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Point of View: Electeds must work out deal on Flushing Airport

I thought it was a done deal when Mayor...

By George Tsai

In early May, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) sent a letter to his constituents to voice his opposition to the controversial proposal to turn the former Flushing Airport into a wholesale distribution center.

I thought it was a done deal when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the plan on Feb. 3 in the College Point Corporate Park. And I applauded the proposed development in that it would create jobs.

Shortly after Bloomberg’s announcement, however, City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and a handful of the area’s residents staged an on-site protest. The reason? Such a development would lower the quality of life of communities surrounding it.

This desolate airport with tall weeds and water is within Avella’s jurisdiction. I doubt the mayor consulted the councilman before making his announcement.

As time goes by, there will be more pros and cons on this issue.

Nobody can predict which side is going to win. As I see it, the issue has become a political football and is unlikely to be solved in the foreseeable future. In fact, the development is by no means a priority on the city’s agenda.

I don’t think that during his current tenure, Bloomberg can achieve what he has proposed for this parcel of land. The project may lie dormant for months.

The opponents’ main concerns are increased truck traffic, noise and pollution in the tri-town area of Flushing, College Point and Whitestone.

These issues, of course, would affect the quality of life of residents in those communities.

If new jobs outweigh those concerns, then the development should proceed. The proposed 585,000-square-foot center could create scores of jobs in this area and increase tax revenues for local governments; therefore, city officials, politicians and community leaders must work out a compromise that would be acceptable to all sides.

Unquestionably, 20th Avenue is a heavily traveled road because of the mall featuring Target, Circuit City and BJ’s. The proposed development is right across from the mall. So the main entrance of the distribution center, if approved, should be on the other side of the 26-acre lot. Besides, the center should be close to the Whitestone Expressway, keeping a distance from houses in College Point.

In his letter, Padavan said he talked with the mayor about the issue; he said he also brought to the attention of the city and Economic Development Corp. that they were not in compliance with their own guidelines, which state that development proposals should meet a recreational need in the community and be of benefit to community residents. “This proposal is neither,” he said.

Speaking of recreation, there is no shortage of that in College Point. The Multiplex Cinemas is only a few hundred yards from the site and there is a brand new ballfield nearby. And right behind Waldbaum’s supermarket is a huge parcel of land called College Point Plaza, which can be used for various sports activities, including soccer.

In addition, MacNeil Park by the East River is about a 20-minute walk from any point in town, and not far from there is an abandoned L-shaped pier for anglers. With current density of population, College Point doesn’t need an additional field for recreation.

I have not read or heard any report that local residents wanted to make this abandoned airport a recreational area before the mayor’s announcement.

According to the proposal, the center would consist of six buildings each housing about 30 businesses, mainly selling clothes and toys.

For the sake of fairness, I prefer a multiethnic business district to a wholesale center run by one group, despite that a Korean developer has won the bid. Let’s set an example and make it a small melting pot.

In an April 21 Newsday story, Padavan said that before the city chose the wholesalers from competing bids, the EDC had promised it would pick a project that would directly benefit residents and the community.

“They are in violation of both of their prerequisites. First, there’s no benefit to the local community. Second, there’s no benefit to Whitestone or College Point.”

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