City selective in reopening Willets Point businesses

Some businesses operating on city-owned land appear to have been shut down, some fixed and some allowed to operate despite violations.
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The city paid to repair several Willets Point businesses shut down by its own inspectors last month, but has not taken any action to renovate equally unsafe structures on land it owns elsewhere in the Iron Triangle.

In late May, the city Department of Buildings shuttered several businesses near the corner of 38th Avenue and 126th Street. After two news conferences held by business owners and an elected official, who suggested they were being discriminated against, the city Department of Housing offered to bring the structures up to code earlier this month, since the agency owns the properties.

The shops lie in the proposed footprint of a $3 billion project aiming to clean contaminated soil and redevelop 23 acres of auto shops and junkyards into a new mixed-use neighborhood across from Citi Field.

According to a review of property records by TimesLedger Newspapers, five other city-owned lots within the footprint of the redevelopment project also have full or partial vacate orders. Vacate orders are issued when a building is “perilous to life” or a fire hazard, city law states. Yet Housing did not make any repairs to bring the other structures into compliance, and a spokesman did not indicate an intention to do so in the future.

“You close six or seven shops and you’re going to fix them up — no problem? It’s not fair!” said Ahmad Mushtaq, whose shops were shuttered by a full vacate order in early 2009.

The Bloomberg administration had begun purchasing land in Willets Point after the City Council approved the redevelopment plan in 2008.

Months after the 2009 vacate order, the city purchased the property from Mushtaq’s landlord, but has let it sit in disrepair.

Mushtaq had been operating Aryana Auto Collision for 15 years prior to the vacate order, but had to pack up and leave.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has characterized the violations as a city effort to harass businesses in the area eyed for the project.

He characterized the uneven treatment of city-owned buildings in Willets Point — some are closed like Mushtaq’s, but others appear to continue to operate despite having conditions “perilous to life” — as a response to coverage in the media.

“I think it has to do with the push back,” he said. “I think the city got embarrassed.”

Avella contends that the city has been issuing violations piecemeal to try and force tenants out ahead of the project — something the Bloomberg administration denies.

Buildings characterized the initial violations as nothing more than routine inspections, while the city has repeatedly said it is working to relocate tenants in the area and has already offered job training services.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 2:34 am, June 14, 2013
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