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The Battle Goes on at Willets Point

The battle continues over the city's plans to redevelop Willets Point. At present this a blighted underused area that is home primarily to salvage yards. This prime real estate is located on the water between Flushing Meadows Park, the new stadium for the Mets and downtown Flushing. The battle pits the property owners who have been doing business there for decades against city planners who see the potential of the area.

At a rally last week property owners, joined by local politicians, asked Borough President Helen Marshall, who has made it clear that she supports the redevelopment, to preclude the city from using eminent domain. Without at least the threat of eminent domain the massive project will never happen.

It was originally held that government could only use eminent domain when the property in question was being taken for “public use,” such as a school or other government facility. But in 2005 the Supreme Court embraced a broader definition to include “public purpose.” Under this meaning property could be used to promote “economic development.”

In New York City the battle over eminent domain has created strange bedfellows bringing together community activists on the left with free-market conservatives on the right.

“It is irresponsible to let this project go forward in its current form. We need answers to hard questions before we write a blank check for this project,” said City Councilman Hiram Monserrate. “We will not allow this community and its concerns to get steamrolled into approving this project in its current form.”

It is possible to get mired in the ideological concerns about the use of eminent domain. The decision here should come down to common sense. At present Willets Point is an ugly wasteland. This area has tremendous potential to create new jobs and stimulate the economy.

It should be noted that hidden among the repair shops and salvage yards are businesses such as the House of Spices, the nation's largest distributor of Indian food, that should be compatible with the plans for redevelopment. We see no reason why businesses such as this cannot remain.

Sadly Willets Point has become a political football and this debate could go on for another 10 years. This happened along the Westside Highway, led by the friends of the snail darter, and there is every indication that it could happen here.

Politicians will see the chance to sound like populists and crusaders for jobs and affordable housing while delaying this project indefinitely. Meanwhile Willets Point will continue to be nothing more than a junkyard sitting on waterfront estate.

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