Two Willets Point business owners have signed agreements to sell their land to the city, marking the first major property acquisitions the New York City Economic Development Corp. has made in its bid to raze and redevelop the 62-acre industrial district.
The EDC announced Wednesday afternoon that Sambucci Bros. Inc. and BRD Corp. have each reached agreements with the city to sell their combined 74,000 square feet of land if the city wins approval from the City Council later this year to redevelop Willets Point.
"NYCEDC is pleased to have completed the first property acquisition agreements," President Seth Pinsky said. "They provide tangible evidence that we will make good on our promise to achieve fair, negotiated deals with as many businesses and owners as possible in connection with the Willets Point redevelopment."
But while the deals were trumped as substantial benchmarks of progress by the city, the excitement was not universally shared.
Shortly after the news was released City Councilmen Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), John Liu (D-Flushing) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) sent a letter to Community Board 7, urging its members to vote against the plan when the board issues its recommendation. This is expected to take place June 30.
The timing of the news was also questioned by several business owners and community board members since it came just hours before a CB 7 committee meeting was scheduled to discuss the plan.
Asked about how the acquisition deals affected his view of the project, Monserrate praised the city for the progress that has been made in recent weeks, but said the city's redevelopment plan still has a long way to go before he can back it.
"If there are 125 property owners [at Willets Point], they still have to deal with 123," he said. "As of this moment right now, 9:23 p.m. on June 18, I cannot support this plan."
The city is hoping to clear Willets Point, where more than 250 businesses currently exist, and redevelop it into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood that would feature as many as 5,500 housing units and more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space.
The property acquisitions are the first of dozens the city is hoping to complete. But the announcement is a symbolic victory as many members of the City Council have voiced their concerns over the city's ongoing negotiations with the 15 owner occupants and more than two dozen landlords who own property in the area.
Up until recently Sambucci Bros., which has owned 52,000 square feet of property at Willets Point for decades, has been opposed to redevelopment but said it is optimistic that the city will help the auto salvager relocate to an area where the firm can continue its business.
"From our perspective we're glad we reached a deal with the city," said Dan Sambucci, Jr. "We are now able to begin planning our relocation."
At CB 7's committee meeting Wednesday night, EDC Vice President Tom McKnight said the city is continuing thorough outreach to all business owners in the area through e-mails, phone calls, fliers and certified mailings. But he stopped short of saying the city had reached everyone.
"I could not definitively say that — no," McKnight said.
Dan Scully, a member of the Willets Point Industry and Real Estate Association, said the city was falling short in its efforts.
"You've had this on the board for six years and now we're here at the ULURP process, we need a vote in two weeks and you're talking about how you haven't contacted businesses? That's a poor record," Scully said.
In February, more than 30 City Council members signed a letter pulling their support of the plan unless progress was made in several areas, including fair and progressive negotiations with land owners, deals to bring union workers into the project, promises of affordable housing and the presentation of a more concrete, detailed plan.
Last week the city also announced an agreement to utilize union workers in both the construction of the project, which could bring more than 18,000 temporary jobs to the city, as well as the more than 5,500 jobs expected to be brought to the area when the project is finished.
CB 7's Willets Point Redevelopment Committee is expected to issue its recommendation to the board Monday, which will be followed by a public hearing and a full board vote on June 30.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2008 Community News Group
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