BY LYNN EDMONDS
A new park alliance in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park gives developers undue influence by flouting city laws, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) alleges.
The Councilman announced last Wednesday that he is filing a lawsuit against the City, the Mayor, and the newfound alliance.
In a July 6 op-ed published in Crain’s New York Business, Lancman called the alliance “an entity formed to funnel money from developers…in exchange for the use of park resources.”
The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance, first conceived in 2013, was announced in November 2015 as a public-private partnership that would help to bring more funding to Queens’ largest park. Historically, the park has received far less funding than Manhattan and Brooklyn’s flagship green spaces, Central Park and Prospect Park.
The tit-for-tat element of the park alliance since its inception has not been any sort of secret. DNAInfo reported that the United States Tennis Association granted $10.05 million to the park as part of negotiations around their receiving a 1.5-acre piece of land.
There seemed to be little sentiment that there was something unorthodox about this agreement.
Martha Taylor, Chairwoman of Community Board 8, for example, said she had no complaints of the USTA.
“They have lived up to all that they said they would do,” she said.
The same held true for the Queens Development Group. The developer pledged to carry out numerous actions as part of negotiations over their acquisition of a 23-acre plot of land in Willets Point.
One of them was to “commit[s] to annual support payments in the amount of $300,000 a year for twenty five years” to the FMCP alliance.
Ferreras-Copeland touted the concessions that she negotiated from developers – and they seemed to be viewed in a positive light, though other aspects of the deal, like building a mall on public parkland, or the potential displacement of small business owners, caused more controversy.
“It was just a transaction,” Lancman said. “And that’s fine.”
But he said this public-private relationship was breaking rules.
There’s nothing wrong with the concept, but the mechanics of the alliance have been designed to circumvent very important laws that we have to protect the public’s interest, and for no reason other than politics,” he said. “It’s an invitation to corruption, when you take the process of commercializing parts of the park out of the framework provided for in the City Charter and in City Law.”
The concern, for Lancman, is that his district’s lack of representation on the board will mean fewer resources for the southern part of the park, which encompasses Meadow Lake and Willow Lake. Without the museum, the theater, or the zoo, the southern part of the park is quieter and more natural. But Lancman has said it needs more funding to refurbish pathways, alleviate flooding and create a more beautiful environment for park-goers.
Lancman’s court case alleges that the alliance broke two rules. The first is New York City Charter 109, which says all funds for the city should go to the city’s general fund, rather than specific organizations. Money that goes to the city’s general fund follows a long and transparent budget process, the thinking goes, whereas money directed straight to the alliance would not be subject to as much oversight.
The second is that Administrative Code 18-137 says that any entity which has “the ability” to hire 50 percent or more of park staff must include a representative from every district that touches the park, which in this case would include Ferraras-Copeland’s, Lancman’s, Peter Koo’s (D-Flushing) and Paul Vallone’s (D-Bayside) districts. Lancman said that because the alliance’s licensing agreement gives it this hiring ability, it must comply.
Currently, the alliance’s structure is 15 members, including six mayor appointees, one appointee from Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, one elected by a Community Advisory Board, two from the USTA and five ex-officio members.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Ferreras-Copeland’s office declined to comment.