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100s rally at St. John’s to keep Mets’ fields out

Community leaders and state politicians held a rally Sunday against a proposed plan to build baseball fields on the St. John's University campus for a New York Mets minor league baseball team.

More than 300 Queens residents expressed their anger over the plan to build the structure along Utopia Parkway and 80th Drive. Community members and civic groups from the residential neighborhood say the stadium will affect the quality of their lives.

Barry Weinberg, a Jamaica Estates resident, said in a telephone interview that the expected 35 home games per year at the stadium would bring unwanted noise, crowd, pollution, lights and vendors to an already congested area.

New York City, the Mets and St. John's University announced their plans to build the 3,500-seat stadium on the university's campus earlier this year after the Mets ran into problems when they sought to build on the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn.

The proposed $5.5 million stadium, which will be financed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and house a Mets minor league class A-team, is scheduled for completion in June. The plan calls for the Mets team to use the stadium for two years before they move to a permanent site at the old Steeple Chase Park in Brooklyn. The stadium would then revert to St. John's ownership.

Weinberg said surrounding communities are concerned because the Mets, the city, and St. John's have not done environmental or impact studies on the stadium's effect on local neighborhoods.

"It seems that the only people protecting us are the state legislators," Weinberg said. "Where are our city legislators? They do not return our phone calls."

Further discussion on the controversial stadium was on the agenda of Community Board 8's monthly meeting scheduled Wednesday night.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) announced Monday that a lawsuit has been filed in State Supreme Court in Queens seeking to prevent the ballfield at St. John's from being developed as a commercial stadium by the Mets.

Padavan and state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) along with community civic associations from Jamaica Estates, Hillcrest Estates Flushing Heights and the Queens Civic Congress filed the action against New York City, the Economic Development Corporation and the university.

According to Padavan, the suit contends that the city's plan to spend millions of dollars to convert the college ballfields into a professional baseball stadium violates city zoning laws, state environmental laws, city planning laws and the U.S. and state constitutions.

"This is something we are going to pursue until we win because we can't afford to lose," said Weinberg.

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