Eminent Domain Process Set to Begin in ‘Iron Triangle’

New York--The eminent-domain land seizure in Willets Point, N.Y., a spot known locally as the "Iron Triangle," is set to begin next week, and not without controversy.

Willets Point

New York–The controversial eminent-domain land seizure in Willets Point, N.Y., a spot known locally as the “Iron Triangle”, is set to begin next week. The 62-acre peninsula, comprised primarily of auto-repair shops and light industry, sits in the shadow of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. It has long been considered one of the greatest eyesores in the city. Redevelopment is being coordinated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which envisions over 5,000 apartments and 1.7 million square feet of retail space on land that was once an ash dump.

The use of eminent domain to secure private property in Willets Point was approved by the City Council in 2008. Opponents to redevelopment, such as the group of local business owners rallied as Willets Point United, point out that the city has yet to receive the go-ahead on a set of highway ramps on the nearby Van Wyck Expressway–features necessary to the project. The Economic Development Corporation, however, is starting the eminent domain process on Phase 1 of Willets Point, a 20-acre portion that does not require the ramps.

The city currently controls nearly 90 percent of the land in the Phase 1 area, Julie Woods, vice president of public affairs at the NYC Economic Development Corporation, tells MHN. The remaining business will be handed eminent domain paperwork next week.

“All this means is that we are starting the process,” says Woods. “It is a lengthy legal process. There are only nine businesses left in the Phase 1 area, and we are hopeful that we are going to negotiate with them in the coming months.”

Welding in Willets Point

The current plan for Phase 1 is for up to 1.3 million square feet of development, which will include affordable housing, retail and a hotel, as well as the needed infrastructure improvements. Businesses in Phase 1 are being contacted to discuss relocation at the end of 2011. The Economic Development Corporation is planning to issue a request for proposal for a developer in April 2011. Local business owners are not impressed.

“They are trying to be like Robert Moses now,” Jerry Antonnoci, president of Willets Point United and owner of Crown Container, tells MHN. “They will dig the hole and then say, ‘What do you want us to do next?’”

New York City has been historically aggressive in its use of eminent domain, with support coming from the court system, John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, tells MHN. In March 2010 the city broke ground at Atlantic Yards, a 22-acre mixed-use development project in Brooklyn.

“We have learned to preserve some things,” says McIlwain, “but this is just a city that is constantly in motion. It is part of its genes and part of what makes it exciting. But it is also part of the struggle, and I don’t see that changing.”