permanent jobs should not be passed up.

"The plan will continue to be refined as City Councilmembers review the plan, ask questions and provide input. I am confident that at the end of the day, they too will choose to address the challenges that have plagued Willets Point for decades and act to create new economic opportunities for all Queens residents."

But the business owners occupying the development site through the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA), like Monserrate, blasted the City Planning Commission for "rubber stamping the administration's misguided plan". In a statement, the WPIRA said, "We stand ready to work with the council on a plan that makes sense for the local community, protects and creates jobs and requires massive taxpayer subsidies for wealthy private developers."

Residents and those holding jobs at Willets Point and community groups such as ACORN, Queens for Affordable Housing, and the Pratt Center for Community Development have been joining in opposition to the mayor's plan.

Together, these varied groups have called for a guarantee that 50 percent of any new housing created will be permanently affordable; a comprehensive relocation and compensation plan for current small business owners and employees, and a community benefits agreement that includes a congestion mitigation plan. They also have demanded that there be an end to using eminent domain to take private property.

Monserrate said in his statement that the mayor's plan would "turn a largely industrial, 13-block area into 5,500 units of mostly expensive apartments and more than 1.5 million square feet of commercial space". In the process, the lawmaker said, it would also displace about 1,700 workers most likely by using the state's eminent domain laws to acquire privately owned property.

But, Monserrate went on, the city Economic Development Corporation's plan lacks relocation and compensation guarantees for most of those workers and provides no guaranteed affordable housing benefits for middle- and lowincome Queens families.

The city's proposal, he said, would be mostly (80 percent) market-rate housing, and the remainder of the units will be unaffordable to the majority of Queens residents, and to the vast majority of residents who live near the project site, where median income is nearly $10,000 a year less than the borough average—and even these few units are not guaranteed.

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