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Willets repave shocks biz owners

In the warped reality of Willets Point — where the sight of roosters prancing through mangled auto parts is not out of the ordinary — little shocks the business owners and workers of the area.

But late last week, several bore witness to something they said they have not seen in the area in more than a decade: a road crew.

The city Department of Transportation spent several days during the last week filling potholes and repaving sections of Willets Point as part of what a spokeswoman for the agency called “routine maintenance.” Most of the streets at Willets Point resemble those in a war−torn city — gaping potholes and cave−ins littered among patchy asphalt, gravel and dirt — but the work upgraded the roads facing the new Citi Field stadium.

Crown Container Inc. Owner Jerry Antonacci said he was puzzled by the repairs, particularly since the city recently won the right to transform the property into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood — a project that will require the entire area, roads and all, to be razed.

“A few of the guys were talking to the DOT guys and they said they’re doing it because of Citi Field,” Antonacci said, referring to the New York Mets’ new stadium across the street from the area, which will open this April. “But whether or not they’re doing it because of the Mets, it’s a good thing. Ain’t nobody moving out of here for years. Whoever’s left, you’ve gotta give us bearable conditions to work with.”

Business owners in the area, many of whom have claimed the city has purposefully neglected the 75−acre parcel of land for decades, were taken aback by the sight of city workers toiling on the streets.

“You can actually drive down Willets Point Boulevard at more than 15 miles an hour. It’s nice,” Antonacci said. “But where were they 30 years ago? If they just did this sort of thing in the first place, maybe this whole area would look a lot better.”

Willets Point has been known as much for its disrepair as the ramshackle collection of auto−repair yards and industrial businesses that gave it its nickname: the Iron Triangle.

The repairs follow several weeks of protest by members of the Willets Point Defense Committee, a coalition of about 60 auto−related businesses in the area, who said untreated snow and ice on the roadways combined with massive potholes were driving away their customer base.

“Now we can have more customers because they aren’t scared to go down the roads,” Neira said. “It’s going to be a big benefit for us.”

While much of the area’s roads were just patched or minimally repaved, the area in front of Willets Point’s three largest businesses — Tully Construction, Fodera Foods and House of Spices — was completely revamped. In November, the businesses struck a deal with the city that will allow them to stay in the area for up to 15 years as redevelopment occurs around them.

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

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