A coalition of Willets Point business owners are urging the city to repair severely deteriorated streets in their “forgotten land” before emergency response times are more hindered and further revenue is lost.
“There is no reason to deny our neighborhood essential services. We are New York City taxpayers, and we will not tolerate having to operate our businesses under ridiculous conditions that are direct results of the city’s deliberate neglect,” said Ralph Paterno, who owns Empire Commercial Corps on 37th Avenue. “It’s been neglected for 40 years on purpose. Now we’re just fighting to get basic services that any other community has.”
According to Paterno and his group, Willets Point United, the dilapidated conditions of city streets in Willets Point — a district they say employs close to 1,800 people — obstruct the productivity of more than 250 businesses that operate there and discourage customer access.
Besides the streets being pockmarked with deep craters, Paterno said there are no sewers and few sidewalks in the area. He also said there is no sanitation pick-up, forcing business owners to pay for their own carting services.
According to Janice Serrone, also a Willets Point property owner, the poor condition of the roads directly impacts emergency responders.
“Right now, if a medical or fire emergency was to occur in Willets Point, emergency response vehicles — including ambulances and fire trucks — cannot get to their destinations within Willets Point efficiently or in spots at all,” she said, adding that in 2010, an entire fire truck got stuck in a deep pothole for an extended period of time. “By deliberately denying street repairs and maintenance services in Willets Point and allowing the terrible roadway conditions there to fester, the city is going to be legally liable if and when an emergency occurs and emergency response times are extended with deadly consequences.”
Willets Point United members said they have sent out about three written complaints to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) but said they have never received a response back.
A spokesperson at the DOT said the agency repairs — and will continue repairing — potholes on an ongoing, as needed basis both in Willets Point and throughout the city. More than 500 were fixed since 2008 in the Willets Point area, the spokesperson said, including nearly 100 in the past year.
According to the spokesperson, the agency completed a targeted strip-paving project in October 2010 to resurface a two block stretch from 34th Avenue going from 126th Street to nearby 128th Street. However, given ongoing repairs to sub-surface infrastructure in the area, the DOT said full resurfacing projects cannot be scheduled.
“Financially, I’ve suffered quite a bit,” said Joseph Ardizzone, the only homeowner left standing in Willets Point. “I think it’s a disgrace. Democracy is not alive in this country at this point in time right now.”
Last week, the city rescinded its bid to acquire and develop Willets Point through eminent domain, according to opposing lawyer, Michael Rikon. Rikon, who represents property owners in Willets Point, challenged the city’s legal bid to condemn property on the 12.75 acre piece of land. He said his firm is seeking about $281,000 in legal fees and disbursements spent on the case over three years. Combined with Arnold and Porter — the other firm working against the city — he said the bill could go as high as $800,000.
Meanwhile, city representatives said they will continue to pursue a revitalization of the neighborhood, which would transform the area into a retail, hotel and entertainment center in place of the established businesses.
“We anticipate an announcement soon for the future of Willets Point,” said Jennifer Friedberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “Since breaking ground on the offsite infrastructure in the fall, we have made enormous progress and are scheduled to complete the project in 2013.”
– Additional reporting by Liam La Guerre