By Lynn Edmonds
The City Council is in favor of giving a parcel of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is currently used for the CitiField parking lot, to developers, for the construction of a shopping mall, a Wednesday afternoon vote suggested.
The council members passed a resolution on Wednesday to send an amicus brief to the court in support of the project.
The Queens Development Group and State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside)- a former councilman – , in conjunction with local organizations, are currently locked in a legal battle over whether the developer has the right to build on what, despite it’s paved nature, is parkland.
The two entities have duked it out in the New York State courts, with the Appellate Court most recently ruling on July 2 that parkland could not be given to a developer without permission from the state legislature. But on Nov. 23, New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, agreed to take on the case.
The City was originally invested in the plan to build the mall, which was part of a much larger vision to redevelop Willets Point. The plan included installing a sewer system, which the area lacks, alleviating chronic flooding, building a school, mixed-income housing and hotels, in addition to the mall, but Mayor Bill de Blasio opted not to pursue the case after the July 2nd ruling.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Corona), who negotiated the deal with the development group, said it was in the best interest of the community, with others, including Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), voicing their support.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said they were still in favor of the deal because Willets Point was underdeveloped and underutilized.
“Right now, this piece of land is being wasted,” Koo said.
“Willets Point has always been an eyesore,” Koslowitz said. “I want to see Willets Point developed in my lifetime.”
The argument of tit for tat also came up as a reason to vote for it.
“I urge my colleagues to stand with me, so that in the future if you ever go through this process, you can know that I will stand with you,” Ferreras-Copeland said.
On the other side, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said he would vote “no” on the resolution. He argued that the City Council should use the Court’s ruling as an opportunity to re-negotiate the deal to include more affordable housing and guaranteed living wages for workers.
“This is like the claw of the Bloomberg administration reaching up from the grave,” he said of the Willets West development project. “The last administration didn’t believe in affordable housing like we do, and that’s why they settled for affordable housing that wouldn’t kick in until 2026, if ever.”
But Council members who supported sending the brief argued that failing to act would make it seem that the City Council was not true to their word, since they had initially approved the deal in 2007.
“No backsides. Once you have a deal, you have a deal,” Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) said.
Ahead of the City Council vote, Avella, a plaintiff in the case, wrote to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan/Bronx) voicing his strong opposition to the vote.
“I am astonished that the City Council would yield to the request of the developers in this case who clearly utilized whatever undue influence they could muster to get the City Council to take a position completely opposite of the community and in defiance of the current Administration who decline to appeal this case to the Court of Appeals,” he wrote.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana