Willets Point United says Flushing waterfront project is illegal

By Madina Toure

Willets Point United says it fears a local development corporation run by former Borough President Claire Shulman is trying to influence legislation in the corporation’s proposed project to rezone the Flushing waterfront.

The project, first started by the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation, would clean up and rezone 60 acres on the Flushing waterfront and create a planned community with waterfront access and housing and commercial space.

The corporation said it hired the Department of City Planning to carry out tasks associated with the project’s brownfield grant, but WPU insists it wanted City Planning to be the applicant for rezoning the waterfront.

City Planning said it incorporated the project into its new study of Flushing West, which supports Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year affordable housing plan.

But WPU, which was established to fight eminent domain abuse, maintains that the group is trying to skirt a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, section 1411, that says no local development corporation “shall attempt to influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise.”

Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Law provided to the TimesLedger by Queens activist and filmmaker Robert LoScalzo, a Whitestone resident, show that as of late 2014, the corporation was planning to hire City Planning as a subcontractor.

WPU points to an agreement dated Nov. 20, 2014 from the FOIL records in which the corporation agreed to pay City Planning $800,000 from a $1.5 million brownfield grant the group received in 2011 from the Department of State.

Shulman’s group maintains the arrangement with City Planning is legal.

Alex Rosa, a project consultant for the corporation, said the agency is being paid to complete the tasks associated with the brownfield grant.

“There’s no legislation involved,” Rosa said. “This is an environmental impact study.”

In July 2012, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found the city Economic Development Corporation and Shulman’s group illegally lobbied city officials about the Willets Point Redevelopment Plan in 2008. Both the EDC and Shulman promised the state they would not do it again, according to the criminal complaint.

In 2009, the city clerk’s office fined the corporation $59,090 because Shulman did not properly file as a lobbyist. The group paid the fine but said it did not violate any law.

WPU’s head, Gerald Antonacci, who says he was a victim of the corporation’s attempts to influence legislation under the Willets Point Development Plan, contends the corporation is committing a similar act with the waterfront project.

“I feel that the LDC is illegally lobbying again and that they realized that halfway through the process and began to cover up the footprints they left,” Antonacci said.

Shulman declined to comment.

A document sent by Rosa to City Planning said the group would receive nearly $800,000 for the preparation of the environmental impact statement, the ULURP land use review as well as the urban design.

The document states that if the waterfront area were to be rezoned, City Planning would need to become the project’s subcontractor.

Rosa said the group has received approval from the Department of State to use City Planning as the subcontractor on the waterfront project.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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