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By Madina Toure

Auto shop workers and owners in Willets Point have mixed feelings about the city’s treatment of them after the de Blasio administration chose not to appeal a ruling to halt the Willets West megamall project.

After a judge ruled that the Willets Point developers had to get permission from the state Legislature to proceed with plans to build a giant retail center on parkland outside Citi Field, the city refused to join the developers’ appeal. The mayor’s office said it wanted a more timely mix of affordable and market housing in the plan. Work on housing, which includes affordable units, will not start until 2025.

Ecuadorian native Miguel Ortiz, a manager for Gonzalez Muffler Auto Mechanic Corporation at 126-82F Willets Point Blvd., said he receives a letter from the city every day telling him he has to leave the area by Sept. 20. His shop is in the second phase of the project.

He says former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was trying to kick poor people out of the area.

“It’s like you had wings and they caught your wings and you fall down to the ground,” Ortiz said.

De Blasio is standing up for the people in the auto shops, he said.

“He’s like 50 percent better than Bloomberg,” he said. “It’s not just for money. He’s looking to make sure everyone is happy, no matter if it’s rich or poor people.”

Roberto Bolanoz, owner of Roberto Auto Repair at 126-98 Willets Point Blvd., which is in the third phase of the project, said the Bloomberg administration made him and other owners in Willets Point feel like “garbage.” He also thinks de Blasio is taking a stand against the plan.

“He’s basically on our side,” Bolanoz said. “He’s trying to protect us the best that he can.”

There is a sentiment among the auto shops in the area that state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has always opposed the plan and led the lawsuit against the megamall, has stood up for them.

Another point of tension among auto shops that are still in Willets Point is the $5.8 million agreement reached by City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and the Sunrise Cooperative with the city back in April.

A DOB spokesman said the alteration permit needed to amend the occupancy certificate to allow the businesses to legally operated in the South Bronx space has not been filed yet.

The workers feel that Marco Neira, president of the Sunrise Cooperative, let them down because their South Bronx space is not ready.

“He doesn’t say anything,” Ortiz said. “He doesn’t help me.”

Arturo Olaya, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, does not think as highly of the de Blasio administration, noting that de Blasio never visited them or gave them an offer. “The project in the Bronx is not done and I don’t know if they’re working, but it’s a project that they’re doing over there for 30 businesses and these businesses are only for a small group,” Olaya said. “The rest of the people who didn’t have money to pay Sunrise Cooperative…we are outside.”

Neira said the city’s decision not to appeal does not affect Sunrise Coop because they already left the area.

“I believe now what they’re going to do is they’re going to start developing the Willets Point area since they cannot touch the other site,” Neira said.

Once all permits are filed, 12 shops should be ready by October, , he said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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