Mayor Bloomberg Begins "Redevelopment" at Willets Point

By Fernando Ferreira

Willets Point, also known as the Iron Triangle, has been abandoned by New York City for decades. The area has no sewers; the streets are crumbling; there are no fire hydrants; no trash removal and no city plows when it snows.[1] Ironically, city officials are now using their own negligence to justify using eminent domain on the businesses and land owners that thrived in the area.[2]

The area that Mayor Bloomberg called “another euphemism for blight”[3] is actually a successful business district with over 225 businesses. Some, like Bono Sawdust Company have been around for over half a century. The company was started in 1933 by Jake Bono’s grandfather, who emigrated from Sicily. “My grandfather helped to build this economy, and he helped build America,” said Jake Bono, now president of Bono Sawdust.

Today, the Iron Triangle still plays a vital role in lifting the lives of those who have recently reached the Land of the Free. Over 1,000 local workers are employed in Willets Point, many of whom are hard working Hispanic immigrants.[4] Willets Point has become a place where newcomers to America can get steady employment and settle into their new lives with the support of the community.

For decades the city neglected the flourishing tax-paying businesses at the Iron Triangle. They refused to invest in infrastructure despite many petitions and complaints. However, now that every single business is on the chopping block, the city has given the go-ahead on a $50 million project to bring working sewers to the neighborhood. According to city officials, it is the first step toward the $3 billion redevelopment project.[5]

With the sewer project in place, and more flexible zoning for the area, the city has already laid the groundwork for development. There is no need to use eminent domain to force businesses out. Once the infrastructure investment is in place and new uses for the land are legally allowed, property prices are sure to go up. However, bureaucrats need not worry: Once landowners are allowed to keep their properties and benefit from its increased value, they have the incentive to either develop the property themselves, or sell it to someone who will.

The city of New York should take the easy, and right, way out: Give up on eminent domain. Scarce taxpayer money is better spent elsewhere, not fighting property owners in court just to benefit a handful of deep-pocketed private developers.

[1] Fernanda Santos, “A Confrontation Over the Future of Willets Point,” August 13, 2008.

[2] David Lombino, “Mayor To Redevelop Iron Triangle in Bid To Transform Flushing,” New York Sun, January 25, 2006.

[3] Karla Schuster, “Whole new ballgame; Urban renewal plan to remake Mets’ home and nearby industrial area is unveiled; local businesses protest,” Newsday, May 2, 2007.

[4] Tom Angotti, “Willets Point: A Defense,” Gotham Gazette, April 2006.

[5] Joe Anuta, “Willets Pt. sewer project begins amid opposition,” Times Ledger, December 8, 2011.