Ferreras blasts ‘systematic attack’ on Willets businesses

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Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras speaks at a rally with Willets Point workers protesting the city’s treatment of area businesses. Photo by Stephen Stirling

New York Mets fans fired up grills underneath the Van Wyck Expressway Monday ahead of the team’s debut at Citi Field. Just across the street, Willets Point stirred.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and state Sen. Hiram Monserrate’s (D-East Elmhurst) chief-of-staff, Wayne Mahlke, joined workers outside Citi Field Monday to protest what they said was city harassment of local business owners.

The rally came in response to a multi-agency “sweep” of the area during the last several weeks, during which the city has placed vacate orders on three separate properties, effectively closing more than a dozen businesses.

Attendees at the rally, which took place only hours before the Mets home opener, blasted the incursion as a strong-arm negotiating tactic and demanded the city make good on its promise to try and relocate the more than 250 renting businesses in the area.

“If you close these businesses, now you put a different kind of pressure on the land owner because they don’t have that income without any tenants,” Ferreras said. “I do not think it is a coincidence.”

“We believe this is a systematic attack on the part of the city against these businesses,” Mahlke said.

The city Economic Development Corp., which has led the charge to transform Willets Point into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood, said in a statement that there was no connection between the city raids and property negotiations.

“In no uncertain terms, NYCEDC has absolutely nothing to do with the enforcement actions in Willets Point,” the statement said.

According to city Department of Buildings records, officials from the NYPD, FDNY, city Department of Environmental Protection and DOB raided Willets Point and issued vacate orders that closed 11 businesses operating out of 126-58 and 126-75 Willets Point Blvd on April 2.

Just a few weeks earlier, on March 22, four businesses were closed when the city issued a similar order to 37-03 126th St.

Ferreras and Mahlke said they believe the city is purporsefully targeting properties whose owners have not been negotiating with the EDC to sell their land.  The New York Police Department, who led the the multi-agency sweeps, denied this and said the operation was part of an investigation into stolen auto parts.

None of the three addresses issued vacate orders currently has a deal in place with the city. The owner of one of the vacated properties, Roman Zak, said he has always been willing to negotiate with the city if they can move him and his tenants to a new location.

“I have good tenants, if they can move us they can move us together we can talk,” Zak said. “But they never come. Nobody cares.”

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