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CB 3 fumes over early ending

Before Community Board 7 approved the city's plans to redevelop Willets Point, Community Board 3 got a chance to weigh in on the situation — almost.

At a public hearing for the project last Thursday, representatives from the city Economic Development Corporation, elected officials, a business owner and housing advocates spoke so long on the subject that CB 3 members had no chance to make comments before the Langston Hughes Library closed and lowered the curtain on the meeting.

"I'm angry. I am really upset about [not having the chance to speak]," CB 3 member Arturo Sanchez told board Chairman Vasantrai Gandhi as the meeting ended.

For his part, Gandhi briefly criticized the EDC's unwillingness to address their concerns.

"Our board has sent questions to the EDC, but it did not respond to them in their presentation," he said. When an EDC member raised his hand, Gandhi refused to let him speak.

"You had your chance," he said. "Every time you come with incomplete information."

CB 3 has remained quiet through the better part of the project's tumultuous history. It will not get a vote on the project, although CB 7 has indicated CB 3 may be entitled to a small portion of preferential housing if and when the area's apartments and condominiums are built.

The city plans to redevelop the 62 acres comprising Willets Point into a massive 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 area, which is home to 250 businesses, has no sewer, few paved roads and no sidewalks.

The EDC has proposed that 20 percent of the residential units be affordable.

Ilena Conti, a Pratt Institute organizer, warned that affordable housing guidelines put "middle-income" levels around $60,000, while 40 percent of households in CB 3's area earn less than $36,000 a year.

Elected officials are split over Willets Point. Borough President Helen Marshall praised the project.

"Willets Point has gotten worse since I moved here in 1957," she said. "It is not right for our community to have something like this in the middle of our bosom."

State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said he was concerned about making the residential units affordable.

"I don't want this to be a gated community," he said.

City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) said the prospect of the city using eminent domain to seize land from business owners made him uneasy.

One Willets Point business owner also voiced his displeasure with the project. Neil Soni, of House of Spices, slammed the EDC and said that the blight in the area is largely due to the city's neglect.

"Whose job is it to pick up the garbage? Whose job is it to pick up the cars? Whose job is it to pave the streets? We pay taxes- — the city has to do this."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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