By Cynthia Koons
“We need to send a very clear message to the mayor that this project is dead on arrival,” Avella said Feb. 25 of the proposal for a wholesale business center on the lot that once housed the Flushing Airport but has been abandoned for more than 20 years.
He has sent the same message to Mayor Michael Bloomberg through letters over the past few weeks, ever since the mayor joined Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) in the College Point Corporate Park on Feb. 2 to announce the plan. Avella was not invited to the unveiling of the proposal even though the airport falls within his council district.
Since the announcement, Avella has sided with College Point and Whitestone community leaders and activists who have decried the project for its potential to increase congestion on the perpetually crowded 20th Avenue. The airport property fronts 20th Avenue and spans the Whitestone Expressway.
“It takes 20 minutes to get out of College Point now,” Community Board 7 member Rocco D'Erasmo said. “It will take an hour with this development.”
The city promised the completion of an $8 million road extension from the Linden place exit of the Whitestone Expressway through to 20th Avenue in order to alleviate additional traffic pressures posed by the operation with 180 wholesalers.
“The city is tying this airport project to the Linden Place (extension) and that's blackmail,” Avella said. “You're dealing with the needs of the community (in regards to) the traffic impact as it is now.”
Liu, who Avella criticized in previous letters opposing the project, said he attended the Flushing Airport project announcement to promote the road extension in his capacity as chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee.
But other civic leaders contend the necessary roadwork was little consolation for the development of the wholesale complex.
“The DOT is constantly turning a deaf ear to this community,” Joe Governale, a CB 7 member and Whitestone resident, said.
Avella also raised the issue of wetlands on the property. Nearly 35 of the roughly 87-acre site is already preserved as wetlands, Fred Mazzarello of the College Point Board of Trade said. Portions of the remaining property are submerged in water, Avella said, and he worries that this will impede the development of the land.
“There's no substance to the soil conditions here,” he said.
He said the developer would have to install pilings in the land before building and that it was more than likely those pilings would sink.
Avella and civic leaders asserted that light recreation would be better for the area than more commercial development.
The neighborhood has already spent nearly seven years without ballfields after the construction of the College Point Sports Complex was halted because of illegal dumping on the site.
Avella, who was president of the College Point Sports Association when the dumping occurred, came under fire from the mayor two weeks ago for protesting the development. The developer, through the Economic Development Corp., has promised $100,000 toward future construction at the sports park.
Avella was president of the organization that was overseeing the construction of the ballfields when the city discovered illegally dumped fill at the site and took responsibility for the ballfields project. The fields been closed since at least 1997, when the city padlocked them.
The councilman continues to hold his ground and stand behind community leaders in opposing this project.
“It's about time the city ought to think about the residents,” he said. “Not it's profit.”
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger or call (718) 229-0300, Ext. 141.