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Property owners said this week that a city pledge to bar Willets Point businesses from future development at Flushing Airport is discriminatory, although the city Economic Development Corp. says it never planned to move businesses to the former airstrip in the first place.
Last week, the EDC struck a compromise with Community Board 7 leadership on its future plans for the College Point Corporate Park, which includes the former airport.
The city not only agreed to permanently protect eight acres of the 25−acre Flushing Airport site from any major development, but also added a stipulation that no Willets Point businesses would be moved to the remaining 17 acres in the future.
After being presented with the city’s concessions, CB 7 promptly voted 40−0 to allow five Willets Point businesses to the over−500−acre Corporate Park in College Point and move asphalt plant Cofire Paving Corp., already in the park, to a new location.
The deal was hailed as a major victory by CB 7 members, but has been panned by Willets Point business leaders who worry that the city does not have enough land available to relocate the more than 200 businesses who have not struck deals with the city.
“I think it’s discriminatory,” said Jerry Antonacci, co−owner of Crown Container Co. and president of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse. “I think they have no right to say that and I think it’s foolish to say that.”
The stipulation that no Willets Point businesses be moved to the area was guaranteed in a letter to CB 7 Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian from EDC Executive Vice President Madelyn Wils. Before the vote, Apelian said it was a protection the community had requested and he rejected the notion that it was contradictory.
“I think that it’s a comfort we wanted and I don’t see any problem with that,” Apelian said. “When we voted [on the Willets Point redevelopment plan] in June, we wanted the businesses to get relocated. We just didn’t want them all coming to us.”
Reached for comment, the EDC said the Flushing Airport site has never been seriously eyed as a relocation point for Willets Point businesses, despite rumors to the contrary.
Flushing Airport is in a natural wetland with bedrock in excess of 100 feet below ground level, which presents considerable challenges to construction.
The EDC said even if development is possible on the remaining 17 acres, putting infrastructure in place to sustain development would likely be an expensive and lengthy process, which it said would not accommodate near−term relocations from Willets Point.
Antonacci noted, however, that the EDC has previously said the amount of city−owned land that can accommodate industrial and manufacturing uses, like those at Willets Point, is small and cautioned that shrinking the limited inventory of sites is short−sighted.
“They already admitted they have no land. And if they just took this land off the table, what are you going to do?” he said. “I think it’s going to come back and bite them.”
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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