As vote nears, city strikes new deals while others look towards eminent domain

UPDATE: No Feinstein deal as of now.  Some complications have arisen in the final negotiations.  Several sources have told me that the deal isn’t dead, but not finalized either.  More tomorrow.

With just three days before the City Council effectively determines their future, property owners at Willets Point are weighing their options.

Some are announcing new deals or appear to be on the precipice of doing so.  Others remain locked in negotiations with the city.  And at least four businesses in the industrial business community — frustrated with what the city has offered —  are seriously considering taking their battle to the courts to fight what they call an “injustice.”

“The only reason that any of us are at the table is the threat of eminent domain,” said Jake Bono of Bono Sawdust and Supply Co. “[Council Speaker Christine] Quinn said we should keep trying. Keep negotiating. When you come over here and put a gun to my head, that’s negotiating?”

On Sunday the city announced its largest land acquisition to date, making a deal with two landowners for 4.1 acres of property across seven parcels of land.

“These latest agreements with landowners in Willets Point builds on the rapid progress we have been making to acquire as much land as possible through direct negotiations with local businesses and landowners,” NYC Economic Development Corp. President Seth Pinsky said in a statement. “It brings us that much closer to reaching the mayor’s goal of transforming this blighted area into an engine of economic growth and the first green neighborhood in New York City.”

Today, Feinstein Ironworks is expected to announce a relocation deal that will allow the company to expand its operations in a new undisclosed location. If Feinstein signs, the city will have negotiated buyouts or relocation deals with half of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association — a coalition of business owners who have led a fierce fight against the city’s plans for redevelopment.

As of today, the city has made deals with 13 property owners who collectively hold more than 14 acres of land at Willets Point, meaning it now has control over about 29 percent of the 48 acres of privately held land in the area. How much land the city acquires between now and Thursday is likely to play a sizable role in how the City Council votes, as more than half of the legislative body’s members have indicated they are uncomfortable with the idea of using eminent domain at the site.

But while many property owners remain at the table with the city and are participating in productive discussions, four members of WPIRA — Crown Container Co., Bono Sawdust and Supply Co., N&T Repairs and Shea Trucking — said the city has not been fairly negotiating.

“It’s an ongoing nightmare,” Jerry Antonacci, co-owner of Crown Container Co., said.

The four property owners said the city has put undue pressure on them to strike deals, pushing them towards deals they feel are unfair and undervalued.

“They come to us and say, ‘Prices are falling right now and I think you should jump on this while you can,'” Antonacci said. “But I’ve had appraisals done and they come in at double what the city’s offering. I’m not going to give it away for half price. But they basically said take it or leave it. They don’t even listen to what we need.”

John Bonici, of N&T Repairs Inc., said he had no contact with the city until he called them in late August. Bonici said he told the EDC he needed a property in College Point, where the majority of his customer base resides. The city told him they would get back to him.

“And then I don’t hear from them. Eleven messages I left them and they finally called me back,” Bonici said. “They said, ‘We didn’t call you because there’s nothing available.’ They said I could look for a property myself or let them offer to buy me out. So what, I have to be my own realty service now?”

While the four business owners did not rule out striking a deal with the city in the future, each said they are prepared to go to court and face an eminent domain battle if the situation does not improve.

“I’ll fight this all the way if I have to,” Bono said. “Because all they do is say what they want to say and they leave. How can you call something a negotiation if you don’t even get to hear what one party has to say?”

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