Protesters interrupt pro-Willets Point rally

By Adam Pincus | August 13, 2008 07:14PM

The clash over the future of Willets Point came to a head today as protesters and supporters held dueling events within earshot of each other in Washington Square Park.

The two sides met in the afternoon, hours before the City Planning Commission opened its first public hearing on the $3 billion city-backed plan at NYU’s Law School.

On one side was City Council Member Hiram Monserrate, who led a group of opponents within 20 feet of the pro-development rally. And on the other side was the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation, comprised of local business leaders, unions and environmental groups.

That group included former Queens’ borough president, Claire Shulman, head of the Corona Local Development Corporation, who assailed Monserrate with chants of “Shame on you, shame on you!” Police stood between the two camps.
The Willets Point plan would transform the 60 acres next to the new Mets Citi Field into a mixed-use community with retail, a hotel and a convention center.

Opponents include many housing advocates and local business owners, who oppose any use of eminent domain and want an increase in the number of affordable apartments.

But, the local community board and the Queens’ borough president have endorsed the plan, saying it will revitalize the industrial neighborhood, which is lined with auto repair and parts shops.

The plan must be approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

“The current Willets Point plan sets a precedent for community planning by decree, rather than discussion,” said Monserrate, who says 32 council members have signed on to a letter to Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden stating that they are in “absolute opposition” to the plan. The council members want half of the planned 5,500 residential units to be affordable; the current plan calls for 20 percent of the units to be affordable.
Monserrate also said today that he plans to announce legislation Thursday that would restrict and review the use of eminent domain. The city says eminent domain will only be used as a last resort at Willets Point.