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City to renegotiate leases at airports amid concern

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The Queens Borough Board voted to allow the city to renegotiate the leases at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports Monday, but community leaders are concerned money earmarked for borough transit projects will not go far enough.

The city Economic Development Corporation is still hammering out details with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on the lease renewal agreement announced in October, and the representatives at the borough board voted in favor of negotiations despite some concerns.

The deal allows the PA to operate Kennedy and LaGuardia airports on city-owned land through 2050, increases the annual rent payment to a minimum of $93.5 million, and includes $50 million for transportation projects in Queens, said Steve Jacobs, vice president in the EDC’s transportation division. It also gives the borough and city greater control over the airports through an Airport Board and community advisory board, he told Monday night’s meeting.

The EDC and the PA have signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the major points of the lease deal as announced in October, Jacobs said. The city must go through its own uniformed land use review process before officially signing the deal to supersede the lease slated to expire in 2015, he said.

“It is important to ensure economic development and investment at the airports that we address the lease renewal now,” he said.

The deal would provide an initial payment of $700 million to the city, including a $500 million lump sum to cover back rent.

Queens would also get an additional $50 million over five years — or $10 million a year — for transportation projects. Eligible projects will ultimately be decided by the mayor, with input from a community advisory board, Jacobs said.

Some wondered why the funds would come in for just five years while the lease would not expire until 2050.

“The impact of the lease if for 46 years, but the money for Queens is only for five years,” said a representative from Community Board 14 in the Rockaways. “Why isn’t the payment for the life of the lease? Ten million dollars should not be for five years, but for 46 years.”

The Airport Board, comprised of four PA representatives and four city representatives, will be responsible for reviewing several aspects of airport operation, including capital plans, standards and policies and service agreements with city and state agencies. It will also make an effort to involve the community, particularly Queens residents living around the airports, Jacobs said.

Marshall announced Monday that the Queens borough president will have a permanent seat on the board as one of the city representatives.

“Helen Marshall will be the person on the board who is the community outreach person,” he said.

Marshall, who lobbied Mayor Michael Bloomberg to assign a permanent seat to the borough president, also plans to create a community advisory board to concentration talking to community groups and reporting back to the Airport Board, she said.

“There must be a constant flow of exchange,” she said. “This will be an important venue in the decision making process.”

The advisory boards will enable community boards to voice concerns unique to their area, such as Board 13’s worries over protecting the wetlands and green space at Idlewild Park, which borders the airport.

“Community Board 13 voted with some very serious concerns about protecting very sensitive areas within the board,” he said. “The area just cannot withstand any more development. We need our parklands. We need our wetlands.”

But some community boards which did not get to vote on the application Monday were concerned they would also be left out of the lease negotiations and benefits.

“We’re on the approach pattern to LaGuardia Airport,” said Joe Conley, chairman of Board 2 in Woodside.

Jacobs explained that the ULURP application only requires input from the boards directly bordering the airports.

“This shouldn’t preclude you from participating in the community advisory board,” he said.

Others, including Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), were concerned that involving all the community boards would mean each area would get a smaller piece of the transportation funds.

“I’m concerned about the meager amount of money that Queens is getting,” he said. “If we put everyone in, then you need to increase the money. How are we going to divide that money fairly?”

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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