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Queens Chronicle

For USTA plan, money talks at CBs

Parks, nonprofit can’t place a value on .68 acre of parkland yet

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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:56 am, Thu Mar 14, 2013.

A key question has arisen as the United State Tennis Association’s plan has come before six different community boards: How much is a fraction of an acre of parkland worth?

Two boards tried to answer the question last week, with one slapping a $15 million price tag on .68 acre of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, along with numerous other stipulations.

The USTA’s plan to expand within Flushing Meadows without alienating parkland has begun facing votes before community board committees, being approved by one and denied by the other with hefty stipulations attached in both instances.

Community Board 7’s Parks Committee on Monday night voted 8-3 in favor of the proposed expansion of .68 acre beyond the nonprofit’s already-leased land, but included heavy stipulations: a $15 million capital endowment fund; a $300,000 annual expense fund dedicated directly to the park’s upkeep; all trees that need replacement as part of construction be placed in the Flushing Meadows Corona Park; kids and seniors from surrounding ZIP codes adjacent to the park be given a “substantial discount” on court rentals as well as several other benefits.

The next night, a joint session of Community Board 3’s Parks, Land Use, Transportation and Business Development committees voted down the plan.

The USTA and the Parks Department, which is a co-applicant for the project, met with CB 7’s parks committee for the third time. Votes were tabled at the previous gatherings because the agency and USTA could not come up with a dollar figure for the proposed benefits to the park, should the project be approved. Monday was no different.

“The reality is there is not going to be an answer to your question until the end of the [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] process,” said Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner for planning and natural resources at Parks. “There will be a compensation package.”

The answer, one which Laird repeated a number of times throughout the meeting, did not suit the committees’ members. But when time came to put together a motion, members voting in favor of the project cited what they portrayed as the inevitable approval of the plan, and their subsequent need to have a say in the process.

“Even if we turned around and said no, you’ve got to realize that the borough president and City Council are going to vote yes,” said committee Chairwoman Kim Ohanian, who voted in favor of the motion to approve.

“This will go around in circles,” said the board’s first vice chairman, Chuck Apelian, adding the park doesn’t benefit from a sizeable endowment or benevolent individuals pouring money into its conservancy. “I don’t see anybody writing checks. Let’s take 1,200 acres and start making it better. It’s one of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”

Opponents of the plan saw an opportunity to set a precedent, as a proposed Major League Soccer stadium within the park and a mall alongside Citi Field will presumably be presented before the community board sometime this year.

“There is nothing altruistic about [the USTA’s] agenda,” said Parks Committee member Warren Schrieber. “We have an opportunity to send a message and say ‘Enough is enough.’”

CB 3’s committees met in a fog of controversy, as three individuals claimed the board denied the meeting’s existence, calling it an attempt to keep negotiations with the USTA as clandestine as possible. Eventually, all three were able to attend.

“The damage wasn’t as severe as one would indicate,” said CB 3 member Ed Westley. “All three of them ended up going. I don’t feel like it’s an issue, I think we have a terrific chair person. Sometimes there are mistakes and we move forward.”

The committees’ uniform no vote came laced with a list of issues the USTA and Parks have not addressed.

“One thing we look for is if they have been good neighbors, and they haven’t been,” said Westley, who voted against the project. “They promise to be good neighbors, but they haven’t been so far. The other issue is they have never put anything on the table of their $275 million in revenue and don’t have a plan to give back to community.”

Next week, the USTA’s plan will come before six community boards — 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 — as it makes its way through ULURP. The valuation of a sliver of parkland has been at the heart of the debate at nearly all the meetings.

The parameters for a political deal were laid out in a letter addressed to USTA Chairman and CEO Dave Haggerty and signed by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx), Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights).

The correspondence requests the USTA use organized labor for its project, lower court rental fees and put an unspecified fiscal contribution towards the Flushing Meadows Corona Park’s upkeep.

Laird said the fiscal math won’t be complete until the project is before the City Council, facing a vote.

“There’s no standard,” he said. “We’d say it’s a park; it’s invaluable. There’s no standard formula to say this is how much parkland is going for in the open market.”

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