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Board names public oversight as condition for approval

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Community Board 7's committee studying the city's planned redevelopment of Willets Point voted 22-3 to recommend approval of the project if a series of conditions are met by the time it goes to the City Council for a vote later this year.

The committee approval is the first public vote on the plan, but comes with several caveats. The committee recommendation, if adopted by the full board in a vote on Monday, would require the city to agree to several conditions, including greater public oversight once a developer is chosen, the creation of a multimillion-dollar fund to address unforeseen problems that may arise and a guarantee that 30 percent of the housing units in the project be earmarked for families making less than $45,000.

"If this was the plan we were voting on, it would fall under its own weight because it has issues," Committee Chairman Chuck Apelian said.

The vote followed more than 30 hours of debate and discussion, often strained by emotion and frustration, held by the committee at six meetings over the last six weeks. New York City Economic Development Corporation Vice President Tom McKnight said the vote was a strong step forward for the project.

"We understand this is a long, long road, but I think this is a strong signal that the community recognizes the importance of this project," McKnight said. "We're going to come as close as we possibly can to meeting everything the committee has put before us."

CB 7 will take a full vote on the committee recommendation Monday at 7 p.m. at the Union Plaza Care Center in Flushing. Business owners who are against the plan and union leaders who are for it have promised to come out in force at Monday's meeting.

Less enthusiastic about the committee vote were members of the Willets Point Business and Industry Association, who represent about 50 percent of the property owners at the 62-acre site and have derided the city's plan as a land grab that will unfairly uproot the more than 250 businesses in the area today.

"You'd expect to see this in [Hugo] Chavez's Venezuela or in [Vladimir] Putin's Russia, but not here," said Dan Feinstein of Feinstein Ironworks, who served on the committee. "If on Monday this vote stays the same, then it's time to move out because Czar Bloomberg is going to get his way."

The city is hoping to clear Willets Point and redevelop it into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood that would feature as many as 5,500 housing units and more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space.

The vote also came less than a week after two Willets Point business owners signed agreements to sell their land to the city, marking the first major property acquisitions the city EDC has made in its bid to raze and redevelop the 62-acre industrial district.

City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who opposes the plan in its current form, said while the agreements are certainly good progress, there are still nearly 80 property owners who have not reached agreements in the city.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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