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Flushing Airport proposal draws hundreds in protest

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About 400 people clogged the intersection of 20th Avenue and the Whitestone Expressway service road Saturday afternoon to protest the city’s plan to bring 180 wholesale businesses to the former Flushing Airport site.

The hundreds of community members marched back and forth across the crossing, disrupting an already heavily congested roadway and saying the city Economic Development Corp. proposal would only bring more truck traffic to the streets.

“This administration, the previous administration and the administration before that have done absolutely nothing about the traffic problems in this community,” said Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who organized Saturday’s rally. “It has to change and it has to change before we put anything on the Flushing Airport.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the $175 million project early last month. The plan calls for several buildings to be constructed on 26 acres of the defunct Flushing Airport. Each building would house up to 75 wholesale businesses, and the proposal could bring 1,000 new and existing jobs to the area.

But critics say the truck traffic that would follow the businesses would cripple the community. Flushing Airport abuts the College Point Corporate Park at 20th Avenue and the roads are already jammed.

“The traffic would be horrendous — just beyond belief,” said John Frank, a Whitestone resident and member of Community Board 7. “It would be a parking lot.”

The city plan, which must still face the community and borough board approval process, does include an $8 million road extension from the Linden Place exit of the Whitestone Expressway to alleviate the congestion. But state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said the provision does not go far enough.

“We’ve got to have roads to handle all the excess traffic,” she said. “I’m trying to encourage them to expand the proposal and put the roads in first.”

Avella, Stavisky and state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) blasted Bloomberg and the Economic Development Corp. for not communicating with them. The three, who represent the airport site, were not invited to Bloomberg’s announcement and their input on the plan was never sought, Mayersohn said.

“This came as a complete surprise to all of us,” she said. “They never asked us what would happen if this went through. It was as if we didn’t exist. We’re here to say we do exist and you better start paying attention to us.”

The 400 protesters added to the traffic woes Saturday, marching across the busy streets as a symbol of the problems to come should the plan go through. A police officer from the 109th Precinct called for additional officers to contain the crowd and help them cross safely.

“I understand you have a goal, but I cannot have people walking in the middle of traffic,” the officer told Avella. “I need them on the street corner until I can get more personnel here to assist me. People do not obey the traffic signals here as it is.”

But the protesters were concerned about the use of the site. The 26-acre plot was designated for industrial or light recreational use, and many were hoping for parkland. The business plan does incorporate a nature trail but no other facilities.

“We’re not going to put up with this anymore,” Avella said. “It’s about time we got something from the corporate park besides traffic.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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