CITY COUNCIL GRILLS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION PRESIDENT LIEBER ON WILLETS POINT REDEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL
Council Members Oppose Use of Eminent Domain
At a City Council oversight hearing at City Hall Thursday on the city's proposed redevelopment plan for Willets Point, members of the City Council's Economic Development and Land Use Committees grilled NYC Economic Development Corporation's (EDC) President Robert Lieber on the city's plans to use eminent domain to condemn and seize over 40 acres of private properties in Willets Point, Queens. The city would then sell the land to a developer for a sizable profit.
When questioned, EDC's President Robert Lieber was unable to provide detailed facts and figures including the development project costs, tax subsidies for developers, affordable housing, and living wage jobs for the estimated proposed $3 billion project. Council Members expressed concern that a depressed housing market, a likely recession and rising constructions costs make this project unrealistic.
The city plans to certify the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in February 2008, which starts an estimated seven month long public approvals process. In this short time frame, details for the proposed project would need to be ironed out before the Council gives their final approval. Councilwoman Helen Sears pointed out that the city's schedule to proceed with the plan was extremely ambitious and wanted answers to the viability of the project before the clock starts ticking on the land use process. Councilwoman Katz, Chair of the Land Use Committee, noted her fear that filing of the ULURP before details of the project are known will usurp the Council's input and jurisdiction in the land use process.
During yesterday's hearing Queens Councilman Eric Gioia stated that he was troubled by the concept of eminent domain and noted it was a slippery slope as to when it necessary and reasonable for the government to use eminent domain. Members appeared unanimous in their opinion that the city's threat to use eminent domain is the wrong way to resolve the issues in Willets Point. "Eminent domain is nothing more than legalized theft," said Dan Feinstein, President of Feinstein Ironworks, a Willets Point business. "As the landowners, we find it unacceptable to start negotiations with a gun to our head."
Queens Councilman John Liu noted eminent domain seems to be used as a first resort when dealing with the little guy in NYC but not with deep-pocket landowners. "Taking private property and giving it to another private entity makes a mockery of our Constitutional rights," said Anthony Fodera, owner of Willets Point business Fodera Foods. "American soldiers are fighting all over the world to preserve and expand the democratic principals that our country was founded upon, and here I am, fighting for my fundamental property rights here in America. It's a hypocrisy and a disgrace."
Queens Councilman Tony Avella predicted that eminent domain abuse will be a big issue in the 2009 election. It was evident after the hearing that the Council will likely oppose the use of eminent domain at Willets Point.