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Willets Point biz owner says he was forced out by city

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As the finishing touches were put on Citi Field, just across 126th Street a business was being torn down in Willets Point as part of what foes of the city’s plan to redevelop the long−neglected industrial area called a campaign to force them out.

On Sunday morning, workers took a jackhammer to the concrete ramp leading to the garage at Vina Auto Glass on 126th Street opposite the bullpen entrance of the new stadium.

Business owner Blas Olivares said city Department of Buildings inspectors showed up a month ago and told him the ramp, which leads up to a garage two feet above street level, was illegal. Then they contacted his landlord, who soon ordered workmen to come and demolish it, effectively ending Olivares’ business.

The property, which houses four auto−related tenant businesses, had been slapped with a vacate order by the DOB in January, noting “defective steel roof joists” and “no structural stability.”

Olivares, whose movement is severely limited by an arthritic leg, said his employment prospects are limited. He and the other 250 tenant businesses of the Willets Point Defense Committee have been pressuring the city Economic Development Corp. to relocate them in groups.

“If the mayor doesn’t give me a solution, what can I do?” he said, noting he has run his auto glass business out of the property for 16 years. “I can’t put a car in the garage.”

It was the latest move in what tenant business owners are calling a concerted effort to drive them out of the area despite assurances from the EDC that there would be no activity there for a year.

EDC spokesman Joseph Pally confirmed that the city has been in touch with business owners, but denied any strategy of harassment.

“There was absolutely no concerted effort here,” he said in an e−mail. “EDC had nothing to do with this action.”

The business owners said they have been under increased pressure from numerous city agencies since the plan was approved by the City Council last November.

“They always can find some violation,” said Sergio Aguirre, vice president of the coalition, noting police recently issued tickets to eight customers at one restaurant in the area. “It’s too much, no? We can’t continue. It’s very stressful for the workers.”

A police source said the 110th Precinct does conduct periodic checks on behalf of the state Liquor Authority, but said there is no specialized alcohol enforcement operation in Willets Point.

Marcos Neira, president of the tenants coalition, also said the FDNY issued his restaurant two violations recently.

“They’re trying to put us out of business,” he said.

Last month Cornerstone Realty Group, a company known for business relocation expertise in large construction projects, began surveying landlords who rent to the tenant businesses, a sign that relocation plans could be moving forward.

But tenant business leaders have said if Cornerstone does not promise to relocate them in clusters, they have no interest in its services.

Pally said Cornerstone has moved businesses in clusters in the past and will look at the same approach in Willets Point.

“Of course there are limitations based on what sites are available and feasible,” he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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