The United States Tennis Association’s planned expansion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park has hit a speed bump, as elected officials said their support is contingent upon the nonprofit finding suitable replacement parkland. The nonprofit’s plans do not include finding a replacement for the just-over half acre needed to modify its facilities.
“Parkland is precious. Once it’s lost, it’s lost forever,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) in a statement released by the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a collective of community groups opposing three major projects proposed for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, including the USTA Plan. “It is imperative that every inch of parkland that is taken away from public access by this USTA expansion must be replaced by comparable parkland nearby.”
The USTA’s planned expansion would include a new 15,000-seat stadium, a renovated grandstand and two parking garages. The tennis institution already has 46 acres of parkland; its proposal would require an additional 0.68 acre.
Typically, when parkland is lost to development projects, replacement acreage of equal size must be set aside elsewhere and approved at the city and state level. But because the USTA’s request is so small, additional improvements to the park were offered as an alternative.
“As we conceptualized the scope of our plan, we always understood and respected the importance of preserving Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and therefore our design calls for the least amount of additional parkland possible, just 0.68 acre, to complete the needed upgrade to the facilities at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center,” said Daniel Zausner, the USTA’s chief operating officer. “The sliver of land in question is mostly an existing asphalt road and the City of New York has determined that no replacement land is required. In lieu of replacing the land, the city intends to make additional improvements to the park.”
But Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) echoed Ferreras’ assertion.
“Open space is at a premium in many parts of Queens, particularly in the densely populated communities closest to the park,” Peralta said in a statement. “Although the USTA proposal calls for the alienation of less than an acre, every inch of newly alienated parkland needs to be replaced.”
The USTA’s proposal is currently undergoing the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which requires final approval via floor vote in the City Council. As a courtesy, council members defer to each other on matters outside their councilmanic districts. That makes Ferreras’ support, whose district includes Flushing Meadows Corona Park, key in seeing the expansion come to fruition.
“It would be very difficult for me to support any proposal to expand the USTA that does not include a proposal for replacement parkland,” she said.