Avella gets award for efforts to help Willets Pt. businesses

By Madina Toure

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) received an award from the Property Rights Foundation of America for his fight against eminent domain in Willets Point.

At a news conference at the senator’s district office in Bayside Monday, Carol LaGrasse, who grew up in College Point, of the Property Rights Foundation of America, presented Avella with the award. The foundation filed an amicus brief on behalf of Willets Point businesses against the city’s eminent domain and has hosted speakers from Willets Point since 2010 at their annual conferences.

The $3 billion Willets Point Development Plan seeks to redevelop the area into a new neighborhood with commercial, retail and residential space.

In July, an appellate court ruled that the Willets West megamall proposal could not proceed without legislative approval, since it was proposed that it be built on parkland.

LaGrasse said the megamall would have an effect not only on Willets Point but on Corona and Flushing as well, noting that an estimated 3,000 minority workers were kicked out of Willets Point.

“I would also like to thank Senator Avella, whose long years of leadership, not just in this amazing lawsuit, the courage it took to lead it,” she said. “But for his standing alone when all the other elected officials would just fall by the wayside.”

The lawsuit, filed by Avella, along with the City Club of New York, Queens Civic Congress, members of Willets Point United and nearby residents and business owners, challenges the transfer of 47 acres of Queens parkland worth about $1 billion.

Avella said he will continue to work with the business owners.

“Willets Point is a perfect example of, ‘Let’s take somebody’s piece of property, not for a highway, not for a hospital, not for a school,’” he said. “‘Let’s take it so we can give it to a billion-dollar developer. That to me is so undemocratic and so un-American and I’d be happy to work with them and continue this fight.”

In 2015, the New York State Court of Appeals said it would hear an appeal by the developer, Queens Development Group.

In December, the City Council voted 46-2 to pass a resolution allowing the Council to issue an amicus brief in favor of the developer in the pending case. Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) voted against the resolution.

In 2013, the City Council voted to approve the overall project by a vote of 42-3.

Longtime Willets Point residents Joseph Ardizzone and Irene Prestigiacomo were also in attendance, commending Avella for his efforts and claiming that the city is responsible for the area’s blight.

The Queens Development Group has maintained that it is confident that the court will allow the project to continue and that the project would reverse “100 years of pollution while creating thousands of good-paying jobs.”

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