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Queens Chronicle

Suit challenges legality of Flushing Meadows mall plan in Queens

You can't build on parkland without state approval, plaintiffs say

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Posted: Monday, February 10, 2014 6:18 pm | Updated: 6:22 pm, Mon Feb 10, 2014.

A lawsuit claiming that the shopping mall proposed for the Citi Field parking lot in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is illegal under state law was filed today.

The suit charges that the mall, approved by the City Council near the end of former Mayor Mike Bloomberg's last term, cannot be built without the approval of the state Legislature because the location is parkland.

The plaintiffs include state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Whitestone); the New York City Park Advocates organization; Queens residents and park protectors Benjamin Haber and Paul Graziano; several area individuals and businesses; and The City Club, a good government group dating from 1892 to 2009, and revived last year.

The complaint says the plan to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall on the 30.7 acre site near the north end of the park violates the City Charter and zoning regulations, and it seeks to annul city approvals for the related Willets Point development plan.

The plaintiffs note that the mall plan, put forth by the Queens Development Group, a partnership between Sterling Equities, the development firm owned by the owners of the Mets, and The Related Companies, a large developer, has moved ahead without the usual public review process.

The Bloomberg administration said the plan was legal under a 1961 law that allowed the construction of Shea Stadium, which used to sit where the Citi Field parking lot is now. But the plaintiffs say that interpretation of the law is blatantly incorrect, and that the project is illegal without the approval of the state Legislature under the public trust doctrine, which says parkland cannot be used for non-park purposes without Albany's approval.

“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,” John Low-Beer, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said in a prepared statement.

That law “says nothing about a shopping center," Low-Beer said. "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.”

The suit was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. It asks the court to declare the mall project illegal and to prevent further steps toward its construction. It also seeks the nullification of city approval of a new parking lot to be built in Willets Point to replace the one at Citi Field, claiming that officials knew that plan was put forth only to replace the parking that would be lost to the mall, which they knew was illegal in and of itself.

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