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NEW YORK CITY-The City’s massive Willets Point redevelopment plan was approved “with moderations” at a City Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, amidst continued calls by City Council members, ACORN, Queens for Affordable Housing, Pratt Center for Community Development, and Queens residents for the Economic Development Corp. to withdraw it and make major changes. Now, the plan will go to the City Council, where it could be met with strong opposition. Thirty-two members of the council have come out against the plan.

The redevelopment would turn a largely industrial, 13-block area into 5,500 apartment units and more than 1.5 million sf of commercial space. It would also displace about 1,700 workers–likely by using the state’s eminent domain laws to acquire privately owned property.

Pat Boone, president of ACORN NY, tells GlobeSt.com that “it is wrong for the Bloomberg Administration to push ahead with a plan that gives away so many City resources when New Yorkers are getting so little in return. That is why–without true commitments to affordable housing and protections for workers–the City Council has called this plan dead on arrival. The Council, ACORN and Queens residents will not allow this plan to go through until the City guarantees desperately needed housing that is truly affordable to low and middle-income New Yorkers, and provides for a real plan to keep the workers at Willets Point employed. The City will not be allowed to set this dangerous precedent and give away so much for so little. It’s time for the City to come back to the table and work out a new plan that is much more beneficial for all. If they don’t, the Council will send it back to them.” The mayor’s office did not return a response to Boone’s comment by deadline.

However, according to a prepared statement by Mayor Bloomberg, “the plan for Willets Point enters month six of the seven-month public approval process, having been reviewed and approved by the local Community Board, the Borough President and now the City Planning Commission. At each step of the process, the plan has been refined based on extensive input from the public and from officials, and each time, the conclusion has been unmistakable: this plan must go forward. The environmental contamination that exists at Willets Point cannot stand, and the opportunity to create new housing, parks, office space, retail amenities and more than 5,000 permanent jobs should not be passed up. The plan will continue to be refined as City Council Members review the plan, ask questions and provide input. I am confident that, at the end of the day, they too will choose to address the challenges that have plagued Willets Point for decades and act to create new economic opportunities for all Queens residents.”

The statement continues that “the Planning Commission’s approval of our Hunters Point South plan to transform vacant waterfront property in Queens into 5,000 units of housing, 60% of which will be reserved for moderate and middle-income residents, is just as significant.”

The mayor’s office also revealed an initiative to provide training and job placement for displaced workers. The workforce plan, coordinated by LaGuardia Community College, is designed to provide training and job placement opportunities for the workers who may be affected by the remediation and redevelopment of Willets Point. The Hotel and Motel Trades Council Hotel Employee Benefit Fund will open its doors to non-members so Willets Point workers can participate in a specialized training program for food and beverage services and engineering work, according to a prepared statement.

Workers will also be able to utilize the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council’s job referral program which connects appropriately skilled workers to jobs in union hotels. “We have a responsibility to clean up the environmental contamination that exists at Willets Point, but with it comes a responsibility to assist the current workforce that will be affected,” Mayor Bloomberg says in the statement. “The Willets Point Workforce Assistance Plan will be to provide a wide array of training and services to workers, and the commitment of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council to open its doors is one of the factors that will make the program effective. The program may not be right for everyone, but the more opportunities we can provide, the better-served these workers will be.”

As GlobeSt.com previously reported, deals are being signed with some businesses in the area. The New York City Economic Development Corp. recently signed its fifth property acquisition agreement with a business with which it had been negotiating at Willets Point. MA Realty, which owns 44,500 sf of industrial land in Willets Point, agreed to have NYCEDC acquire its property, however that sale is contingent upon ULURP approval of the Willets Point Development Plan. The NYCEDC did not return GlobeSt.com queries for this story by deadline.

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