Today’s news:

Willets biz challenge city as job training advances

Nearly two dozen property owners at Willets Point filed a legal challenge to the city’s redevelopment plans in State Supreme court last week, while a city−funded workforce retraining program showed its first signs of progress after a stumbling start.

Attorney Michael Gerrard filed the challenge on behalf of 22 members of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain, questioning several aspects of the city’s final environmental impact statement in a bid to derail the project.

The group contends that the office of Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber cannot take a lead role in the project, the city has not adequately addressed all of the environmental impacts of the proposed project and the city has not set firm ground for the use of eminent domain.

“Here the deputy mayor’s office has only its starry−eyed vision,” Gerrard said. “This might be a lofty aspiration, but aspirations alone cannot provide grounds for condemning — and ruining — the 61 acres of vital businesses in Willets Point.”

In November, the City Council approved a rezoning plan that would pave the way for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision to transform Willets Point into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood.

The city Law Department said it was reviewing the group’s challenge.

Meanwhile, LaGuardia Community College held its first on−campus information session for its Willets Point Workforce Assistance Program the night of March 10 and signed up 114 workers from the area to the controversial education project.

Program Director Linda Barlow said she was thrilled with the turnout, particularly because of the cool reception the program originally received.

“I feel like I won the Academy Award,” Barlow said last week. “They were eager, they were excited, they were interested in all the services we have to offer. It looks like we’re finally going to get this program off the ground.”

Protesters from the Willets Point Defense Committee, who have previously called the program “useless,” also attended the event, and Willets Point Defense Committee President Maros Leiva questioned if all the people signing up for the program were actually workers from Willets Point.

“I don’t think LaGuardia cares who is going to register,” Leiva said. “If the benefit is for the people of this area, how can people come from outside the area sign up?”

City Economic Development Corp. spokesman Joseph Pally said the session represents a big step forward for the project.

“I think it’s a huge success,” Pally said. “It’s early on, it’s an early step in the process, but we’re glad the message is getting through all the clutter out there and through the myths and the rumors to the workers at Willets Point.”

The Workforce Assistance Program is a $2.5 million educational project funded by the city that was designed to provide Willets Point workers with job training, immigration services and English as a Second Language courses to help them find new work as the city moves ahead with its multibillion dollar redevelopment plan for the area.

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

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