USTA plan gets off to a shaky start at CBs

USTA plan gets off to a shaky start at CBs
Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Community boards voted this week on the United States Tennis Center’s proposal to expand its footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and attempted to put their mark on the possible end result, while a lawmaker with legislative power has demanded the lost parkland be replaced.

The USTA is seeking to expand the lease for its Billie Jean King National Tennis Center by 0.68 acres in order to rebuild one stadium, construct another and put in two parking garages on top of current asphalt lots.

The controversial proposal was making its way through all six affected community boards this week, which have an advisory vote. In a packed meeting Monday night, Community Board 7 in Flushing voted 30-6 to approve the proposal on several conditions, which included a requirement the USTA set up a $15 million capital fund and contribute $300,000 annually to a maintenance fund.

CB 4 in Corona voted to disapprove the application unless similar conditions were made, while CB 9 in Kew Gardens simply voted against it. Conditions are nonbinding, and in 1993 boards voted to approve the USTA’s earlier expansion with many stipulations, according to a report from the City Planning Commission, but many were never met.

The other boards were set to make a decision after TimesLedger Newspapers went to press.

In addition to the community boards, the borough president and the City Planning Commission also get to weigh in on the project before it goes to the City Council for a vote.

The Council not only has the final say on the proposal, it must also pass a piece of legislation asking the state to transfer the parkland to the USTA’s lease. Then the state Legislature must pass its own bill, according to state law. The National Park Service has oversight of the park due to a decades-old federal investment.

The Park Service told TimesLedger that its normally strict requirements for parkland replacement do not apply to the USTA since it is a public facility.

Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner of planning and natural resources at the city Parks Department, has said the USTA will contribute a yet-to-be-decided compensation package to the community rather than replace the parkland, contending it is open to the public 11 months out of the year.

Daniel Zausner, managing director of the National Tennis Center encouraged the boards to offer ideas for the compensation, and there was no shortage of suggestions, but the USTA is not considering replacing parkland.

In New York state it is unprecedented to take away parkland, called alienation, and not receive acreage in return, groups opposed to the USTA expansion say.

State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) has demanded it. And he may hold the power to get what he wants.

“I believe that we have a history of showing that when parkland is alienated, we replace it,” Aubry said. “We don’t want to set any new precedents about private or not-for-profit entities to be able to buy their way out of that process.”

Aubry, who said he respects the USTA and supports the idea of the expansion, will probably be the sponsor of the state bill, but will only do so if the land is replaced. State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) has also said that the USTA should replace the parkland, and at a rally last Friday held by the Fairness Coalition of Queens, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said the USTA “needs to replace every inch of parkland they take.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.