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Willets Pt. opposition gains steam: Eight Queens Council reps decry mayor’s plan as owners sue city

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Eight Queens Council members appeared with more than 200 Willets Point business owners and workers at City Hall April 9 and unanimously drubbed the city's current approach to the redevelopment, which would transform the area, known as the Iron Triangle. The city's plans call for the removal of more than 250 businesses that exist on the 60-acre swath of land, an extensive environmental remediation and the construction of a sprawling mixed-use development that would feature more than 5,000 units of housing and more than 1 million square feet of retail and office space.Several of the business owners have argued that the city has been negotiating the buyout of their property in poor faith while neglecting to provide basic services to the area. Standing alongside the Council members on the steps of City Hall, 10 of the largest business owners in the area announced that they had filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against Bloomberg and the commissioners of the city Transportation, Sanitation and Environmental Protection. They are seeking damages for neglect and demanding services like a sanitary sewer system, paved streets and streetlights - all of which have been absent in Willets Point for decades. "Some of the photos you see behind me you see floods, you wonder if this is New York City in 2008 or Baghdad after a few mortar rounds," said City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) said, flanked by the business owners. The city Law Department said it was conducting a thorough review of the details of the lawsuit. The business owners' attorney, Michael Gerrard, said the city is in for a long fight."We're prepared to take this all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to," Gerrard said.Monserrate was joined by Council members Tony Avella (D-Bayside), David Weprin (D-Hollis), Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), James Sanders (D-Laurelton), Diana Reyna (D-Ridgewood) and more than 200 workers and business owners.Each signaled that he or she was not opposed to the idea of redevelopment at Willets Point, but said the city has trekked down the wrong path to get there, threatening to use eminent domain and providing few details about the plan itself.The city has consistently said it would only use eminent domain as a last resort, but Avella said if it comes to that, he will vote it down immediately."As chairman of the Council's Zoning Subcommittee I will never vote for a plan that includes eminent domain," he said. Monserrate pulled his support for the plan in its current form in February along with City Councilmen John Liu (D-Flushing) and Avella, citing a lack of detail in the city's plans, particularly involving negotiations, the relocation of the current businesses and the amount of affordable housing units in the proposal.The project has remained stagnant since then while the city conducts further review on its proposal before beginning the six-month public approval process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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