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Queens Chronicle

Willets protesters go marching one by one

State senator and park advocates call for end to selling of parkland

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 5:18 am, Wed Dec 24, 2014.

Not even the roaring of the elevated No. 7 line could silence the anger of the Willets Point mall protesters as they marched down Roosevelt Avenue in Corona to Citi Field Saturday afternoon. Around 40 protesters stopped near a parking lot where the proposed mall would be built.

The $3 billion plan to develop 47-plus acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park would remove auto repair shop businesses on 126th Street and replace them with a hotel, parking spaces and retail and office space. The plan also includes a shopping mall, six-story parking garage and 2,500 surface parking spaces in the current Citi Field parking lot, technically part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The protest was organized by NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit watchdog group, and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). Avella has been one of the most outspoken critics of the proposal. He along with other activists and business owners lambasted the idea of removing parkland for the proposed mega mall.

“The fact that we have to be here today to protest taking away parkland for a mega mall is disgraceful,” he said.

Avella, along with many of the protesters, filed a lawsuit last month asking the court to declare the mall plan illegal — as it would be built on parkland — and to prevent its construction.

Avella said he is also worried that if the mall plan goes through, it could set a bad precedent and put other parks in jeopardy.

Geoffrey Croft, founder of NYC Park Advocates, condemned the lack of transparency in giving away the land.

“The city simply does not have the authority or the right to seize this parkland for these nonpark purposes without the consent of the state Legislature,” he said. “Parks belong to the people and not to private developers.”

Park activist Benjamin Haber, of Flushing, who has been involved in activism since a Grand Prix racetrack was proposed several years ago at Flushing Meadows, stated that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and park alienation legislation were not considered nor any of the community boards consulted.

“That did not happen because of a scheme hatched between former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Mets ball club and their partners, The Related Companies and Sterling Equities, a scheme so outrageous it would make the infamous Boss Tweed tip his hat in admiration,” he said.

Protestor Richie Polgar of Maspeth frequently uses the park to bicycle and take walks. Polgar stood by the street holding a “No Shopping Mall” sign and got some passing motorists to honk in support before the walk to Citi Field.

“I don’t want to see any more parkland taken away from the people of the city of New York,” he said. “We need more parkland, not more shopping centers.”

Though not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, he fully supports it.

“I think it’s a good idea. The politicians are making deals with big business and they don’t have the right to give away parkland like that,” he said. “There is only so much parkland and we’re going to need it.”

Avella, along with the other speakers, called upon Mayor de Blasio to support the lawsuit and stick to his campaign promise of transparency and keeping parkland off limits for sale. The mayor in a recent interview said that “we believe parkland is sacred.”

“We are asking you to intercede and stop this project from happening and set a precedent that we believe is the law of this city and this state, that you just cannot give away parkland,” Avella said.

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