Business / Environment

Community board looks to keep auto shops out

Joe Hirsch

About 50 auto shops that were thrown out of Queens have signed a lease to move into this warehouse on Leggett Avenue.

Influx would create pollution and traffic woes, it argues

The anticipated arrival of a massive new auto shop repair mall on the Hunts Point peninsula has residents and business leaders on edge about the potential for problems and fuming that they were left out of the loop.

Last October, the City Council approved a huge development deal near Citi Field that called for the eviction of over 200 small businesses from the Willets Point section of Queens to make way for a mall, offices and housing. Earlier this month, The Sunrise Cooperative, which represents dozens of the evicted auto repair and parts shops, signed a lease on an 84,000 square-foot empty warehouse and adjacent lot on the corner of Leggett Aveune and the Bruckner Expressway.

But Community Board 2 and others say the addition of 50-some auto shops is likely to cause steep increases in crime, pollution and traffic while hurting the many auto businesses that have been in Hunts Point for decades.

“We feel that we’re being dumped on,” said Board 2’s district manager Rafael Salamanca.

The co-operative signed a lease with the landlord of 1080 Leggett Avenue on March 7, shortly after meeting with Salamanca, four Board 2 committee heads and City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo to discuss the community’s concerns.

A spokesman for the Sunrise Co-operative, Marco Neira, did not return calls from The Express seeking comment.

Although the transaction between the shops and the warehouse owner is private, the Economic Development Corporation, the city’s economic arm, which helped broker the Queens deal, has announced it will provide between $2 and $3 million for the auto shops to move into their new space, an amount the businesses have said is not enough.

“This is city money,” said Salamanca. “We the community are not getting anything from this deal.”

Not only would the new businesses add to congestion problems at one of the area’s most problematic corners, he worries, their presence could also add to the 41st Precinct’s headaches by requiring cops to look out for the theft of car mirrors and other parts. The precinct has long fought to clamp down on local auto shops that sell stolen parts, and even, many residents suspect, commission thefts.

In addition, said Salamanca, “We need to know how this is going to impact us environmentally.” Hunts Point’s auto shops often fail to use filtration systems that would reduce air pollution from their work. The community board wants the state to conduct environmental and traffic impact studies on the Leggett-Bruckner interchange to determine the potential hazards. At a March 26 board meeting, members voted to demand the city set aside $5 million to conduct the studies, out of $100 million earmarked to the Related and Sterling development companies to remediate contamination at Willets Point.

Josephine Infante, executive director of the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation, says the city routinely ignores local voices when pushing an agenda it does not want to see questioned.

“The business community should be consulted where big money is involved,” she said. “All of us will be affected by decisions like this. It offends me that we have built a network of business opportunities and we keep on being the last ones called after decisions are made.”

As an example, Infante pointed out that the city Economic Development Corp. caused chaos for truckers and businesses last December when it converted Food Center Drive from a two-way to a one-way road without first informing the community. It reversed its decision weeks later in response to intense criticism from businesses in the food markets.

At a March 12 meeting of Community Board 2, members seethed over the auto shops deal. Considering the pros and cons, Maria Torres, chair of the board’s economic development committee, said “I don’t see many pros.”

Torres warned that the deal underscores the board’s need to be wary of “unscrupulous real estate” companies by “keeping an eye on the big parcels that can bring who-knows-what here.”

A lot on the Bronx River waterfront owned by Castle Oil and another next to the BP gas station on Hunts Point Avenue are examples of strategic parcels realtors could be looking to cash in on in ways that could hurt the neighborhood, she said.

But Torres told the board the auto shops deal can still be reversed.

“I don’t think this is as done a deal as everyone seems to think,” she said.

Board member Charlie Samboy dismissed as unrealistic the new businesses’ assurances that their clients will follow them to Hunts Point from Queens.

“Who’s going to pay $15 (in tolls) to come to buy a lightbulb,” he asked.

Members were livid that elected officials never informed Board 2 about the deal.

“A big thing like this, we should have known about this a long time ago,” said Israel Rodriguez, arguing that Arroyo let the board down by not notifying them in advance that the auto shops had targeted Hunts Point.

Medina Sadiq, executive director of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District, said other uses of the empty warehouse, such as a supermarket, would benefit residents far more than added auto shops.

The story was updated on March 27. 

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