Beep, city forge ahead to condemn Willets Pt.

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It has been nearly five months since Mayor Rudolph Giuliani delivered his State of the City address, in which he announced his intentions to condemn Willets Point. Since then, a waste transfer station has been built, dozens of scrap yard owners have been charged with crimes against the environment, and land owners of the district have fretted about the prospect of having to move out.

Papers to bring about the condemnation were filed with the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development by Borough President Claire Shulman shortly after the mayor’s announcement in January. The objective, according to Shulman, is simple: force out the scrap yards that have shaped the landscape of Willets Point for decades, remove the waste transfer station that now stores Queens’ garbage, and develop the land into something that will generate revenue for the city.

But for some business people in Willets Point, a 55-acre triangle-shaped parcel across from Shea Stadium, the objective is anything but simple. Indeed, condemnation means relocation, and if the city is willing to work with some, but not all, of the businesses in Willets Point, the process for those that have fallen from the good graces of elected officials can be discomfiting.

Taking a cue from Queens West, a project to develop the Hunter’s Point waterfront both commercially and residentially, Shulman said she wants to set up a corporation to oversee plans for Willets Point. To further speed things up — since Shulman must leave office this December because of term limits — the borough president even offered to pay for an environmental review.

“We’re going to have this well on its way and organized in a way that will propel it,” she said in an interview last month. “This is really valuable land.”

Daniel Sambucci Jr. is one such example of a man whose business bodes ill with the city. Since 1951, his family has owned a scrap yard in Willets Point. Sure, it’s a messy business, he said, but a necessary one, for where would all the abandoned cars in the city go if his or any of the scrap yards in Willets Point did not exist?

Over the years, arrests of Willets Point tenants like Carmine Agnello, son-in-law of jailed mob boss John Gotti, have fanned the stereotype that every scrap yard owner is crooked or somehow connected to organized crime. The indictment of 35 employees of junkyards on charges of illegally dumping thousands of gallons of hazardous materials in Willets Point has only amplified the district’s reputation for criminal activity.

Shulman, though, acknowledges there are a “couple of good businesses” in Willets Point, and has offered them assistance in moving, even though the process hasn’t even begun yet. One such business is Feinstein Iron Works, which she said she is trying to move to the College Point Industrial Park.

The Sambuccis?

“We’re not doing body shops,” Shulman said. “We’re not putting all this effort into body shops.”

Sambucci said he has called and sent several letters to Shulman’s office, receiving no response. “She paints all of these places with one brush,” he said. “‘You’re all crooks, you’re all no good.’ Should I say the same thing about all politicians because one is bad?”

Dan Andrews, Shulman’s spokesman, did not return a phone call seeking comment. But in an interview last month, Shulman said that Willets Point has increasingly become a blight on downtown Flushing, especially in light of the economic development that business leaders there are trying to accomplish.

In particular, Chinese-American business leaders were angered by a waste transfer station that was built in Willets Point to temporarily store the borough’s trash, part of a plan to deal with the city’s garbage after Fresh Kills, the state’s only remaining landfill, was closed. The leaders have argued that the station will not only further congest downtown Flushing but also drive down the property values.

“I have a very, very healthy Chinese community here, and they are livid over here,” she said. If Willets Point is ultimately declared an urban renewal area, the transfer station, on 34th Avenue, would be dismantled, a prospect that doesn’t bother its operator, Tully Environmental, Shulman said.

“I’ve been told Tully would be happy to get out of there,” she said. “We’ve been trying to work on this for a long time.”

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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