An integral part of the Bloomberg administration’s misguided Willets Point project is the use of ramps to and from the Van Wyck Expressway to handle the expected huge increase of vehicular traffic the project will cause. Even without the project the Van Wyck and Grand Central Parkway are currently often clogged. The traffic issue as yet has not been resolved nor approved by the Federal Highway Administration.
Previously, Bloomberg officials have gone on record that no attempt to acquire Willets Point property through the eminent domain procedure law will be made until the Van Wyck ramps have been approved by the FHA. In the typical devious manner in which the Bloomberg administration has proceeded, notwithstanding that the ramp issue is still open, The Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 3 that Seth Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corp., threatened to begin condemnation of Willets Point properties last week. Whether this was a fact or just another attempt to intimidate the small business people in the area, I do not know, but clearly it does not comport with good government standards.
And speaking of the hundreds of small businesses and their thousands of employees and dependents who will be dispossessed and discarded, back in 1960 — when in connection with the then-upcoming 1964 World’s Fair — an attempt was made to evict the Willets Point property owners so as to include the area in the fair. The owners through their attorney, Mario Cuomo, who later became governor, fought the issue through the courts.
As the late David Oats reported in an article he wrote in the Queens Courier Jan. 31, 2001, “Cuomo argued forcefully and eloquently that the junk yards were tax payers honest businesses, performing a service, not necessarily a pretty one, but a necessary one, and to take those immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants off the tax rolls while there was already huge amounts of parklands next door was not only cruel but bad city planning. After a three year battle The New York State Court of Appeals agreed with Cuomo’s argument and the Willets Point junk yards could stay.”
In the absence of the use of eminent domain, the Bloomberg administration would be unable to seize private Willets Point property. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., rejected the time-honored concept that eminent domain could only be used for a public purpose — e.g., a public building, a highway, etc., but approved the use of eminent domain to take property for commercial use.
As a result of that decision, 43 states have enacted legislation that prohibits or curtails the use of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes. New York state is not one of those states. Cuomo was known to have been a good baseball player. How fitting it would be for Mario’ son Andrew, our current governor, to step up to the plate and hit a grand slam by having legislation enacted making New York state the 44th state to prohibit or curtail the taking of private property for commercial purposes — all to the roaring approval of not only baseball fans, but the poor and middle class and small businesses.
Benjamin M. Haber