Under the basis of claims made in the suit citing the “public trust” doctrine designed to protect public parkland, plaintiffs in the case say the approval for the development from the City Council and Bloomberg Administration last year went without necessary authorization from the State Legislature.
Paul Graziano, co-founder of Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and a primary plaintiff in the lawsuit, has been fighting numerous development projects for a little more than a year since, he says, the Bloomberg Administration began pushing “legacy projects.”
“The group was founded partially in response to the Bloomberg Administration’s attempts to put three separate projects that were moving along at the same time,” Graziano said. “It was clear that there were giveaways to various organizations that Bloomberg had a relationship with.”
Graziano said while they have successfully fought developments that would take away parkland, like the proposal from Major League Soccer (MLS) to build a soccer stadium in the park, his main concern is that any green space taken for development must go through the proper process, and that replacement space is granted to benefit nearby residents.
He added that while it is true the space under question is a parking lot, the land still rests in designated parkland and should be treated as such.
“When you have and make parkland, it is permanent and it can only be used for park uses,” he said, citing a 1961 law – known as Administrative Case 18-118 - that authorized the construction of Shea Stadium in the park that allowed for a parking lot to support the success of the stadium.
“Citi Field was built without any building support. You can’t build something and say you want to build a mall on public parkland,” Graziano explained. “They would have had to build prior or in tandem as support services of Citi Field. The mall doesn’t support Citi Field.”
A spokesperson with the Queens Development Group (QDG), the developers awarded the roughly $3 billion real estate project, disputed claims made by Graziano and the plaintiffs in the case, citing the same Administrative Case 18-118.
"In 1961, the State Legislature acted to allow for commerce on this particular parcel, which is why the litigation is a baseless and sad attempt to keep a transformative neighborhood redevelopment from moving forward,” the QDG spokesperson said.
“This project will not only clean up toxic land, it will also create tens of thousands of jobs and provide the surrounding communities with much-needed amenities that will lead to the area’s bright future,” the spokesperson added.
Graziano said projects like the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) request for and additional .68 acres of park land for its expansion went through the proper process, but the mega mall at Willets Point has not followed the same requirements.
“It needs a request from from the city to the state, then it must be passed through the Senate and Assembly, and finally signed by the governor,” Graziano explained. “That was not done.”
State Senator Tony Avella has joined the lawsuit.
“I consider this protecting parkland that should be saved,” Avella said. “(Mayor Michael) Bloomberg thought he could give away parkland, and this is one of the most egregious situations.”
Avella said he recently proposed legislation that would ensure any parkland replaced in large development deals would be done in a way that would not alienate the residents who use the space.
“It’s hard to figure out whether the new administration is going to be in collaboration with this campaign rhetoric,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how the city responds.”
Geoffery Croft of NYC Park Advocates said the original deal to grant parkland to the Queens Development Group was a typical strategy of the former mayor, and accused the City Council for wrongfully delivering.
“It’s another one of these, ‘Bloomberg behind closed door deals’ to one of the county’s wealthiest developers,” Croft charged. “This was aided and abetted by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras in trading public parkland for a developer's donation, which is so egregious.”
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who was instrumental in negotiations on the project, said she would not make any comment on the lawsuit or accusations regarding the legitimacy of the project.