City council committee to look at air cargo plan

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The debate over two proposed air cargo warehouses adjacent to John F. Kennedy Airport raged on Monday night when representatives from the New York City Economic Development Corporation visited Community Board 13.

EDC representative Steven Jacobs said the city would like to sell 25.4 acres of undeveloped parkland, located along the northeastern border of JFK, to International Airport Centers, a Chicago-based air cargo development group.

But the proposal has enraged community groups like the Eastern Queens Alliance, a group of five civic associations from Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens and surrounding areas.

In October, Community Board 13 voted unanimously against rezoning the parkland so the warehouses could be built. Board members were concerned about potential traffic, flooding, and pollution that could come from the site, which is adjacent to Rockaway Boulevard.

Community Board 13 covers the parkland, Jamaica and South Jamaica.

At Monday's meeting, Jacobs tried to reassure the board that the warehouses' construction would be good for Queens. Jacobs said the project would create 1,200 new permanent jobs and hundreds of temporary ones during construction.

But CB 13 chairwoman Susan Noreika and other members wanted to know if those jobs would go to southeastern Queens residents or if IAC would at least offer some community outreach.

"I would like you to discuss with your group [the EDC] how you can give community members first pick," Noreika said. "If you are moving into the neighborhood, you are going to have to do an outreach program."

Jacobs said the jobs would be available to the general population of New York City and would go to the most qualified applicants, but when several board members continued to protest, he agreed to a private meeting with Noreika to discuss community outreach.

Questions about the location for the air cargo site within the park were also fielded, but Jacobs defended the location of the project, saying the site was chosen because it is 2,000 feet away from residential areas.

Several board members as well as the Eastern Queens Alliance have raised concerns that the project has not been properly evaluated from an environmental perspective. The rezoning of the parkland, which has some wetlands, is of particular concern to the Eastern Queens Alliance.

The EDC published an Environmental Assessment Statement on the project, and said it has undergone a "full environmental review," Jacobs said. But the Eastern Queens Alliance has called for a New York State Environmental Quality Review.

The Eastern Queens Alliance has also asked that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review the history and present a report on the condition of the wetlands and park area in southeastern Queens.

Meanwhile, Jacobs and fellow EDC representative Hardy Adasko maintained that the land is not unspoiled wilderness.

"This park site with its history is not a prestigious park or wetland," Adasko said. "It was a dump, a damaged area and instead of it being unused, at least 1,000 people will be employed there if the project is implemented."

The proposal will go before the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchise of the City Council's Land Use Committee Friday and before the full land use committee Monday. It will be heard by the Borough Review Board Feb. 20.

The City Council is expected to make a final decision on the proposal by March.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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