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The Civic Scene: Civics again wage battle to save Flushing Meadows

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This year brings another development plan for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the civic associations are again organizing to prevent developers from building another commercial money-making project.

What was once a ash garbage dump is now a large park. Flushing Meadows Corona Park, like Cunningham Park, is the Saturday, Sunday and holiday backyard for thousands of Queens residents who have nothing but hot asphalt streets and cement sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

This green park is a venue for picnics, barbecues, walkers, baseball, football or soccer games. There are free ballfields, walking paths, growing trees to sit under, playgrounds, and a new dinosaur theme playground. There are boats to be rented, a zoo to be visited and the Queens Museum of Art with the Panorama of the City of New York, Queens Theater in the Park, the New York Hall of Science, and even an indoor ice skating rink.

About 15 years ago there was the plan by the then-Borough President Donald Manes to build a grand prix auto race track in the park. Community leaders objected and it never was built. Several years ago then-Mayor David Dinkins, who loved tennis, pushed through the construction of the large National Tennis Center. It looks modern and the international competition of the U.S. Open draws crowds and news coverage. The airplanes are rerouted away during competitions. However, the headquarters is out on Long Island and the cost to observe the tennis competition, like the ticket prices at Shea Stadium, is very expensive, more than the average working class user of the park can comfortably afford.

Money has been appropriated and construction has been continuing on a huge underground sewage storage tank so excess sewage can be stored. When there is too much runoff it can be treated later, instead of having have raw sewage released into Long Island Sound. Construction has been started on a combined swimming pool and ice hockey rink, also in the north east areas of the park. All these structures are on vacant land which is not near homes so there is no opposition from homeowners or other residents. Then there is the current construction of a $13.3 million recreation deck area at the former Aquacade site at Meadow Lake, which will feature a storytelling area a concession and comfort station.

I guess one could argue that the park has not had many improvements since the last World's Fair which left a few buildings and structures. Various ethnic groups do use the park on different summer weekends for their cultural events. They are free except for the food or goods one might buy from concessionaires who bring in portable food stands. What should be built in this big park for the people who wish to visit it?.

A group called NYC2012 has been formed with the idea o bringing the summer 2012 Olympics to New York City. They foresee glory, money and improvements for Queens and the rest of New York City. The problem is that no Olympics makes money. Yes, concessionaires many make money, jobs may be created — temporarily — and permanent facilities many be built, but in the end the bonds sold are usually not redeemed

The Kew Gardens Homeowners Civic and the Queens Civic Congress are opposed to the plan to combine the Meadows and Willow Lakes so that rowing and canoeing Olympic competitions can be held there. Willow Lake is a protected nature preserve and there are aquifers under it which stretch out into Long Island. There had been fears when the MTA extended its train yards to the edge of the lake and the area was used for cleaning graffiti off of trains using chemicals. I have not heard of any chemical problems but.....

Oh yes, a developer wanted to build apartment houses over Willow Lake several years ago. That was stopped.

Another problem is that Jewel Avenue cuts across the park and between the lakes so a new Jewel Avenue bridge would have to be built It is said that the bridge would cost $150 million and would take years and you know about cost overruns. Borough President Claire Shulman, who is financing the other projects, is opposed to this NYC2012 idea. There have been no public hearings although there was a walk-around the park with some residents. I guess we will hear more from the local civic associations and nature groups as time goes on. Oh, any money paid by a concessionaire does not go to the park but to the city coffers and as you know, the city does not give much money to our parks.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK

Fixing the zoning laws has become an issue among the candidates for Councilman Mike Abel's seat in Bayside, Whitestone and Bayside. Residents have complained at their civic association meetings so much about the “as of right” rule in the Zoning Resolution which permits community facilities to be built in one- and two-family neighborhoods, that the candidates realize this is a quality of life issue. Zoning is also an issue in Flushing where Councilwoman Julia Harrison will be succeeded, most likely by one of the candidates who were civic association leaders. They are familiar with the problems caused by the irresponsible zoning laws. Hopefully the concerns of the homeowners will be alleviated.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK

I just received a very disturbing phone call from a woman who picked up one of my civic newsletters in the Fresh Meadows library. She was networking to get help in finding a job. She is a single women with a daughter working and attending college. I was made aware of the problems caused by the downturn in the economy. She was laid off about six months ago from a computer job and can’t seem to find another position. Her unemployment benefits have run out and she is using her savings. I told her about the Queens Women’s Network and also suggested she talk to her City Council and state Assembly people so they can be aware of her needs and the state of the economy.

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