Borough President Helen Marshall hinted at her looming recommendations regarding the United States Tennis Association’s planned expansion within Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which now includes the possibility of replacing the 0.68 acre of parkland the nonprofit plans to use.
After facing six community boards, the plan sat with a split vote, with three in favor and three opposed. A procedural snafu may have saved the tennis nonprofit’s plan from a fourth no vote at the local level.
The USTA’s proposal reached the Borough Hall-stage of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure during a Borough Board hearing on Monday before it winds its way towards a vote in the City Council and a hearing before the City Planning Commission.
But the gathering abruptly ended with a touch of confusion, as the various community board chairmen and women and four City Council members left without conducting a vote due to the lack of a quorum.
The unusual move was propagated by a dearth of the 12 eligible voters needed, falling short by one City Council member. The math for a quorum calls for at least one person more than half of the 22 eligible voters in the USTA’s case. A dozen would have put a vote through — a vote the USTA may have lost.
The absence of 11 lawmakers came on a day when the City Council had no scheduled hearings after 2 p.m. and no stated meetings.
Councilmen Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Donovan Richards (D-Rosedale) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) were the only members of Queens’ council delegation at the meeting. All four were set to vote “No” on the project, according to a source close to the City Council who asked to remain anonymous. Had a fifth member of the council delegation arrived to reach a quorum, the three opposing community boards and four councilmen would have combined to deliver a 7-5 no vote, the source said.
The lack of a quorum did not come as a surprise to at least one person, as Marshall’s statement before the board indicated a lack of voters even though it was prepared ahead of the meeting.
A vote is not necessary in order to proceed with ULURP, and the borough president plans to submit a recommendation on Thursday.
Several members of the Borough Board said “Let’s vote anyway,” with some murmurs of phoned-in votes but those calls were quickly shot down by Community Board Director Barry Grodenchik, who invoked procedural rules in stopping a vote.
The absence of lawmakers came at a delicate time in the negotiations between the city and the USTA. Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) will be the guiding vote on the matter, as the USTA’s facilities fall within her district. Her vote at the Borough Board would have shown her cards too soon, sources say. And in the annals of councilmanic politics, it’s considered bad manners to speak out on an issue outside one’s district before the presiding lawmaker takes a stand. Which means bupkis for the USTA now that it’s moving on to the City Council.
The nonprofit is seeking approval to expand its National Tennis Center within Flushing Meadows Corona Park by adding two new stadiums and parking, while reconfiguring some of its grounds. The USTA also says its additions would require an additional .68 acre, which it initially claimed would not need to be replaced by an equal amount of parkland elsewhere.
But NTC Chief Operating Officer Danny Zausner said replacing the parkland is now an option, saying the idea was a repeated issue at community board meetings and “it needs to be explored.”
“I can tell you that I am insisting that any alienated parkland must be replaced,” Marshall said after the vote was scuttled. “Together, we will stay engaged in this issue as it makes its way through the ULURP process.”
And the park, whose condition has been at the heart of many upset pleas during public hearings?
“Central Park can’t touch us!” Marshall declared.