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State backs Avella in quest for Flushing Airport plans

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City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has used the Freedom of...

By Cynthia Koons

The State Committee on Open Government concluded last week that the city Economic Development Corp. should have made the proposals for the Flushing Airport site accessible to the public.

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has used the Freedom of Information Law multiple times in order to view the rejected proposals for the Flushing Airport site.

The project that was accepted, a plan for a 180-business wholesale import and export complex, has stirred controversy in the surrounding community. Residents in College Point have requested additional recreation facilities on the site of the defunct Flushing Airport, a property that abuts the College Point Corporate Park on the Whitestone Expressway and 20th Avenue.

“EDC has consistently denied my requests for records concerning the request for proposals responses for the former Flushing Airport site,” Avella said. “In my opinion they violated the Freedom of Information Law in failing to share these records with me and thereby with the community.”

He was backed up by Robert Freeman, the executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, who wrote the decision on Avella’s request for information involving the airport property’s development.

“I believe the EDC’s denial of access is inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Law and its judicial interpreta­tion,” Freeman wrote. “In an effort to encourage the EDC to reconsider its determination and to avoid litigation, a copy of this opinion will be forwarded to Ms. Fensterman.”

Judy Fensterman is the appeals officer for the EDC. Representatives from the EDC did not return calls for comment.

Freeman said the decision was purely advisory, but that it still urges the EDC to be open with the documents in question.

“The question really is, in every instance, what would happen if the government had to disclose?” Freeman said in a phone interview. “My hope is that the EDC will consider it seriously and reconsider its response.”

Avella said this decision will allow him to pursue litigation if the EDC does not satisfactorily answer his latest FOIL request for access to the other proposals for that site.

In a meeting with the TimesLedger Newspapers earlier this month, Borough President Helen Marshall, who had a chance to view the competing proposals, said some of the designs for the site were out of the ordinary, but she would not specify how or why.

Avella said he has again requested access to the proposals in light of the state committee’s decision, which was dated June 14.

“I just think it’s disgraceful on EDC’s part,” Avella said. “They are a city agency. What the heck are they hiding?”

Freeman’s decision supports Avella’s sentiment.

“Although the EDC is a local development corporation created pursuant to the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, it gives effect and complies with the Freedom of Information Law,” the decision reads.

Freeman wrote that the EDC is required to respond to FOIL requests based on its status as an agency that performs a governmental function.

Using previous cases as precedent, Freeman said the EDC could not use the excuse that disclosing the names and proposals of other developers would “impair present or imminent contract awards or collective bargaining negotiations,” as the EDC has maintained in refusing to release the information.

Because the wholesale developer had been selected and a contract awarded, Freeman said that the RFP competition was over.

In previous interviews, representatives from the EDC maintained that the exact dollar amount for the sale of the property had not been negotiated yet and that the proposal was being redrafted to consider the community’s concerns. The community has requested more recreational space at the Flushing Airport site because of the amount of open space that has been eaten up by development over the past few years.

Community members, following Avella’s lead, have protested the development of the site as a wholesale business complex on three occasions by blocking the Linden Place access road to increase congestion in the area.

The EDC is conducting traffic studies in the area to determine the potential traffic impact of the project.

Avella said he is now awaiting a response to his latest FOIL request.

“They should be brought to account on behalf of the citizens of the city who they’re supposed to be responsive to,” he said. “They cannot keep getting away with making arbitrary decisions and hiding information from the public.”

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

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