CB 7 has much to answer for in its approval of Willets Point project

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Community Board 7 Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian appears quite eager to publicize the assistance CB 7 recently provided to Dan Feinstein, an owner of Feinstein Iron Works, involving details of Feinstein’s future relocation from Willets Point to College Point (“Feinstein, CB 7 make amends after clashes,” Jan. 20-26).

But it is disturbing that Apelian would also now attempt to leverage that assistance to push Feinstein to apologize for his remarks about CB 7 during 2008 — and thereby help CB 7 to paper over its dysfunction and failure to exercise oversight authority.

Feinstein’s comments during 2008 — which Apelian now requests that Feinstein withdraw by placing full-page apology advertisements in two newspapers, with text dictated by Apelian — pertained to CB 7’s entire handling of the city Uniform Land Use Review Procedure as it related to the proposed Willets Point development valued in excess of $4 billion. Apelian and CB 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty oversaw that process, in which:

• although unlawfully kept secret at the time, retroactive filings later confirmed that Apelian and Kelty were “targets” of the lobbying campaign orchestrated by former Borough President Claire Shulman’s local development corporation — lobbying for which Shulman’s group eventually was fined the record penalty of $59,090

• Apelian prohibited discussion by CB 7 members of the option to disapprove — rather than approve — the proposed development with conditions

• despite the controversy surrounding the proposed development and the anticipated high attendance at the public hearing, CB 7 scheduled the hearing and final vote to occur on the last possible date without the possibility to adjourn and continue and late in the evening, be delayed by another unrelated agenda item placed first on the calendar and in a room of inadequate size without air conditioning in the extreme heat of mid-summer (see video online at willetspointwatchdog.com)

• exemplifying its contempt for the public which it exists to serve, CB 7 slashed the amount of time for each public speaker at the hearing, contrary to the written hearing notice which specified three minutes per speaker — time on which the public speakers relied when preparing their testimonies

• Apelian told CB 7 members that a letter from Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber “agreed to” conditions previously established by CB 7, although the letter did not actually do so

• just prior to the final vote, Kelty told CB 7 members that if the conditions attached by CB 7 to its approval were not adopted later in the land use review process, then CB 7’s approval “is a ‘no’” — although that is not the case, as the city Law Department later informed CB 7 in writing — and the incorrect information provided by Kelty may have persuaded some CB 7 members to mistakenly vote to approve

• CB 7 approved the proposed development without the city agreeing to establish a traffic mitigation fund in the amount of 10 percent of the project cost, which CB 7 had previously said was essential

• CB 7 held the final vote at the unreasonable hour of 12:45 a.m.

• CB 7 failed to vote by the deadline date required by the ULURP

• when CB 7 later debriefed its mishandling of the matter, it only did so in secret after instructing the public to leave the auditorium, thereby implementing an unlawful closed executive session that complied with none of the requirements of the state Open Meetings Law, as the state Committee on Open Government later informed CB 7 in writing

There is a suspicion that the failure by Apelian and Kelty to exercise due diligence and encourage approval of the proposed project despite its significant liabilities was related to the unlawful lobbying done by Shulman’s group.

Given all of that, Feinstein’s comments at the time were justified and accurate. They remain so today and no apology is warranted. Indeed, by its mishandling of the entire Willets Point matter — and recent similar lack of due diligence when evaluating the proposed Flushing Commons project — CB 7 has become the poster child for reform of the ULURP and the need to establish a new method by which community board members are chosen.

Yet CB 7 has never been held to account for its dysfunction. Borough President Helen Marshall seems unaware of any dysfunction at CB 7 and has even commended Apelian and Kelty for their work. Apelian and Kelty are re-elected each year by CB 7 members.

Meanwhile, the community will face a rude awakening when it eventually confronts the consequences of CB 7’s failures to exercise due diligence. The traffic to be generated by the Willets Point project alone is so severe — 80,000 new car trips per day, just on the Van Wyck Expressway — that CB 7 had insisted that the city establish a traffic mitigation fund in the amount of 10 percent of the project cost. But the city refused to do so and CB 7 approved the project anyway.

Even if the city had established such a fund, the money would be useless unless it is linked to a methodology of mitigation, but none was ever presented. For its part, the city in its pursuit of the Willets Point project resorted to submitting a fraudulent traffic projection to the state Department of Transportation last year, which it was later forced to withdraw because of an outside expert’s analysis.

So, rather than concocting a Feinstein apology story to divert the public’s attention away from significant problems which CB 7 helped to create, CB 7’s time would be more usefully used in calling on the DOT to hold a public hearing to ensure that the actual impacts of all proposed projects in the area are finally understood and that the projects do not exceed the capacity of area roadways.

Dr. Richard Lipsky

Willets Point United Inc.

Willets Point

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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