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Queens Chronicle

Rally to save park space set Saturday

Plans to build a mega-mall at Citi Field parking lot will be protested

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Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014 10:30 am

A rally to take back the parkland at Flushing Meadows will be held Saturday at noon, rain or shine, starting at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 114th Street in Corona.

Organized by the nonprofit watchdog group NYC Park Advocates and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the rally will march to a nearby location on Roosevelt Avenue overlooking the proposed site for a mega-mall in the Citi Field parking lot.

The public is invited to participate. Expected to take part are small business owners, nearby residents, park users, civic groups and others interested in not losing the parkland to the building of a one-million-square-foot shopping mall called Willets West. It also includes a six-story parking garage and 2,500 surface parking spaces.

The $3 billion plan to develop Willets Point calls for removal of small auto repair shop businesses on 126th Street to be replaced by a hotel, parking and retail and office space. Once that is completed, work will begin on Willets West.

Affordable housing is planned for later but could be eventually eliminated.

Opponents note that the Citi Field parking lot is on parkland and say any changes to its use is illegal. Avella and others filed a lawsuit last month asking the court to declare the mall plan illegal and to prevent its construction. They also want the court to nullify city approval of the new parking lot set for Willets Point.

The Queens Development Group, a partnership between Sterling Equities, run by the owners of the Mets, and The Related Companies, say the project is legal based on a 1961 city agreement that allowed construction of Shea Stadium, the current site of the Citi Field parking lot.

But opponents, including some legal experts, believe the legislation does not apply to a shopping center and any alienation of parkland would have to be approved by the state.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, said Monday there is nothing in the 1961 agreement allowing developers to change the plan. “It’s public land and if the Mets don’t need it, then give it back for its original use,” Croft said. “The city is trying to get away with it.”

He called it “a billion-dollar land grab” by developers, with the city bypassing everything, from public hearings to environmental reviews. “It’s a mess,” Croft added.

He expects a good turnout for the rally with such groups as the Queens Civic Congress and Willets Point United participating.

“It’s important that people speak up,” Croft added. “Small businesses in Corona will be affected as will traffic.”

His rally flier noted that if the project goes through, spectacles such as the Hermanos Vazquez Circus, Electric Daisy Carnival and many other annual events held on the parking lot grounds will be displaced forever.

He also criticized Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who is taking credit for the final Bloomberg-backed plan that was approved by the Council last October. “She’s working for the public, not the administration,” Croft said.

Avella, a longtime opponent to the Willets Point project, in filing the lawsuit told the Queens Chronicle it’s not a big piece of land, but that there are other more important issues. “It is a parking lot, but the point is, we can’t give away parkland. If we continue giving it away, we’ll have no space left in any of our parks.”

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