Rendering courtesy STUDIO V Architecture
By Connor Adams Sheets

The controversial plan to redevelop the downtown Flushing waterfront has been cast into the spotlight in recent days.

The issue resurfaced after many months of relative dormancy when the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp. announced recently that it had applied for and received a $1.5 million grant from the New York Department of State despite an ongoing investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into alleged state lobbying violations by the group.

The grant, disbursed through the department’s Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program, will pay for the LDC to complete a master plan and other work on a proposal to redevelop the 60-acre Flushing River waterfront brownfield area.

“We’re beginning a long-term project of planning for the future of Flushing,” the group’s leader, former Borough President Claire Shulman, said during a meeting about the plan Tuesday evening. “After we’ve met with everyone, we’ll come up with a plan for the future and for opening the waterfront so the community can enjoy it.”

In 2009, former state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began to investigate whether the LDC had violated state law by lobbying in support of the city’s $3 billion plan to redevelop Willets Point. A Schneiderman spokesman confirmed that the investigation was ongoing, according to The Wall Street Journal, but the group has said it did not commit a crime or break any ethical rules.

The city clerk’s office fined the LDC $59,090 — the largest fine issued by the office for lobbying issues by that date — in 2009 because Shulman did not properly file as a lobbyist. The group paid the fine but said it did not break any law.

Representatives for Willets Point United, a group of Willets Point property owners opposed to the city’s plan for the 62-acre area, are furious the state is awarding money to the group.

“In order to qualify to receive the grant in question, a community-based organization must represent a community having a demonstrated financial need,” wrote Gerald Antonacci, co-owner of Crown Container Co. and president of Willets Point United, in a letter to DiNapoli’s office.

He added later that “we believe that [the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s] dispersal of $1,505,700.00 to the LDC under all of the above described circumstances will materially and negatively impact the state’s reputation.”

Shulman said Tuesday she is glad Schneiderman is looking into the lobbying claims so that the issue can be put to bed.

“The attorney general has this. Hopefully, he’ll make a decision about what it’s all about. And it’s not just us. It’s the Economic Development Corp., who also lobbied, but they came after us, even though I was told I could lobby, so I finally registered. It’s going to be adjudicated to its final outcome now,” she said Tuesday. “With this project I’ve got to move forward, I’ve got to keep moving, and hopefully we’ll strike oil.”

The brownfield area is bounded by Northern Boulevard, Roosevelt Avenue, Prince Street and the Van Wyck Expressway.

The LDC’s vision for the riverfront is for it to include denser residential and commercial space, urban blocks, parks, an esplanade along the water and a bridge to Willets Point.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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