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With an understanding that she will probably approve the project, business owners from Willets Point pleaded with Borough President Helen Marshall last Thursday to include stipulations in her recommendation that would preclude the city from using eminent domain in its bid to redevelop the Iron Triangle.
Several business owners took to the podium during a several-hour-long public hearing on the city's plan to transform Willets Point into a bustling residential and commercial hub in the heart of Queens. More than 260 businesses currently operate on the 62-acre site and the city has been working with over 80 property owners to hammer out deals for their land.
Only three land owners have struck tentative agreements to sell their property to the city, raising fears among business owners who are determined to stay in the area that the city may use eminent domain to acquire the land. The City Council could authorize this option if the body approves a rezoning and urban renewal plan for the area this fall.
Several business owners have argued that the city has not entered into a good faith effort to acquire the land, and Dan Feinstein of Feinstein Ironworks told Marshall that he believes it has been the intention of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration to use eminent domain from the beginning.
"They say they're going to do all these things, but what you're giving them is a blank check. They will be bound to nothing," Feinstein said. "All we're asking for is some teeth."
Though Marshall will not make her official decision public for at least another week, she spoke of her plans to approve the city's plans to rezone and redevelop the land several times during the hearing.
Marshall said she understands the business owners' concerns and wants to see the redevelopment plan proceed in a way that is beneficial for all parties, but stressed that she is not prepared for this opportunity to pass her by.
"This looks like it's real," she said.
Though Marshall's approval is expected, it would be another setback for the business owners who last month saw Community Board 7 conditionally approve the plan by a 20-15 vote.
Following Marshall's recommendation, which along with CB 7's is non-binding, the city's plan will then go to the City Planning Commission and the City Council, which will issue a final vote on the project.
Prior to the hearing, business owners and affordable housing advocates rallied against the project outside Queens Borough Hall, with City Councilmen Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
"It is irresponsible to let this project go forward in its current form. We need answers to hard questions before we write a blank check for this project," Monserrate said.
"I have made clear that this project falls short on affordable housing, and I am not satisfied by the vague promises to address that issue we have received to date," he said. "We will not allow this community and its concerns to get steamrolled into approving this project in its current form."
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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