Saturday, September 7, 2013

Park and Deride: City Council Confronted on Parkland Issue

One of the more powerful moments in last Tuesday’s hearing - no, it didn’t come from CM Ferreras’s desultory and confused questions designed to cover up her intentions to throw all of the opponents under the EDC bus - came when Geoffrey Croft testified about the parkland issue. His testimony seemed to capture the attention of Chairman Comrie-and underscores the importance of the letter WPU has sent to Council legal eagle Elizabeth Fine asking that she render a legal opinion on the assertion by Corporation Counsel that a Robert Moses-inspired 1961 memorandum obviates the need for the land in question to go through the alienation process. Here is Croft’s testimony:

Good Afternoon,

My name is Geoffrey Croft, president and founder of NYC Park Advocates.

It is truly a sad day when we are talking about a plan that seizes 48 acres of public parkland in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park to allow one of the country's largest developers to build the largest mall New York City. 

Sounds inconceivable right?  Just when you thought this administration couldn't get any lower here we are today. 

The 48 acres of public parkland was NEVER part of the original plan in anyway. In any way and it certainly was never approved by the City Council.  This is nothing but an end run around the law and City Council will be complicit when you/if you rubber stamp its approval.   

If the 48 acres of public park land they are attempting to seize for the project are no longer needed for parking than it should revert back to its original use. This is what our elected officials should be pushing for instead allowing our public spaces to be given away to politically connected developers. 

The City Council has a legal obligation to protect public parkland and that certainly includes not giving it away to private developers.   There are a number of legal issues surrounding the attempted disposition of this public land.  Last week we were signatures on a letter, along with Willets Point United, which was sent to City Council lawyers Elizabeth Fine and Gary Altman requesting a legal opinion from the Council on these issues, a copy of which I have provided today.  

The City Council has a legal obligation to do its due diligence on this important issue before any decisions are made. It's telling that less than three minutes have been spent talking about the parkland during this hearing.  

Let's be very clear:  The 1961 statute that the city and the applicants are so desperately trying to rely on in order to justify being allowed to develop the public parkland for non-park purposes does not permit a shopping mall, much less a 1.4 million square foot mall.    

Administrative Code 18-118 explicitly states that any monies gained from a temporary lease on the property must go back into the property. Back Into The Property not line the pockets of Related or Sterling Equity. 

To quote the law directly, the revenue must aid "in the financing of the construction and operation of such stadium, grounds, parking areas and facilities, and any additions, alterations or improvements thereto, or to the equipment thereof." 

Clearly this is not the case unless the applicant is representing that this is being done to off-set unfortunate investments made by the Wilpons.  Is that the plan?

Clearly the intention of the law was not to allow any project to make a permanent claim on the parkland or its facilities, because the revenue was supposed to fund the property.

The law simply does not authorize the Willets West project. It does not enable use of the parking lot or authorize retail stores - and certainly something that is primarily a shopping mall.

The bill does say trade and commerce, but that obviously refers to conventions, not stores. Obviously a shopping mall was never intended as the bill language states.

The park land we are talking about here today for this irresponsible project was never alienated as required under state law nor are they planning to nor are they planning to replace it if approved. 

By law PARKS ARE NOT allowed to be used for such non-park purposes. In fact State law -which our elected officials have taken an oath to uphold - prohibit such commercial development.

If ever there was a poster child for non-park purposes-building the city's largest mall would be it. 

This is public park land and it does NOT belong to Mayor Bloomberg or to Seth Pinsky, the Related Companies or the Wilpons - it belongs to the people of the city of New York. 

The proposed giveaway of public park is being done simply to sweeten the deal for Related so they have a guaranteed revenue stream "up front" in order to help them off-set their investments in building the rest of the Willets Point.  

This is disgraceful.   This plan is about greed pure and simple. It is a nightmare for the residents of Queens in so many ways and for the city's taxpayers at large who are greatly subsidizing this project. 

The corporate welfare must end. 

Thank you