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Queens Chronicle

Suit: Citi Field mall violates state law

Plaintiffs say parkland project never got appropriate approval

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Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014 2:00 am | Updated: 11:22 am, Thu Feb 20, 2014.

In another attempt to put a wrench in the behemoth development plan for Willets Point, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and others filed a lawsuit on Monday claiming the shopping mall portion proposed for the Citi Field parking lot in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is illegal under state law.

The plan, submitted by the Queens Development Group — a partnership between Sterling Equities and The Related Companies — was given approval by the City Council last October.

Under the proposal, a 1.4 million-square-foot mall would be built on a 34.7-acre site on the north end of the park.

“There are a number of aspects to the suit but the one that concerns me the most is the fact that the city is violating state law in park alienation,” said Avella, who has criticized the Willets Point plan since it was first proposed. “This has been a big issue for me.”

The suit was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan and asks the court to declare the mall project illegal and to prevent further steps toward its construction. It also seeks to nullify city approval of a new parking lot to be built in Willets Point to replace the one in Citi Field.

“Is this a big piece of land? Not particularly,” Avella said. “And yes, it is a parking lot but the point is, we can’t give away park land. If we continue giving it away, we’ll have no space left in any of our parks.”

The Queens Development Group and the city said the plan is legal under a piece of legislation from 1961 that allowed the construction of Shea Stadium, which used to sit where the parking lot is now.

The law states “prior to or after the expiration or termination of duration of any contracts ... may from time to time enter into amended, new, additional or further contracts ... the same or any other person or persons for any purpose or purposes referred to ...”

John Low-Beer, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said the legislation does not apply to a shopping center.

“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 said in a prepared statement.

However, the Queens Development Group pointed to a portion of the legislation that allows a rental agreement, contract or other authorization “for any purpose or purposes which is of such a nature as to furnish to, or foster ... benefit of, the people of the city ... improvement of trade and commerce...”

Even so, the plaintiffs maintain that the law does not apply to a new shopping mall and therefore is in violation of state law.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), a major champion of the project, did not comment on the lawsuit and, according to Avella, would not return calls to his office when the senator asked to have a conversation about business relocation.

“It’s sad that the city makes it sound so rosy but I’m not afraid of taking on the powers that be,” Avella said. “I was elected to represent the people, not the elected officials or businesses.”

New Mayor de Blasio has not publicly commented on any part of the Willets Point plan or the lawsuit but Avella said he hopes the mayor will revisit the plan and “step in on some of these issues.”

“Maybe he’ll do the right thing,” he said.

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