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Shulman backs Willets Pt. development

From the scratched-up windows of a No. 7 train leaving Flushing, it looks like a graveyard of polychromatic scraps. It appears overwhelmingly messy and tidy at the same time. It is known as a purveyor of spare tires, car doors, hoods, mufflers, carburetors, engines - anything automotive.

The city, though, has grandiose plans for this tract known as the Iron Triangle, just across the street from Shea Stadium. And those plans do not include keeping around the bazaar of auto shops and wrecking yards that have shaped this district's landscape for decades.

In his State of the City address several weeks ago, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made known his plans to condemn the Iron Triangle, a 55-acre parcel of landfill fenced in by 126th Street, Willets Point Boulevard and Northern Boulevard. In recent weeks, the Queens borough president's office has followed suit, pointing out that the Iron Triangle is indeed prime property for whatever the city decides to develop there.

"It's a good location in terms of transportation and its proximity to all the very popular attractions in Flushing Meadows Corona Park," said Daniel Andrews, a spokesman for Borough President Claire Shulman. "It's an area that, given those attractions, could probably have some better uses for its economic base."

The borough president's office has drawn up a four-page recommendation in response to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's announcement to condemn the Iron Triangle, but they are at most broad-brush, Andrews said.

Among the proposals are the construction of an office building, a convention center and an entertainment complex, according to the letter. "Today," the borough president writes, "Willets Point generates relatively few jobs and marginal benefits for the local economy. With a creative and insightful plan for this section of Queens, the area can be transformed into one of the more desirable locations in New York City."

The Iron Triangle is a terminus for abandoned cars and stolen ones, too. The Iron Triangle was catapulted to prominence last year when the police arrested Carmine Agnello, brother of John Gotti, and charged him with trying to drive out of business a ruse salvage yard set up by the police. Agnello's case has yet to come to trial.

On any given morning or afternoon or evening, greasy men in mechanics suits stand outside their auto body shops hawking car parts. Some blocks within the triangular encampment appear more orderly than others. Some have more activity than others. While one block might be known for spare tires, another might be a forum for window tinting.

The Iron Triangle has been 50 years in the making. In the past, plans of all sorts to develop the Iron Triangle were floated, including one to utilize the space for the 1964 World's Fair and another to build a new baseball stadium for the Mets. Most recently, in the early 1980s, the city again mulled condemning the Iron Triangle and building a football stadium for the Jets before the team defected to New Jersey.

"We're at the very preliminary stages because it will be designated as urban renewal land," Andrews said. "If it is land that the city will take, it will have to go through the city's uniformed land-use review process."

In general terms, to be deemed an "urban renewal land" an area must be abandoned, vacant and underutilized, and be used illegally. The borough president said Willets Point falls under this definition. The land-use review process would include a hearing before Community Board 7 in Flushing to gauge community interest in the proposals.

In a recent interview, Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, which covers the Willets Point area, said he would welcome the development of the Iron Triangle, although he expressed a degree of concern over where the displaced businesses would ultimately relocate.

"Unfortunately, it happens to be the site of all our salvage yards, and it's always been a problem there," Kelty said. "Some have cleaned their act up, but a lot of them are sprouting up all over the place. And every now and then the big businesses get concerned, and every now and then the city sends in a task force to try to get them under control."

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

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