Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

A Manhattan consulting company often tapped for city development projects plays dual roles in Queens, having supported a nonprofit that advocates for the redevelopment of Willets Point, but also preparing the study that helps determine whether or not that development will go forward.

AKRF is a Manhattan-based environmental consulting firm that operates in several states around the Eastern Seaboard and specializes in environmental impact statements — studies on how development projects will affect the surrounding area by taking into account factors like changes to traffic, pollution and noise and the character of existing neighborhoods.

In New York City, these studies are used to inform legislative decisions on whether to grant approvals for projects like the $3 billion redevelopment in Willets Point, where private developers hope to replace the collection of junk yards and auto body shops with a large, mixed-use development.

AKRF is preparing the environmental impact statement for Willets Point. At a Sept. 27 public hearing in Corona, Linh Do, senior vice president at AKRF, walked a crowd through how the statement would proceed and solicited input on what the company should consider when preparing it.

But AKRF was also hired by the Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC, a nonprofit headed by former Borough President Claire Shulman.

The LDC has received state grant money to try and revitalize development along the Flushing waterfront west of downtown and across the Flushing River from Willets Point. After a bidding process, it selected AKRF to lead a team to perform environmental consulting and analyze ways the redevelopment of the area could move forward.

Do also spoke at a June meeting in Flushing where she updated the public on AKRF’s progress on this project.

In a subsequent interview, Do said the projects are completely separate, since they come from different sources, and that they present no conflict of interest on the part of AKRF, which as an industry leader is constantly juggling multiple projects.

“One doesn’t rely on the other,” she said. “They acknowledge each other. They are part of a longer term community planning process.”

Do said she is also constantly working on multiple projects, and gave both presentations because she is familiar with Queens and knows the community.

But according to 2011 filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC’s stated mission is to “conduct outreach and obtain support for economic initiatives in the redevelopment of Willets Point, Flushing and Corona.”

And on the nonprofit’s website, AKRF is listed as one of its community supporters under a heading that reads: “Thanks to their generous support, the LDC is able to vigorously pursue exciting development initiatives for the greater Flushing Willets Point Corona area.”

In 2009, AKRF was a sponsor of a gala put on by the LDC, according to Nicholas Roberts, a project manager at the nonprofit, and Do said she volunteers time to brief the nonprofit on the progress of the Flushing waterfront project.

In July, Shulman’s LDC was also found to have illegally lobbied city legislators by attempting to curry favor for the Willets Point project while being legally barred from doing so, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

But Roberts said the LDC has not been involved with the Willets Point project since it initially was approved by the City Council in 2008, a year before AKRF was a gala sponsor.

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

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