Willets Point, NYC Body Shops Not Budging

They and their workers, who held signs asking Mayor de Blasio for more time, vowed to go on a hunger strike until plans they say the city hasn’t moved on are approved.Sunrise leaders said at a press conference at JAC Global Corp. on 37th Avenue that they want three or four more months to conduct business while their new site, at 1080 Leggett Ave. in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, is approved, fully constructed and made ready to be moved into.
Marco Neira, president of Sunrise, said that city Department of Buildings paperwork that would allow them to occupy the space has stalled and that city officials, namely de Blasio, have the power to expedite the process, but haven’t.Neira asserted that while $2.9 million — a chunk of the $5.8 million promised to them in the settlement — has been used to pay the architect to file paperwork and pay for April, May and June’s rent, they still don’t have the proper permits.
“It’s money, then, that we’re wasting,” he said.
Luis Suarez, a pastor in the community, said the workers have known for a few weeks that they weren’t going to move out on time.
“If we had the CO, we’d move right now. It’s no problem,” Suarez added following the demonstration.Pedro Estevez, president of the United Auto Merchants Association, said he’s an expert in licensing and permits and believes there is “stonewalling” from the DOB, which he claims is “in cahoots” with the Bronx borough government, which wants to “chase them out of the city.”
“The Mayor of New York had the authority to tell the Department of Buildings, give them a letter of no objection,” Estevez said. “But if you don’t give them their permits to bring this up to code, how are they going to do it? … We are hardworking people over here that deserve an opportunity to drive instead of strive.”
But the break in the agreement caused by not being vacated by June 1 could subject the cooperative to whatever penalties were agreed upon in March.
Neira also said that before the protest, representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development came to collect the keys and were surprised to see that everything was still in place.
On June 2, a DOB spokesperson said that the department will assist where it can, but it’s Sunrise’s and its contractor’s responsibility to get the proper permits that will allow occupancy.
“The vacate date was set forth in the settlement agreement with Sunrise and was approved by the Comptroller, EDC’s Board, the Sunrise Cooperative and each individual member business of the Sunrise Cooperative,” the spokesperson said in an email. “At present, Sunrise Cooperative has not taken several steps necessary to move forward at the new site, including filing the necessary application for permits, which is regrettable.”
DOB records show that the auto body owners must file an application to get an Alteration Type 1 permit, which would allow for the certificate of occupancy to go through. There is an ECB violation listed, but the spokesperson said that does not bar the owners from filing for the permit.At the protest, the workers also called out City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who mediated the agreement between Sunrise Cooperative and the Queens Development Group, to help grant them more time.
“We are your neighbors, we are your neighborhood,” Neira said, speaking in Spanish. “She cannot leave us alone in this situation … she is the person who has the power to go to Mayor de Blasio to stop any action they take against us.”
Following the protest, a statement from Ferreras’ office said that as of early last week, the DOB’s Bronx borough commissioner is “personally handling the processing of permits” for the space.
“The Sunrise Cooperative reached a historic, multi-million dollar agreement with the Economic Development Corp. to vacate Willets Point by June 1 understanding that they would not be able to operate at their new location until several months after,” the statement read.
“The councilwoman has continuously advocated so these businesses may remain viable; however, the Sunrise Cooperative has not met the requirements to operate legally at their Hunts Point location and the project cannot move forward until they do so.”
At the press conference, Neira added that he believes their lawyer from the Urban Justice Center did not provide thorough enough legal counsel.
He also said that they were pressured by several parties back in March to sign the agreement.As of June 11, representatives of the Urban Justice Center had not responded to a request for comment.

Written by Cristina Schreil, Queens Chronicle
We would like to thank Queens Chronicle for permission to reprint their article.
Source: Willets Point, NYC Body Shops Not Budging

Displaced Willets biz owners go on hunger strike

Members of Sunrise Cooperative, a group representing employees and owners of small automotive businesses, announced a hunger strike to protest displacement under the first phase of the massive redevelopment of Willets Point.

Inside shops and standing in the pouring rain Monday morning, determined workers urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow the businesses to stay at Willets Point for at least a few extra months to allow them more time to secure a Certificate of Operation for a new location in the Bronx.

According to a press release by Sunrise Cooperative, a deal would relocate 17 Willets Point businesses to Leggett Avenue in the Bronx. It was expected that the new shops would be ready, but as June 1 came and went, they were still waiting.

Single mother Julia Sandoval has been working in the Willets Point automotive industry for 17 years to support her children.

According to Sandoval, her doctor advised against participating in the hunger strike due to her diabetic condition, but she decided to participate to show how serious she is about saving her job.

“If they are going to close my place, what am I going to do?” Sandoval asked. “We don’t know what to do.”

Marco Neira, president of Sunrise Cooperative, said all the owners want is more time. Neira is confident the hunger strike will continue until the mayor’s office responds to their requests.

Pedro Estevez, president and founder of the United Auto Merchants Association, spoke on behalf of many workers, most of whom only speak Spanish.

Over a year ago, Estevez found an 85,000-square-foot site in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx with the intention of relocating the businesses displaced by the first phase of the redevelopment. Reluctantly, most business owners agreed to make the costly move, seeing no other options.

But without the Certificate of Operation, the shops were unable to move by the June 1st deadline.

Estevez said the location was deemed suitable for manufacturing by the Department of Buildings, but the certificate did not specify auto repair uses.

“Honestly, they are trying to do the right thing,” Estevez said of the displaced business owners. “They are trying to be independent and to independently fulfill the obligation of supporting their families. They don’t want to be dependent on government hand-me-downs.”

by Francesca Campione

Auto shops rail against city plan at Willets Point

Business owners who work in the shadow of Citi Field used this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities as an opportunity to shed light on the harsh realities they contend go under the radar just across the street.

Inside the ballpark, swarms of sports fans enjoyed the baseball spotlight with the Home Run Derby Monday and the annual All-Star Game the following evening. But just before Tuesday’s first pitch, auto shop owners held up signs accusing the city of working with their neighbor’s home team to kick them out in accordance with city’s ambitious redevelopment plans.

“A lot of people have the impression that the Mets are doing well,” said Discount Mufflers owner Jamie Satti, of the team across 126th Avenue. “They have no idea what they are doing to the business owners in Willets Point.”

Satti and a crowd of fellow business owners and supporters rallied Tuesday evening against the city for serving them with eviction notices in front of his 37-03 126th St. business just as the crowd grew for the big game. He said he hoped the timing would help draw attention to the auto shop haven’s rocky and dirty streets littered with puddles of standing water and neglect.

“Nobody cares what is going to happen to us,” he said. “We have no voice and no support.”

The eviction notices came this week from the city Economic Development Corp. as the result of more than 10 years of redevelopment negotiations involving Willets Point’s future, which will include retail, hotel, commercial and residential upgrades. A spokesman for the EDC said the first phase of the project included the renovation of the 23-acre piece of land in 2014 at the heart of Tuesday’s protest.

Auto shop owners like Satti have been told they were offered the city’s support in relocating their shops elsewhere to communities like Maspeth, but many said the help has been lackluster and half-hearted.

“The city is lying to us about this relocation plan,” said Marco Neira, a tenant in Willets Point and president of the Willets Point Defense Committee. “We pay taxes every year and these are the conditions we have to show for it. If they want this land, they have to give us a place to go.”

The Queens Business Outreach Center of Corona released a report this week outlining the importance of the Willets Point auto repair district, referring to it as a unique, regional destination with about 150 predominately Latino and immigrant-owned businesses and about 1,711 workers.

For months, the city has been shutting down businesses throughout the $3 billion project’s footprint on the grounds of newfound safety issues and construction concerns, the owners said. Borough President Helen Marshall also gave the green light last week to a mall that would be built in an area currently used for Citi Field parking, sparking more outrage from members of the community.

“We are all small businesses, and we are all minorities,” said Pedro Estevez, president and founder of the nonprofit United Auto Merchants Association. “We are behind these business owners because we feel an injustice is being done. If they hurt one small business, they hurt all of us.”

Source: Auto shops rail against city plan at Willets Point