By Cynthia Koons
No sooner had the mayor’s car pulled out of the College Point Corporate Park than a maelstrom of controversy was unleashed over the proposed wholesale business park for the Flushing Airport site.
Leading the opposition by writing letters, filing a Freedom of Information Act request and planning a protest was Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who was not invited to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press conference at the College Point Corporate Park on Feb. 3.
Instead, Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) stood beside the mayor while he announced the creation of the $175 million, 180-business complex, to be owned by mostly Korean business people, at the site of the defunct Flushing Airport.
“You took it upon yourself to speak for tens of thousands of residents whom you do not represent,” Avella said in a letter addressed to Liu and signed by 10 other College Point and Whitestone civic leaders. “Proclaiming your support for a wholesale development project consisting of 180 businesses without consulting with the community or the appropriate local elected officials was unconscionable.”
Liu said he received the letter and was disappointed that he could not speak with Avella personally about the issue. The two councilmen have scheduled a meeting for Friday.
“I can understand his frustration, but unfortunately some of his frustrations are misdirected at me,” Liu said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s based on misinformation that we all could have avoided if he had simply returned my phone calls over the past couple of months.”
Liu addressed the Community Board 7 meeting on Feb. 9 to inform his constituents that he only attended the news conference in his capacity as Transportation Committee chairman and that he was at the event to endorse the city’s $8 million extension of Linden Place, which is part of the proposal.
“That is something that is completely outside my district,” Liu said Tuesday. “I completely support the project as it pertains to building a new road from Linden Place.”
Avella was dissatisfied with this response. He believes the road extension is a meager solution to a potentially alarming increase in truck traffic.
“Just doing that now is necessary to help address some of the existing traffic conditions,” Avella said. Liu also said the road project is long overdue.
Avella is concerned that a wholesale import and export center is going to attract a large number of tractor trailers.
He also said by looking at the way the buildings are designed, it appears that the wholesale distributors will operate small retail businesses out of the storefronts of their facilities.
“From what I understand, the businesses that exist now in Lower Manhattan have storefront operations,” he said of the companies that are going to relocate to College Point. “If they do that (in College Point), it’s retail, which will violate the RFP.”
The RFP, or request for proposals, stated that the allowable projects for that property include industrial and light recreational development — not retail.
Other community leaders spoke out against the plan’s lack of recreational space in light of the College Point Sports Park’s ballfields being closed down for six years. The sports park restoration project is currently underway, but has been slowed by several conflicts between the city and contractors in the past year.
The College Point Wholesale Distribution Development LLC, the company that purchased the airport property, said it would contribute $100,000 toward new construction at the College Point Sports Park, which has been closed since late 1997. The park was the site of illegal dumping in the late 1990s and has since been closed, leaving 1,300 children without a place to play baseball, softball and roller hockey.
Avella, who was president of the College Point Sports Association when the dumping occurred, was admonished by the mayor for that very fact.
“If Tony Avella really wants to help the community, he should pay back the taxpayers for the $16.5 million he cost the city when he oversaw illegal dumping in College Point,” said Jordan Boritz, a spokesman for the Bloomberg.
Paul Graziano, a civic leader from Flushing, said the $100,000 contribution would not compensate for developing the airport property without recreational facilities.
“That $100,000 is a joke. It’s a $175 million project,” he said. “This whole thing was a back-room deal. It was against what the RFP was meant to propose.”
Many local leaders are concerned about the preservation of wetlands at the site of the former airport. Part of the site is already earmarked for conservation, while the remainder of the property will be developed into the business complex.
Graziano said that with this proposal, there is a risk that much of the wetlands will be destroyed.
“There’s going to be serious degradation of the wetlands they’ve just saved,” he said.
The plan will have to be approved by CB 7 and the Borough Board in order to be finalized. Avella said he is urging his Borough Board colleagues to vote against the proposal. He also said he and his fellow civic leaders have begun talking with an attorney to determine whether or not they can effectively pursue litigation to stop the development.
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.