By Connor Adams Sheets
A group of Willets Point small business owners, with the assistance of powerhouse lobbyist Richard Lipsky, is taking its case against the $3 billion redevelopment plan the city has for the 62-acre neglected region to area residents.
Citing the negative traffic impacts of bringing the massive project to the heart of Queens, Willets Point United is aggressively working to block plans to relocate the business owners’ auto shops, factories and other industrial shops to make way for an elaborate mixed-use development project.
Hired last July, the group paid Lipsky at least $20,000 last year, according to city records, to help it advance its cause.
He followed through last Thursday evening at a meeting of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, eliciting the group’s backing in opposing current eminent domain laws and, by default, the development plans for the Iron Triangle. The appearance was one in a string of speeches at area civics in recent weeks.
“What we’re asking you is to make a unified front against the abuse of people’s property rights,” Lipsky told the civic’s assembled members. “All of Queens is headed for gridlock if we don’t get the mayor to live up to his pledge of sustainable development.”
The group’s traffic concerns center around ï»¿two ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway, which would be built in order to accommodate traffic to and from the new development.
Lipsky argues that a traffic study the group commissioned found the project would lead to 80,000 new car trips per day and slow everyday traffic to a crawl on major surrounding roads, such as the Grand Central and Cross Island parkways and Northern and College Point boulevards.
David Lombino, a spokesman for the city Economic Development Corp., points out that the city’s traffic study has gone through the ULURP approval process, and was approved by Borough President Helen Marshall and the City Council.
Lipsky is calling on the state or federal government to choose a consultant to do an independent review of the ramps and traffic impact since he believes the city cannot be trusted to select an impartial one. The Federal Highway Administration, which did not respond to a request for comment, will review the ramps study soon and Lipsky predicts the agency will choose to slow the project based on the results.
“These consultants are in the tank, are for the developer or for the EDC, and they’re not to be trusted, so we’re saying to the [state] DOT that we need to have an independent review,” he said Tuesday. “We have the opponents saying one thing, we have the proponents saying another, and it’s incumbent on [federal or state authorities] to take this to someone who doesn’t have a dog in the hunt.”
Lombino called that analysis inconsistent with the realities of the situation.
“The process has not changed. He’s trying to make something where there’s nothing. [FHA review] is part of the approval process for the ramps,” Lombino said. “We’re working with regulators with the state and the federal governments to get final approval for the ramps, and we don’t expect any significant delay.”
The city believes the project is on track to move forward as planned, Lombino said.
“We’re continuing to acquire property through negotiated acquisition. We control 75 percent of the land for the first phase. We’re in contract for $150 million of off-site infrastructure, that’s in a design phase,” he said. “And most significantly we put out a [request for qualifications] for the first phase and got 29 responses, and we are going to whittle down the number of firms and go back with a [request for proposals] in coming months.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.