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Negotiations over land stir debate at CB 7 meeting

A divided dialogue between business owners and city officials persisted at a committee meeting on the redevelopment of Willets Point in Flushing Tuesday night as Community Board 7's official vote on the project crept ever closer.

Both groups traded barbs at the Union Plaza Care center during CB 7's fourth committee meeting on the controversial project, with the chief point of contention being how much or little effort the city has put into contacting and negotiating property acquisition with the owners.

"You just get the same monotone answer that they're working on it," said Anthony Fodera, principal at Fodera Foods. "Meanwhile, all of the businesses are kind of just floating out in this twilight zone not knowing what's going to happen."

City Economic Development Corporation Vice Presidents Tom McKnight and Madeline Wells, meanwhile, said the city has made more than 400 phone calls, sent e-mails and set up meetings with every business owner in the hardscrabble 62-acre swath of land during the last year.

"We cannot force a business that does not want to speak with us," Wells said.

The city estimates that there are about 20 owner occupants and 54 landlords who lease space to more than 200 businesses in Willets Point today.

McKnight said they are actively working on a number of negotiated settlements with business owners in the area, but no deals have been signed as of yet.

CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said he will ask the city to bring documented proof to the next meeting showing that they have reached out to each of the businesses.

"That way if they have a piece of paper that shows they called these people 25 times, we'll know," he said.

Dan Scully of Tully Environmental said his business has been working with the EDC but has not been able to reach an agreement mainly because his company requires waste transfer licenses that need to be approved by both the city and the state, a process that can take up to five years.

"What happens if we don't reach an agreement?" Scully asked. "I can't pick that permit up and move it."

McKnight said the city hopes to actively work with the agencies involved with any special permits to expedite the process and relocate the businesses in a timely manner.

The city EDC has proposed the creation of a Willets Point Special Zoning District, which it says would all but guarantee the agency's vision for a sustainable mixed-use development featuring up to 5,500 units of housing, a 400,000-square-foot convention center and more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space becoming a reality.

CB 7 is expected to vote on the plan at a public hearing tentatively scheduled for June 30. The next committee meeting will take place on June 18 at 7 p.m.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at SStirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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