Today’s news:

Willets Pt. biz group says city plan is invalid

A New York Superior Court judge heard arguments from a Willets Point business group Friday that the city’s proposed plans to develop the area were invalidly submitted as part of a multi-pronged attack property owners have launched to sink the city’s ambitious project.

An attorney for Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, a group of dozens of property owners who have not made land deals with the city, contended that the city has not adequately addressed needed highway improvements to accommodate its massive plan or coordinated with emergency response officials on the traffic impact it could bring. He also questioned the validity of the mayor’s office taking a lead role in the development process.

The city has been moving forward with plans to redevelop the industrial business enclave at Willets Point into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood it envisions as a missing jewel in central Queens.

But dozens of business owners unhappy with the plan, approved by the City Council in November, have stepped up efforts to halt progress on the proposal by hiring attorneys and lobbyists in recent months to set up road blocks for the city to hurdle with each step it takes.

In New York Superior Court in Manhattan, attorney Nelson Johnson said the city has yet to get federal approval to make alterations to the Van Wyck Expressway to accommodate the massive uptick in traffic expected to come with more than 5,000 housing units and millions of square feet of retail and office space included in the project.

“I think what he’s arguing is that you’re putting the cart before the horse,” Judge Joan Madden told city attorney Chris Reo. “Do you have approval or not?”

Reo said no, but added that the city expects to get approval by early 2010 to build new ramps along the Van Wyck.

“We could not possibly design and consider this project unless we designed and considered the highway ramps,” he said.

But Johnson, who also argued that the city has not adequately addressed how emergency response units would be affected by the project, shot back that the existing businesses should not be forced to wait for the city to get approvals, particularly since the city is threatening to use eminent domain to take the remaining property.

“The entire area is under the threat of condemnation and it will be for years,” Johnson said. “That interferes with every aspect of life at Willets Point.”

The hearing was adjourned after Reo presented additional evidence that had yet to be reviewed by Johnson or Madden herself.

Willets Point United has also gotten the attention of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose office is investigating whether the city acted in violation of the law by funding former Borough President Claire Shulman’s group the Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC to lobby on its behalf with public money.

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

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