Judge tosses Willets suit

A federal judge tossed a lawsuit brought against the city by Willets Point business owners alleging that the lack of development and services in the area violated their constitutional rights.

Eastern District Judge Edward Korman dismissed the suit, which was filed by the Willets Point Business and Realty Association (WPIRA) in 2008, saying that the plaintiffs failed to establish that there was no rational basis for the historical lack of redevelopment in the area.

“The timing of this lawsuit as well as plaintiffs’ own admissions at oral argument suggests that its [sic] real purpose of their lawsuit is to obstruct and forestall the implementation of the approved plan,” Korman stated.

In the court’s decision, it ruled that “the city’s conduct was the product of an entirely rational cost-benefit analysis based on conditions that are unique to Willets Point,” which include historical loose fill and an existing street system that makes it difficult to redevelop the area such that “any development plan would likely involve large-scale changes to the zoning, use, and organization of the neighborhood.”

The Willets Point redevelopment project, which calls for the remediation of a roughly 62-acre site, is expected to include 5,500 housing units, eight acres of open space, parks and playgrounds, 500,000 square feet of office space, 1.7 million square feet of retail space, a new school and a hotel and convention center.

Although the city said it owns or has cut deals to acquire roughly 70 percent of the land at the site, there are still more than 200 businesses who have not agreed to sell their land to the city. In addition, the city has threatened to use eminent domain to take the properties that they cannot reach an agreement with.

While many advocates for the development praised the judge’s ruling, businesses at the site that are against the project downplayed the decision.

“This wasn’t anything that helps this plan move forward,” said Jake Bono, the third generation owner of Bono Sawdust Supply Co. in Willets Point, who emphasized that the ruling only said that the city did not have to provide sewers or other services at the site before any redevelopment.

“The city is still going to have a rough day in court when they try to take my property,” Bono said.