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A coalition of Willets Point businesses released a video last week blasting Community Board 7's approval of the city's plan to redevelop the northern Queens industrial enclave, contending the group's vote should be overturned and accusing its leaders of influencing the decision.
The 13-minute video shows pieces of the more than 30 hours of hearings and meetings the board held on the city's proposal to transform Willets Point into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood.
After an exhaustive six-hour meeting June 30, CB 7 voted 21-14 in favor of approving the city's plan as long as a list of conditions and changes to the city's proposal were met by the time the plan headed to the City Council for a final vote.
The video accuses CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty and Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian of bullying fellow members into approving the project while cutting short the testimony of those who spoke against it.
"If not for the strong-arm tactics of Board Chairman Gene Kelty and Willets Point Committee Chairman Chuck Apelian, it's clear the majority of board members would have voted against this illegal land grab," said Willets Point Industry and Realty Association member Dan Feinstein. "Kelty and Apelian should be removed from office immediately, and the board members should call for a new vote now that Kelty and Apelian's betrayal has been laid bare for all to see."
Kelty, a 24-year veteran of the board, called the accusations both "offensive" and "insulting," contending that the board as a whole voted on a measure that left room open for future negotiations with the city while letting their voices be heard.
"I don't know what they're looking to do with this. I guess Dan Feinstein and Dan Scully and them don't really know how policy works," Kelty said. "We're an advisory board. They keep making me look like an ogre, but we gave the city our conditions. If they give me the conditions, fine; if they don't, what am I going to do, go out into the street and scream? We're still an advisory board."
The conditions outlined for the board's approval included greater public oversight once a developer is chosen, the creation of a multimillion-dollar fund to address unforeseen problems that may arise, a guarantee that 30 percent of all housing is affordable and a demand that the city exhaust all other efforts before using eminent domain.
The video contends that only two of the stipulations made by the board have been guaranteed by the city: a K-8 school on the site of the development and a promise to seek LEED certification for constructing the development with environmental sustainability in mind.
Kelty did not deny that several of the stipulations the board set forth were not met.
"I think they see their power struggle with the city failing, so they're resorting to things like this," he said. "I don't know what this DVD is doing other than antagonize the board. If the board sees this, they're going to take it as a personal attack against them."
A WPIRA representative said the group, which represents business owners who own nearly 50 percent of the land at Willets Point, has sent copies of the video to the City Planning Commission and City Council.
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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