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Photo Courtesy Eli Valentin
Former Councilman Hiram Monseratte on the steps of City Hall.
By Gina Martinez

A week before oral arguments at the New York State Courts of Appeals, former Councilman Hiram Monserrate and Elmhurst community leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday to once again demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio honor the original Willets Point Redevelopment Plan that guaranteed affordable housing.

Monserrate and leaders from The Black Institute and the East Elmhurst Corona Alliance have been trying to prevent the transfer of 23 acres of publicly owned Willets Point land to the Queens Development Group for $1. They called on the mayor to honor the original Willets Point Redevelopment Plan, put forward by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2008. According to Monserrate, the plan included 5,500 housing units, of which 1,925 units would be permanently affordable, an 850-seat public school, the construction of new access ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway and a project labor agreement with a relocation plan for displaced businesses and living wage protections. The Willets Point project has been on hold, awaiting the resolution of the court case over the use of parkland for a mega-mall. Members from the East Elmhurst Corona Alliance, the Black Institute and Monserrate plan to show up at the New York State Court of Appeals in White Plains Tuesday, the date of oral arguments in the ongoing litigation over the use of parkland for the project .

De Blasio supported and voted for the first redevelopment plan when he was a fellow councilman with Monserrate.

Since then, the plans have changed and de Blasio and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (East Elmhurst) are now backing different re-development plans that protestors say do not benefit community members.

According to Monserrate, the new proposed plans would expand the redevelopment project onto over 40 acres of public parkland and prioritize construction of a mega-mall or casino. Monserrate said these new plans provide contractual escape clauses that allow the developer to opt out of constructing any Willets Point housing, instead of guaranteeing it. He also said the new plans give 23 acres of Willets Point property to developers for the price of $1 even though the property was acquired at a cost to taxpayers of more than $250 million.

Instead of recouping that cost by selling the property to the developer as was required in the original plan, the city will give it away and provide the developer with an additional $100 million to clean up the site, Monserrate said.

“I am calling on the Bill de Blasio the people of New York City believed in, and voted to be their mayor, to take a bold stance and prevent those same developers from taking an additional 40 acres of parkland to build a mega-mall or casino,” Monserrate said. “I want that Bill de Blasio to withdraw his support of the developers appeal at the Court of Appeals scheduled for April 25 and revert back to the 2008 redevelopment plan for Willets Point. The 99 percent is watching.”

Bertha Lewis, president and founder of The Black Institute, said that local leaders should stand with the people, not “greedy” developers.

“Today, members of the City Council – including Mayor Bill de Blasio –are making a move to allow developers of Willets Point to use the 40 acres of parkland for a mall and casino,” she said. “This is unacceptable. Our city’s most vulnerable residents need affordable and permanent housing now. The fact that our mayor has changed his mind on a project that he once called ‘precedent-setting’ is outrageous. Our local leaders need to be supporting projects that assist those in great need, and the people of New York need affordable housing. Supporting any project of Willets Point that does not include affordable housing is a misuse of power.”

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Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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