From City Limits:
Restaurants, stores, and a 200-room hotel would go up on the Willets Point side of 126th Street, just east of Citi Field, though the city does not entirely own the property. The proposed shopping mall west of the stadium may face a larger hurdle: The parking lot is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. State law requires the alienation of parkland before it can be used for non-park purposes.
To meet that requirement, Bloomberg has reached back to a law passed 51 years ago, summoning an uncertain ally in the ghost of Robert Moses. But questions surround this curious piece of legislation, setting up the latest in a string of disputes over city-sponsored developments on public parkland.
"Yes, this area is parkland," says Benjamin Branham, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, "but development is permitted under the 1961 law that authorized the construction of Shea Stadium—known as Administrative Code 18-118—which also allowed for additional uses to be built on the parking lot. It's important to be clear the authorization comes from this law as opposed to a contract or other agreement of some kind."
Yet, as recently as 2001, New York's highest court ruled parkland can't be taken, even for temporary use, without an explicit act of alienation passed by the state Legislature and approved by the Governor: "[O]ur courts have time and again reaffirmed the principle that parkland is impressed with a public trust, requiring legislative approval before it can be alienated or used for an extended period for non-park purposes."
Moses presided over the 1961 groundbreaking for Shea Stadium. He had originally offered to build the municipal arena in Flushing Meadows for the Brooklyn Dodgers and resurrected the plan when the city pushed for a new National League franchise.
The state Legislature approved his building of Shea Stadium in the park, but its 1961 legislation was primarily aimed at granting the city authority to issue bonds to finance construction. It loosely laid out the permitted uses for the stadium and grounds, listing "recreation, entertainment, amusement, education, enlightenment, cultural development or betterment, and improvement of trade and commerce." The law even allowed the city to use the site for "any business or commercial purpose," so long as this activity "aids in the financing of the construction and operation of [the] stadium, grounds, parking areas and facilities" and "does not interfere with the accomplishment of the purposes referred to" above.
"The bill reads like a Robert Moses special," says Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. The broad powers it conferred were a hallmark of the Power Broker, who was so well-practiced in the black art of political legislating that Al Smith once called him "the best bill-drafter I know." The Parks Commissioner could enter into agreements to use part or all of the stadium grounds, but any agreements lasting for more than a year had to be approved by the Board of Estimate, which included the mayor, the comptroller, the City Council president, and all of the borough presidents.
In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Board of Estimate unconstitutional, because it violated the “one man, one vote” rule—for example, the borough president of Brooklyn (the city’s most populous county) had no more power than the borough president of Staten Island (the least populous county). With the elimination of the Board of Estimate, the city's Law Department says, the power of site approval under the 1961 Shea Stadium law now rests solely with the mayor. A shopping mall may not offer the "enlightenment" referenced in the text, but a Bloomberg administration spokesperson describes the new project as a "retail/entertainment complex" benefiting “trade and commerce.”
Don't you love how the city has no money for needed services for existing neighborhoods, yet has tons of cash to throw around in an attempt to justify park alienation in order to realize a Bloomberg legacy project? Why doesn't the billionaire pony up his own cash and buy out the Willets Point property owners? Then he can build whatever the hell he wants.
Leave the damn park alone.