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Queens Chronicle

Land, $$$ center of CB’s USTA debate

30-15 against USTA after first three board votes

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Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:15 am, Thu Mar 21, 2013.

The United States Tennis Association’s proposed expansion within Flushing Meadows Corona Park began its public review hearings this week on the heels of a 32-page report blasting the nonprofit’s plan and history as a tenant in the park.

By Friday, six community boards will have voted on the proposal. But as of Tuesday evening, Community Boards 4 and 9 voted against the plan in contentious hearings, while Community Board 7 approved it with little fanfare by comparison.

The main points of contention, and sometimes confusion, revolve around a report titled “Double Fault,” released on Friday by the Fairness Coalition of Queens.

To alienate or not to alienate

CB 9 only covers a small piece of Flushing Meadows Corona Park — far smaller than any other community board tasked with voting on the United States Tennis Association’s plan to expand its campus by .68 acre — but it hosted arguably the most heated debate of all the boards to debate the consideration before Wednesday.

The board ultimately voted against the proposal at its meeting in Ozone Park on Tuesday by a tally of 22-20, with one abstention. The hour-long debate leading up to the final vote covered everything from precedent to the process community boards use to vote. Often, exchanges grew heated.

CB 9’s Land Use Committee chairwoman, Sylvia Hack, brought a motion before the board to vote on a proposal to approve the plan with certain conditions, including clarifications on the amount the USTA will pay for the land. Under the proposed contract, the USTA will not replace the .68 acre it acquires, but rather pay the city outright for it. But her resolution caused some confusion among members of the board, including Wallace Bock, a member from Kew Gardens.

The lack of replacement parkland remains at the heart of opposition to the project. A number of elected officials and boro political candidates gathered at Make The Road New York’s offices on Friday, touting the “Double Fault” report and demanding the USTA include replacement land in its plans.

“You must replace each inch of land,” Councilwoman Julissa Fererras (D-Corona) said. “I have always lived in an apartment, and Flushing Meadows is my backyard.”

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) agreed the land had to be replaced.

The Fairness Coalition of Queens report says the expansion will take in .94 acre, but the USTA quotes .68 acre since the .94 figure includes an old connector road that was already approved as part of a 1993 Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

In response to politicians’ call for replacement land, USTA spokesman Adam Miller said, “The plan calls for the minimum amount of additional parkland possible, just 0.68 acre, to complete the needed upgrades to the facilities at the National Tennis Center.

“The sliver of land in question is mostly an existing asphalt road and because it will remain parkland open to the public 11 months of the year, the city has determined that improvements to the park, which will benefit all of the surrounding communities, is a priority over seeking 0.68 acre of replacement land,” he added.

In light of the back and forth over the .68 acre during the CB 9 meeting, Bock proposed amending the resolution to allow for an up-or-down vote on the plan with no conditions, which led to a debate over whether or not the conditions give the board leverage or take it away.

The board’s second vice chairman, Ivan Mrakovcic, said he was worried approving the plan would lead to other instances in which developers would seek to take parkland without required mitigation, hinting at proposed plans for a Major League Soccer stadium in the park.

“Setting a bad precedent is my concern,” he said. “That’s why I’ll be voting no.”

Indeed, the plans for a soccer stadium —and the Willets West redevelopment project in Citi Field’s parking lot — were the elephants in the room during the meeting, with Woodhaven member Etienne David Adorno bluntly pointing that out.

“MLS, the Mets, those are the concerns we should be looking at,” he argued.

Joan DeCamp of Richmond Hill attempted to separate those plans from the USTA’s.

“I think there are serious encroachments coming in the park, but this is not it,” she said.

The vote was a shot in the arm for advocates looking to derail the USTA plans, especially after CB 7’s affirmative vote on Monday night.

“I think what they did here says something,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Parks Advocates and Save FMCP, noting that he was impressed by the board’s impassioned debate over the proposal.

Yes means no ... or yes ... or no

The CB 9 debate echoed that of CB 7 on Monday night, with procedural questions dominating most of the discussion. The board’s Parks Committee had previously recommended approving the USTA’s plans with stipulations, including a $15 million trust fund and $300,000 annual payment towards the Park’s upkeep, straight from the USTA’s coffers.

But advocates and at least one board member toyed with switching the motion to a contingency-based approval, which changes the board’s vote to a “No” if all its conditions are not met.

Board member Phil Konigsberg made an impassioned plea to vote the project down outright, referencing Monty Hall and “Let’s Make a Deal.”

“We’re talking about giving away parkland,” he said.

The yes-to-no switch language was ultimately met with resistance by the board’s leadership and other members.

“Our vote is advisory,” said First Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian. “At the end of the day, none of it matters; it’s a recommendation.”

The board ultimately approved the project with over a dozen stipulations, including funding and preferred access for the adjacent communities. The final tally was 30-6.

One night later, Community Board 4’s discussion resolutely focused on the most effective way to tell the USTA no.

It brought some level of confusion when the time came to tally votes on a motion to disapprove the USTA plans, with financial stipulations that mirrored CB 7’s as well as calls to restore the park’s trolley and other demands.

The linguistic conundrum confounded board members. In order to voice their disapproval, they needed to vote yes. After about 15 minutes of confusion, the final vote came back 36-0 shooting down the plan.

Who’s at ‘Fault’?”

Much like the community boards, elected officials could not agree on whether the USTA’s expansion proposal should be shut out completely or not.

The report “Double Fault” issued by the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a group that opposes development in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, claims that the tennis stadiums and the proposed projects do not help the residents of the borough.

According to the report, the median income for a tennis fan is $150,000, while a Queens resident’s median household income is about a third at $56,406. The report also says 80 percent of tennis fans are white while Queens’ makeup is only 50 percent white.

The report also makes note of the advertisers at the event that seems to say it caters to the rich: Mercedes-Benz, Ralph Lauren, Evian, Grey Goose and Emirates.

“I’ve never heard of any one from the church going to the tennis open,” said Father Darrell Dacosta of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Corona at the report’s launch last Friday. “I don’t think they can afford it.”

The USTA calls the report misleading. In an email, a spokesman said it hosts 100,000-participant programs with a large portion of those people from Queens.

“The USTA donates thousands of hours of free tennis programming to the local community each year and also refurbishes local tennis courts throughout other community parks.”

As for advertising, the USTA said its accounts were in line with stadiums nationwide, citing New Orleans’s Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The opposition group also said the proposal will remove 400 trees, install a dirty power plant and create more traffic. The USTA allegedly does not pay its employees fairly, according to the report.

It cited the tennis nonprofit’s own draft environmental impact statement as well as an ongoing lawsuit with some US Open umpires and line judges, as well as other source documents, mostly provided or filed by the USTA.

The organization refuted all such claims in a release following the press conference.

But the lawmakers were split on whether or not the project can be made palatable. Most echoed past calls for unionized labor, a fund dedicated to the park and replacement land.

But Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said he doesn’t like the proposal at all.

“I have a problem with giving away the parkland in general,” Dromm said.

Two weeks ago the city finalized a project to purchase one acre of parkland from the Garden School in Jackson Heights.

“It was a huge battle to get that one acre and now they want to just give away this land?” Dromm asked.

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