Residents urge CB 7 to oppose Tennis Center expansion

Residents urge CB 7 to oppose Tennis Center expansion
By Joe Anuta

A parade of residents and advocates against private development in Flushing Meadows Corona Park spoke en masse during Community Board 7’s Monday night meeting, even as the developers of a proposed soccer stadium chalked up more support on their side.

The board was set to meet with officials of the United States Tennis Association this week to discuss a proposed expansion of less than an acre of its Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the park, but since there would be no public comment period at the upcoming meeting, civic leaders and residents instead decided to speak to the board Monday.

“Enough is enough, the time has come to say no,” said longtime Queens activist Benjamin Haber. “Do not be swayed by the city Parks Department. Its treatment of Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a national disgrace.”

Haber was just one of a succession of speakers that lasted an hour. Nearly all of them spoke about the USTA’s planned expansion, in particular, and other concurrent development projects inside the borough’s largest park.

The USTA, Parks and consulting firm AKRF have prepared an outline of the project called a draft environmental impact statement. According to the statement, the project would require 0.68 acres of parkland, although the relocation of a road would eat up a further 0.3 acres.

In addition to their opposition to development of parkland for private gain, many of the speakers resented the idea that hundreds of trees would be cut down and replaced. They also cited the increased strain on the transportation infrastructure since the expansion plan would bring 100,000 extra fans to the US Open.

A member of Community Board 3, who was not speaking on behalf of the board, urged CB 7 to disapprove the plans and said his board planned to give the USTA a thumbs-down.

Many of the speakers were opposed not only to USTA’s expansion, but to other development in the park. A development group is proposing a 1.4-million-square-foot mall in the Citi Field parking lot, which is leased parkland, and Major League Soccer is hoping to put a 25,000-capacity stadium on top of the park’s Fountain of Industry.

Three major unions in the city — the Hotel Trades Council, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and 32BJ SEIU — announced their support Feb. 7 for the proposed 13-acre soccer stadium.

“The economy in Queens is still hurting. The recession is still taking a toll on middle- and lower-income families and it would be a shame for Queens to be shut out of such a tremendous opportunity for good jobs,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “That’s why we will fight to make sure this project is successful and benefits Queens’ working families.”

MLS has projected the stadium would create 2,000 construction jobs, but a proposal for a similarly sized stadium in Belmont on Long Island is projected to create only 500.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.