Willets Pt. wants roads fixed after eminent domain fails

Willets Pt. wants roads fixed after eminent domain fails
Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

In the wake of a city decision to drop its eminent domain proceedings, property owners from Willets Point called on the city Department of Transportation to repair the streets of their neighborhood at Monday’s Community Board 7 meeting and had a unique guest speaker to help make their case.

Ralph Paterno, who owns property where the city wanted to build the first phase of a $3 billion redevelopment project for the area, took to the podium flanked by large posters of the pothole-strewn streets.

“The city will not be in the position to actually develop Willets Point anytime soon or perhaps ever,” he said. “So I and other Willets Point property owners are here tonight to publicly ask Community Board 7 to please help us put pressure on DOT to repair and maintain the Willets Point streets.”

The mayor’s office recently dropped the bid to condemn property in the 20-acre Phase 1 section of the plan, but without providing any details said the redevelopment project is still moving forward.

Sources with knowledge of a city-issued request for proposals said that Related Co. and Sterling Equities, run by the Wilpon family, were awarded a contract to build a 12-acre mall across from Citi Field.

But that was not on the minds of the property owners who spoke at the meeting, saying that while they paid taxes to the city, they were not getting the requisite services in return.

“Would you tolerate conditions in front of your house that looked like this?” Paterno asked before turning to CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty. “Mr. Kelty, back in 2008 you actually chastised the people of Willets Point for not being vocal enough in demanding city services.”

A young man who came to the meeting then activated a CD player and Kelty’s voice from 2008 was immediately audible.

“I can tell you this — if someone was taking taxes from me and I wasn’t getting my services, I certainly wouldn’t be paying my taxes,” Kelty said on tape.

DOT said in a statement it already repairs potholes in the Willets Point area on an ongoing basis. DOT replaced 100 potholes within the last year, according the department, but due to ongoing sewer work and potential infrastructure work in the future, cannot begin a widespread paving campaign.

Earlier in the meeting, the board passed a resolution stating that community boards around the city should have a role in deciding whether to close a school like Flushing High School, which is set to be shuttered and reopened under the name Rupert B. Thomas Academy at the Flushing Campus.

Budget cuts on the city level are also threatening after-school programs for the area’s youth, according to Al Stark, who works with the Beacon Program and urged the board and community to show their outrage at the proposed cuts, which would force many after-school programs out of existence.

The Coppola family of College Point also called on the city to be more vigilant in preventing the West Nile Virus after Francis Coppola’s mother died from the disease earlier this year, a case the city Department of Health is looking into.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.