Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

After one branch of city government issued several Willets Point business owners violations and shut down their body shops earlier this month, another branch will now pay to fix them.

On May 17, inspectors from the city Department of Buildings closed two lots housing several auto businesses in the Iron Triangle.

At one property, on the corner of 38th Avenue and 126th Street, inspectors determined a building had been illegally subdivided into five shops. They shuttered the whole group. Across the street, inspectors enforced an order to vacate issued in 2009 regarding support joists holding up the sheet metal roof.

The lots were both purchased by the city Housing and Preservation Department in 2009, records show, making the Bloomberg administration the landlord.

“All we want is fair treatment,” said Akram Mohibi, one of the business owners. “We all have families. We’re not doing anything illegal.”

Mohibi was speaking at a news conference called by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) Tuesday, where he said the city’s actions constituted harassment.

“These were all pre-existing violations when the city took over,” he said. “Unfair treatment has got to stop.”

Avella contends the businesses were being targeted because they lie in the footprint of a $3 billion project to redevelop 23 acres of Willets Point.

The developers, which include Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of the New York Mets, hope to begin cleaning the soil on the site in February and eventually build a stretch of buildings along 126th Street across from Citi Field. They are also hoping to complete a 1.4-million-square-foot mall on the other side of the stadium by 2018.

Immediately after the businesses were shut down, Housing told TimesLedger Newspapers that because the violations were issued to a commercial business, it would be the tenant’s responsibility to rectify the problems.

But after a group of business owners reached out to City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), the department did an about-face and agreed to bring the shops into compliance.

“We have been working diligently with Council Member Ferreras to find a solution that will allow the commercial tenants to return as quickly as possible. The city will be funding repairs that will begin in the next few days with the work expected to be complete and the shops open for business soon after,” said Housing spokesman Eric Bederman.

Enforcement of building violations in the Iron Triangle seems spotty.

Three nearby businesses also owned by Housing, and also in the footprint of the first part of the Willets Point project, had full or partial vacate orders issued in 2009, yet the locations were not shut down.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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