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One week before the vote, it was far from certain Mayor Michael Bloomberg had the votes in the City Council to move forward with plans to redevelop Willets Point. That only made it all the more amazing when the Council voted 42−2 with one abstention in favor of the plan.
The project that is expected to take 10 years to complete will create 18,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs. If all goes as planned, an urban eyesore filled with auto−body shops and junkyards will be transformed into a $3 billion mega−development with apartments, a hotel, stores, a convention center, a school, offices and 8 acres of open public space.
While this is a major victory for the Bloomberg administration, it is also a proud moment for Councilman Hiram Monserrate, whose district includes Willets Point.
Monserrate’s support was critical. He had been an early supporter, but turned against the proposal when the mayor refused to set aside more than 20 percent of the housing in the 62−acre site for low− and median−income families. The last−minute deal requires 35 percent of the project’s 5,500 housing units be set aside for families who make less than $99,840 a year.
Until the day before the vote, Monserrate and Bloomberg played a game of political chicken. Backed by the grassroots community organization ACORN, Monserrate appeared ready to torpedo the entire project if he did not get his way on the housing issue.
“We’re creating jobs and we’re creating housing for folks who can least afford to live here,” said Councilwoman Melinda Katz, who heads the Council’s Land Use Committee. She called it “a great project.”
We totally agree.
But now the hard work begins. The city must find a developer that can make this project happen. The city must do everything possible not to repeat the ongoing disaster at the World Trade Center site. And it must continue efforts to persuade the remaining businesses to relocate — which will not be easy — hopefully without resorting to the use of eminent domain.
But all things considered, at a time when the city and state are cutting budgets drastically, this type of investment with its promised jobs and housing is a godsend.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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