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USTA project dodges vote

TimesLedger Newspapers

The United State Tennis Association’s proposal to expand its Flushing Meadows Corona Park facility made its way through the borough president’s office this week, but no formal vote was taken.

Last week, Borough President Helen Marshall hosted a controversial public hearing on the plan, which seeks to add 0.68 acres of parkland into the lease of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where she sometimes interrupted people testifying to defend her record on the park.

“I am not supporting it. I have to see what they are talking about,” Marshall said during the testimony of longtime Queens activist Benjamin Haber, who opposes the plan.

“You will support it ... now let me finish,” Haber countered.

At a later meeting of the Borough Board, where the borough president is supposed to weigh in on the proposal, not enough City Council members were present to constitute a quorum, which is the legally minimum number of voters. In this case, aside from Marshall and the heads of the six affected community boards, five Council members were needed. Only four were present, which irked Edwin Westley, of Community Board 3.

“It was very disheartening for all of us who worked very hard,” he said. “Because essentially what happened was the community votes were not recognized by the borough. It was a report card never received.”

Out of the six affected community boards, three voted against the project and three voted in favor with certain conditions, including setting up a maintenance fund for the park.

Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Marshall, said she will still pass on her recommendation to the Department of City Planning, the next step before the Council votes whether or not to approve the plan.

“I can tell you that I am insisting that any alienated parkland must be replaced,” Marshall said at the meeting.

The USTA recently alluded it would be open to replacing the 0.68 acres of parkland after calls from activists that not doing so would set a dangerous precedent.

“Our goal is to continue to be good stewards of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Throughout this land use review process we’ve been seeking input and recommendations from the local Queens communities and elected officials – those recommendations have included calls for a land swap and the establishment of a conservancy,” said Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer of the National Tennis Center.

The idea of parkland replacement seems to align more with the demands of some advocacy groups and several elected officials, including state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), who said he would require it as part of signing off on the project at the state level.

But for park advocates who do not want to see anymore parkland being taken away, it was a moot point.

“By insisting on these so-called concessions, they are going to provide cover for supporting it,” said Geoffrey Croft, of New York City Park Advocates. “The replacement parkland is not an issue for people trying to protect the park.”

Activist Robert LoScalzo testified that as part of the formal land-use process, the USTA had to explore options to build without expanding 0.68 acres into the park and indeed came up with such a plan.

But the USTA contends it is not feasible and it needs the extra sliver of parkland to get spectators at the annual US Open around the facility.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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