Airport plan opposed by College Point

By Cynthia Koons

Using the words “horrendous,” “nightmare” and “blind-sided,” civic leaders sent impassioned letters to the mayor last week urging him to table the latest development plan for the College Point Corporate Park.

Standing behind them was the College Point corporate task force of Community Board 7, which unanimously declared its opposition to the development plans for the defunct airport site last week.

“We think it's a wrong use,” CB 7 member Chuck Apelian said. “This was just something that was going to generate huge amounts of truck traffic. We felt that Linden Place should be constructed regardless as soon as possible.”

Civic leaders said the extension of Linden Place from the Whitestone Expressway to 20th Avenue along the eastern boundary of the corporate park must be completed whether or not the airport site is developed.

On Feb. 3, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stopped in College Point to announce the sale of the Flushing Airport, a property adjacent to the College Point Corporate Park that is partially covered in wetlands and entirely out of use.

The plans include the construction of a $175 million, 180-business complex to be owned by mostly Korean business people. The developer, College Point Wholesale Distribution Development LLC, also earmarked $100,000 for a contribution to the construction at the College Point sports park.

Development is also contingent on the city's promise to funnel $8 million into the extension of Linden Place.

Plans for the roadway, community leaders say, are necessary even without the development of a business complex in the corporate park.

“The enormous 20th Avenue shopping mall, which faces the project in question, has already created significant traffic problems,” state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said in a letter to the mayor. “Without any doubt, local residents have already experienced a diminution of their quality of life and the exasperating experience of being victims of vehicular and truck traffic coming from every direction.”

His letter, dated Feb. 18, came after Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) slammed the project in a letter to Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who stood alongside the mayor at the announcement in his capacity of chairman of the Transportation Committee.

In a subsequent letter, state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) were co-signers of a letter from Avella to the mayor addressing the potential traffic complications.

“We feel that new construction must be tabled until the horrendous traffic problems that have been created by large-scale development of the College Point Corporate Park are resolved,” they wrote.

“This area has seen tremendous development over the last decade,” they said in their letter to the mayor. “Unfortunately, despite repeated requests (predating your administration) from those of us who represent College Point and Whitestone, there was never a plan for changes in the transportation infrastructure.”

They noted that the College Point community is only accessible from College Point Boulevard, Linden Place, 20th Avenue and 14th Avenue.

“Increased truck traffic as well as thousands of customers converging on the area have turned this quiet community into a frenzied urban center,” the three representatives wrote.

Janel Patterson, a vice president for the Economic Development Corp., which manages the development of the College Point Corporate Park, said there was a chance the EDC could pull the plug on the project. As it stood last Thursday, she said the city was not halting its proposal just yet.

“We think it's a good project,” she said. “We are proceeding with the project. It's very early. It has to go through all the public approvals.”

Apelian said CB 7's vote on the project was not yet scheduled. At the task force meeting last week, he said nearly 50 people spoke against the development. Normally, there are no more than 10 people at those meetings, he said.

“The resolution (we) sent back to the administration was that we're very disappointed and we don't want to see this use,” he said.

Since the announcement, community leaders from College Point and Whitestone have criticized the city for not supporting a project with some light recreational use.

“I realized the benefits of the project were all lopsided in favor of the city, with little or no significant benefits attributed to the overall College Point community,” College Point Board of Trade President Fred Mazzarello wrote in a letter to the EDC. “The College Point community desperately needs recreational facilities, which was one of the original considerations requested of your agency.”

College Point has lacked ballfields since 1997, when the city closed the College Point Sports Park after illegal dumping was discovered on the construction site of the baseball fields.

In his letter, Mazzarello pointed to a part of the EDC's guidelines for the Flushing Airport project that says: “In part, the intent of the plan is to ensure that the area be developed in a manner with or beneficial to the surrounding community.”

The mayor's office did not return calls for comment.

Last week, however, the mayor criticized Avella for his involvement in the illegal dumping on the site of the ballfields and said Avella was responsible for the $16.5 million it cost the city to repair the fields. Avella was president of the College Point Sports Association when debris was discovered and the fields were closed to the 1,300 children who played there.

The ballfields are still under construction seven years later and were scheduled to reopen this spring. Disputes between the city and the contractors have caused further delays in the park's reconstruction.

In the proposal, the wholesale developer promised College Point residents $100,000 toward the park's construction. However, however, no part of the 23-acre Flushing Airport site has been set aside for recreational uses.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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