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State Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D−East Elmhurst) and City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D−Jackson Heights) slammed city agencies for shutting down 11 Willets Point businesses the day before the Mets exhibition opener, saying the action violated the city’s agreement to help tenants move as a condition for approving the area’s massive redevelopment.
“I was extremely active in discussions on the rezoning process, and during that process, which was tumultuous at times, I took very seriously that there needed to be a sense of fairness for all the players at risk of losing their livelihoods,” Monserrate said at a Sunday afternoon news event at Willets Point. “There was an agreement between the City Council and the mayor that the city would establish a $3 million fund to help businesses relocate and to keep as many businesses together as they could in the relocation. What has occurred here in Willets Point was not part of the agreement.”
Officials from the NYPD, FDNY, city Department of Buildings and city Department of Environmental Protection raided Willets Point businesses last Thursday, the day before the Mets’ exhibition opener, shutting down 11 auto repair shops, according to Monserrate and Ferreras, who took the senator’s Council seat. Ferreras said the city cited building and other city violations as the reason for closing the shops.
Ferreras and Monserrate wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg last Thursday calling on him to stop the “agencywide harassment of businesses and workers in the Iron Triangle.”
“These are attacks on Americans who are trying to put food on their table,” said Ferreras, who represents the Willets Point area.
The raids, which Willets Point employees expected more of this week, come at a time when the city is looking to purchase property from landowners in the 62−acre area that houses about 250 businesses. Ferreras said she believes the crackdown is a coordinated effort by the city to place financial pressure on landlords to sign a deal with the city.
“The city is harassing the tenants of the landlords they’re in negotiations with,” Ferreras said. “If the administration wants to enforce policies when it comes to the condition of the buildings, which they are just paying attention to now, they should also fix the sidewalks and the streets.”
Willets Point landlords and employees have long complained about the roads, which are marked by potholes, some of them deep. In early April, city officials cleaned up some of the streets at the same time property owners had planned their own pickup.
A Department of Buildings spokeswoman said the DOB issued three vacate orders because “unsafe conditions were found, such as rusting support beams, questionable welding, cracked concrete walls and structurally compromised roofs.”
Marco Neira, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, said he believes the city is going to attempt to close down as many businesses as possible so they do not need to relocate them as promised.
“The city has been lying to us since last year, when they said they couldn’t relocate us until they approved the project,” Neira said Sunday. “Well, they have approved the project and we still have not been relocated.”
Julia Sandoval, who works at WJ Auto Repair on Willets Point Boulevard, said workers live in fear that their businesses will be shuttered, leaving them to find work in a tough economy.
“If they don’t want to relocate us, just let us work a little while longer,” Sandoval said. “This is pressure and abuse. On Thursday they were pushing people out of the businesses. It was crazy, people were crying.”
David Lombino, a spokesman for the city Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the redevelopment of Willets Point, said the group was not involved in the raid last week.
“EDC had nothing to do with it whatsoever,” Lombino said.
The Mayor’s office did not return requests for comment.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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