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Willets Pt. biz group to sue for infrastructure upgrades

By Stephen Stirling

The lawsuit, which was to be filed by the Willets Point Business and Realty Association in federal court in Manhattan Wednesday morning, demands that the city install sanitary sewers, street lights and street signs and repair existing roads and storm sewers, TimesLedger learned Tuesday. The suit also requests that unspecified damages be paid to existing businesses for the city's previous neglect of the area.”The city's negligent, reckless and willful refusal to provide this infrastructure creates not only an offensive nuisance, but it also creates hazards that threaten the health, safety and livelihood of those who work in Willets Point,” said Michael Gerrard, an attorney for the WPIRA.TimesLedger obtained a copy of the lawsuit prior to its filing and could not contact the city for comment before it was officially notified.Bloomberg has been seeking to transform Willets Point by removing the more than 250 businesses that currently exist on the 60-acre swath of land, conducting an extensive environmental remediation and building a sprawling mixed-use development that would feature more than 5,000 units of housing and more than 1 million square feet of retail and office space.Members of the WPIRA have said the city has been disingenuous in its negotiations with business owners thus far.The city Economic Development Corporation, which is administering the project, delayed the start of the public approval process – originally slated to begin in February – while it conducted further review of the plans.The suit claims the city's failure to address the conditions of the Willets Point infrastructure has caused extensive and predictable damage to the businesses.”The EDC is not being truthful with the City Council, the businesses at Willets Point or the public. If the city wanted to deal openly and fairly, they would have released the results of property appraisals that were completed last year by Cushman and Wakefield,” said Anthony Fodera, president of Fodera Foods Inc., one of the plaintiffs.On Monday, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) joined more than 100 Willets Point workers outside Shea Stadium in a rally against the city's plans.”The city's proposal provides no protection for business owners that rent property at Willets Point, nor does it explain how displaced businesses will be compensated. No hard numbers are provided for the number of affordable housing units the project will create,” Monserrate said.Monserrate pulled his support for the plan in its current form in February along with City Councilmen John Liu (D-Flushing) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside), citing a lack of detail in the city's plans, particularly involving negotiations and the relocation of the current businesses and the amount of affordable housing units in the proposal.The city has consistently said negotiations with the business owners have been productive and ongoing and that the project details would be included when they begin the six-month long public approval process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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