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Boro Board may halt Flushing Airport plan

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It is up to the Queens Borough Board whether the city can purchase the property, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said, unless the Economic Development Corp. pulls the proposal first.

"The EDC is very closed-mouthed about it," Avella said Tuesday. "I don't know if their strategy is to wait until things quiet down or withdraw this proposal."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month announced the EDC's selection of a Korean developer to build a 180-wholesale-business complex on the site of the defunct Flushing Airport.

EDC spokeswoman Janel Patterson said the developer is doing preliminary site planning and design and was scheduled to begin environmental, traffic and soil studies later this summer.

"The EDC's role in this is to work with the developer and community and all stakeholders team up with a project that is acceptable," she said. "It's all in negotiation, nothing is cast in stone."

Since the announcement, several elected officials who represent the area and community leaders have expressed their opposition to the project through a letter-writing campaign and a public protest on the site of the property Saturday.

Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said as far as he knew the EDC was still pursuing the project and beginning a six-month environmental review of the property in preparation for the development. The Flushing Airport falls within the boundaries of CB 7.

"We just want to tell the developer that if he continues with that development, it's not looking favorable from the community's response," he said.

Kelty would be one of the voting members of the Queens Borough Board, which comprises Queens' 14 Council members and the chairmen of all of the borough's community boards.

The project would be subject to a Community Board 7 vote before the borough board would have a say on the sale of the property.

A CB 7 vote has not yet been scheduled on the proposal.

In a sub-committee meeting of the community board earlier this year, Kelty said the group went on the record saying "no" to the wholesale business development on the site. He expects the community board to oppose the project.

Avella said he is contacting Council members from all over Queens to ensure the project fails.

"You can never be 100 percent sure, but I am fairly confident that my Queens colleagues will defeat this at the borough board," Avella said.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who stood beside Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the news conference announcing the development, said he would side with his fellow councilman if the proposal reached the borough board level.

"(Avella) asked me if I would back him up at the borough board and I told him that this a matter in his district," Liu said. "And I would surely defer to his judgment."

Liu said he attended the Bloomberg news conference in his capacity as chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee. Part of the proposal for the development includes $8 million worth of roadwork on the Linden Place exit off the Whitestone Expressway, which would connect to the ever-congested 20th Avenue.

State representatives such as Sens. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) were like Avella, were not invited.

"I have no idea why we were not invited, unless they were afraid of some of the questions we would ask," Stavisky said.

"I was absolutely appalled. Flushing Airport is in my senate district," she said. "I would have thought the Department of Economic Development would have invited me because I had been in touch with them."

On the council side, Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he spoke with Avella about the project and is waiting for an official memorandum in order to form his opinion.

"I'm leaning to support him to ensure that the community gets what they want," Comrie said. "I need to know more so I can be more informed. I want to support the community."

Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said Avella had not spoken to him about the project yet.

Borough President Helen Marshall expressed her concerns over the proposed development. Like other community leaders, she is worried about the potential traffic impact and the type of development.

The wholesale businesses would operate as import and export centers with the company name, Wholesale Distribution Development LLC. Residents in the area were hoping for a recreational facility on the site.

Marshall suggested a restaurant to service the many shoppers at the nearby 20th Avenue retail development.

"We need some kind of recreational activities," she said. She mentioned a family-style restaurant with arcade games.

"I looked at nearly all of the plans, and nearly all of the plans took into consideration recreation," she said. "I know the EDC is very concerned with creating jobs."

The business complex could bring as many as 420 work opportunities to the area.

Marshall believes the developer may be able accommodate both the developer's vision and the creation of facilities that would benefit area youth.

"It just depends on how creative they're willing to be," she said.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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