Today’s news:

Judge may reopen suit filed by Willets group

A judge has ruled that she will review a closed suit that a cadre of Willets Point business owners filed in hopes of blocking the planned $3 billion redevelopment of the derelict 62-acre area if the city cannot prove to her why she should not reopen it.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden told the city last week in a court document that it must prove to her by July 20 “why an order should not be entered vacating the August 24, 2010 order dismissing [the property owners’] Article 78 petition and permitting supplemental briefing and reargument in light of recent developments and newly discovered evidence.”

The decision came after the group of property owners, who call themselves Willets Point United, argued in Madden’s court March 29 that she should reopen the case. Their argument centered around the city’s contention that before it condemns land for the 20-acre first phase of the project’s construction, it does not have to receive approval for ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway that its own environmental studies say must be built in order to handle increased traffic the development is projected to bring to Queens roads.

One of the conditions Madden put on the city when the case was originally tried was that it could not seize land through the use of eminent domain until it received state and federal approval for the ramps. The city has not received those approvals and it has already initiated eminent domain proceedings against nine property owners in the Iron Triangle, under the pretext that the first phase of the project will not create enough new traffic for the ramps to be necessary.

Madden effectively rejected that argument by issuing the document March 28, in the opinion of John Houghton, a lawyer for Willets Point United.

“She seems to understand that it’s an important issue and the city is going to have to address why it’s going back on the statements it made to the judge,” he said. “I think our chances are outstanding. It’s very clear from the city’s environmental reports that because of the increased traffic that would result from the project they can’t move forward with the project if they don’t get approval for the ramps.”

City Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Julie Wood said the EDC is confident that the court case will not slow down the city’s progress toward making the redevelopment a reality.

“The judge has given us another chance to show that our actions complied with the law, and we look forward to doing that in court,” she said in a statement. “In the meantime, we are moving forward with the project and don’t believe this will have any impact on our timeline.”

The city has until May 13 to respond to Madden’s request, then Willets Point United will have until June 17 to submit additional arguments and documents. The next court date is July 20, when the parties to the lawsuit will argue their sides before Madden.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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