Fighting for a future beyond Willets Point

Carlos Canal (c.), owner of Flushing Towing, says he is concerned about what will happen to his family and the families of his employees, including nephew Rodrigo Canal (l.) and cousin Hugo Rojas (r.), if he cannot negotiate a fair relocation agreement with the city. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

Carlos Canal is not backing down.

After more than two years of negotiations and failed deals with the city Economic Development Corp., he says he is still waiting for a fair relocation plan for his Willets Point business, Flushing Towing.

Last month, he received a letter from the EDC saying that it was moving forward with plans to possibly seize land from him and eight other Willets property owners if they do not sell their property to the city to make room for a $3 billion development planned for the 62-acre area.

But he said the city has jerked him around and that he would not give up his land until the city provided enough money for him to relocate to a similar parcel.

“If they condemn my property, they’ll have to send police to kick me out,” he said. “They’ll have to shoot, kill me. If I lose my business, I’ll have no money for my mortgage, for my family. I won’t even have food for my dog.”

EDC spokeswoman Julie Wood provided a short statement.

“We are working with Mr. Canal and are hopeful that we can reach a deal that makes sense for the city and its taxpayers,” she said.

Canal, an American citizen born in Colombia and currently living in Fresh Meadows, was not always this bleak about his future.

In July 2008, he thought his company was on the fast track to a new home outside of the Iron Triangle, where his towing shop has been for 26 years, when the city approved an agreement to purchase his land and relocate his 4,000-square-foot operation.

“I now have a future to look forward to,” Canal told TimesLedger Newspapers at the time.

In February 2009, the EDC announced Flushing Towing was on a list of five businesses that would be moved into the College Point Corporate Park.

But the plan never materialized. It was given final city approval in 2009, but in 2010, in the face of criticism from Community Board 7 leaders, Flushing Towing was removed from the list along with Met Metal.

Now Canal finds himself dubbed one of nine “hold-out” business owners in the 20-acre first phase of the development who have yet to sign relocation plans.

It’s the city who is the hold-out now, he said.

Canal has identified a suitable, 4,800-square-foot piece of land in Flushing going for a little under $1.1 million. But he said the city is only offering $1 million for him to move there, leaving him $75,000 in the hole.

He calls that unfair since the city originally agreed to provide $1.95 million and $500,000 toward a new building for him to make the move to the 7,800-square-foot corporate park parcel.

Frank Garcia, president of the New York State Wide Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, backed up his claim, saying a number of business owners had received offers as low as $4,000 for relocation.

Beyond the money, another sticking point seems to be CB 7, whose chairman, Eugene Kelty, has had issues with Flushing Towing before. Kelty said the company was not honest about its storage of vehicles and other practices and that he is “very leery with Flushing Towing” because he does not want it to move into a quiet neighborhood without a restrictive covenant on its deed barring such activity.

“The EDC pulled those two applicants out because we said we’re not approving [the relocation] without those restrictions in there,” Kelty said. “We don’t really want them if they don’t go along with what we said they need to do.”

The spectre of land seizure looms high over the negotiations for Canal. If a deal cannot be struck soon, he fears he will lose his business, located at 126-20 35th Ave., and that he and his four employees — his brother, sister, nephew and cousin — will have nowhere to turn.

“I don’t want money, I want a place to continue doing my business. I don’t want to take advantage of this situation,” he said. “We’re this close and they’ve been closing deals and deals and deals. What happened to me?”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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