BY JAMES FARRELL
As the future of the Willets Point development remains uncertain, some business owners still call the neighborhood home. And for the past four years, they’ve appealed to the city to improve its dilapidated streets, which are coated with potholes and decay.
“Our roads are horrendous, horrible, dangerous,” said Sam Sambucci, owner of A&D Used Auto Parts on Willets Point Boulevard.
Sambucci spoke at Monday’s Community Board 7 meeting, lobbying for the board to include repaving Willets Points’ roads in its list of budget priorities, which the board presents to the Queens Borough Board for consideration in the city’s budget.
Sambucci made a similar testimony last year, and CB 7 has included funding in its priorities for the past four budget cycles—yet the streets remain unpaved.
“Since the last time I was here last year, you can’t even walk down some of the streets now,” he added.
Sambucci knows that development is likely inevitable and his time in Willets Point may soon have an expiration date, but when that will happen is unknown. While Sambucci’s property is located on the site of eventual development, it’s on a portion of the land scheduled to be developed in Phase 2 of the project. But with Phase 1 yet to begin and the original plans dashed by a recent court ruling that rejected a proposed mall for the site, Sambucci fears that development could be five to 10 years away. In the meantime, Sambucci still has a business to run.
“I would love to make infrastructure changes, upgrades to my property,” he told the Queens Tribune. “We cannot get a straight answer from the city on how long we will be here.”
The derelict roadways on streets such as Willets Point Boulevard could pose safety hazards, Sambucci said. He fears the day where an emergency response vehicle is unable to navigate the potholes safely.
But the unkempt roads, which Sambucci said are becoming “impassable,” are also a burden on his business. He said that, on some parts, if he lets his truck coast without stepping on the accelerator, it still rocks back and forth. That, paired with frequent illegal double parking, can make Willets Point a hazardous destination.
“I have customers who just can’t drive here,” he told the Queens Tribune after the meeting. “I’m actually embarrassed being here.”
Sambucci and his family have operated businesses in Willets Point prior to Shea Stadium being built in the area in 1964.
And he’s not the only one concerned by the roads. Steven Lin, another Willets Point business owner, also spoke at the meeting.
“What else are we paying property taxes for?” he said. “That’s all I’m asking, please fix our roads.”
And a group known as Willets Point United left a statement for board members.
“The Queens Borough Board has repeatedly voted to approve budget requests for Willets Point street repair,” it read. “The same construction project is still needed now—even more so than in past years. [Willets Point United] requests that CB 7 please keep this street repair budget item on its list and consider assigning it an even higher priority.”
Sambucci said that he has been in talks with James Patchett, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who is discussing the future of the project with the developers, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies known as the Queens Development Group. He is hopeful that this could be the year when the roads are finally repaved.
“We were happy to meet with local business owners in Willets Point and heard their requests around improved road conditions,” said Shavone Williams, spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation. “We are currently coordinating with the Department of Transportation to evaluate potential ways to address those requests.”
Department of Transportation Spokesman Brian Zumhagen confirmed that the agency is working with EDC to evaluate options.
In August, Sambucci and several other Willets Point business owners held a press conference with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), launching a marketing campaign to remind Queens that their stores are still “open for business.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.