Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Avella, activists, file lawsuit to stop shopping mall at Flushing Meadows
From Save FMCP:
State Senator Tony Avella of Whitestone, Queens, The City Club of New York, park advocacy groups, and an array of residents and business people neighboring the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, filed suit today to cut off the threat of construction of a 1.4 million square foot shopping mall within the Park.
The complaint alleges that the project cannot proceed without approval by the State Legislature under the “public trust” doctrine that protects all parkland throughout the State against any form of transfer or introduction of non-park uses without consent of the Legislature. It does not appear that any such approval for the shopping center use has been requested or obtained.
The complaint also alleges violations of the City’s Zoning Resolution and Charter, and seeks annulment of approvals granted by the City to date for the related Willets Point plan.
The site is 30.7 acres near the northerly end of the Park. From 1964 to 2006, the site was occupied by Shea Stadium. When Shea was demolished and replaced in 2009 by Citi Field at a location slightly east of the Shea site, the project site became a parking field for visitors to Citi Field. The site has also been used for a variety of public recreational events including foot races, circus performances, an annual wheelchair baseball game, and concerts.
In 2012, Sterling Equities and the Related Companies, both well-known developers, convinced the Bloomberg administration to allow the shopping mall on Park property, although the City Council had approved a plan in 2008 to place the intended retail development in the neighboring Willets Point development project along with affordable housing.
The project has moved forward without the customary public review. There have been no hearings on it before community boards, the Planning Commission, the City Council, or the State Legislature. The Bloomberg administration appears to have acted on the assumption that no public review is required because in 1961 the State Legislature approved construction of Shea Stadium and provision for parking, with wording broad enough, say proponents of the project, to allow replacement with a shopping center. The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the project on the parking field declares that the parcel is on designated parkland and that legislation permits the shopping mall project. It lists approvals that the City and developers expect to seek, but State legislative approval is not among them.
The contention that the 1961 law exempts this transaction from the public trust doctrine, says John Low-Beer, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, is wrong. “The 1961 law was intended to allow a stadium and uses directly related to a stadium, such as parking, concessions, and other commercial activity typically incidental to a professional sports arena.”
Low-Beer adds that the 1961 law “says nothing about a shopping center. In fact, the Legislature explicitly prohibited any purely commercial uses other than ones strictly related to the stadium, such as concession stands. The public trust doctrine requires that any legislative consent be very specific about what it will allow. If it doesn’t specify a use, then that use is not permitted.”
Senator Tony Avella stated that “Parks are intended to serve the people, to provide open space, landscaping, opportunities for recreation, playgrounds for children, and escape from the hordes and noise of a busy commercial city. The only commercial uses that belong in them are those, such as snack stands, that enhance the park experience. A shopping center is not one of them. We have a wonderful law that is supposed to assure all of this, known as the ‘public trust doctrine.’ I’m outraged when the people who are supposed to administer parks for everyone turn them over to private interests without seeking the State Legislature's consent as the public trust doctrine requires. So, I am very pleased to be a party to this action.”
The plaintiffs include Paul Graziano, Al Centola and Ben Haber who have prominently opposed a spate of recent proposals for new or enlarged sports venues in the Park, as well as the shopping center. The efforts of “Save Flushing Meadows Park,” a coalition of many Queens civic groups put together by Graziano, Centola, Haber and others, thwarted the proposed professional soccer stadium, though it was unable to stop a half-acre expansion of the Tennis Center. They have also led opposition to the shopping center.