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Willets Point body shop workers vowed to go on a hunger strike Monday until they are able to relocate to their new space in the Bronx.
Cristina Schreil, Queens Chronicle
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.
We would like to thank Queens Chronicle for permission to reprint their article.