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Willets opponents step up fight

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A public hearing was planned this week to address the contentious issues surrounding the city’s plan to build ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway to handle added traffic the $3 billion proposed redevelopment of Willets Point is slated to create.

A new legal challenge to the planned project also moved ahead last week on behalf of property and business owners in the 62-acre Iron Triangle.

The city planned to make its first presentation before a live audience of its proposal for the ramps and its environmental assessment of the project this Wednesday at the Flushing branch of Queens Library, at 41-17 Main St.

The event, which was scheduled to last four hours, was expected to bring out opponents and supporters en masse, as was the case when the city delivered a presentation required under the process for the city to begin eminent domain proceedings against businesses in the 20-acre first phase.

Michael Gerrard, a lawyer for Willets Point United, a group of Willets Point property owners and business owners, said Tuesday the organization planned to present arguments at the hearing.

“We believe that the environmental assessment completely misrepresents the impact that the ramps would have and we’re going to urge the state and federal transportation departments to prepare an independent environmental impact statement,” Gerrard said.

The city remains confident despite the efforts of opponents to block one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s largest economic development initiatives.

“Recently, we overcame several procedural hurdles allowing us to proceed on this overwhelmingly supported and job-creating project,” an EDC spokeswoman said in a statement. “The city remains committed to Willets Point becoming a center of economic growth and the site of substantial environmental cleanup.”

Jonathan Houghton, an eminent domain and condemnation lawyer for Willets Point United, said a number of first-phase property and business owners are moving forward on another tack aimed at blocking the project.

Last Thursday, they filed a verified petition aimed at challenging the condemnation of Willets Point properties, the city has 30 days to file an answer. After that, both sides will file legal briefs, then the two sides will argue their sides in the Appellate Division.

“With respect to our side of it, on Thursday we filed with the court to challenge to the condemnation,” Houghton said. “Section 207 of the Eminent Domain Procedure law allows property owners to challenge the condemnation. We’re trying to stop the city from condemning the property owners’ property.”

The city said it expects to succeed in overcoming the legal challenge to its condemnation plans.

“We expected and accounted for a lawsuit into our project planning and feel confident that we are on strong legal footing,” an EDC spokeswoman said. “We look forward to resolving the matter as expeditiously as possible and continuing the progress on Phase 1.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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