2004-10-21 / Front Page

Successful In Blocking C.P. Distribution Center Plan

by john toscano


Gathered for a protest that turned into a victory rally last Saturday were (l. to r.): Helen Mazzarello, Fred Mazzarello, president of the College Point Board of Trade, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn, City Councilmember Tony Avella and Father Marcello Latona, pastor, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church.
Gathered for a protest that turned into a victory rally last Saturday were (l. to r.): Helen Mazzarello, Fred Mazzarello, president of the College Point Board of Trade, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn, City Councilmember Tony Avella and Father Marcello Latona, pastor, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church. It was supposed to have been another rally against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for a wholesale distribution complex in College Point Corporate Park, but before the event was hardly underway, it turned into a victory celebration. The mayor had announced that he was abandoning the project, ending the controversial eight-month-long battle by the community to block the $200-million-plus plan.

Instead, amidst the joy of celebrating forcing the mayor to back down on the project planned at the former Flushing Airport, the talk turned to alternate development proposals for the 26-acre site.

City Councilmember Tony Avella, who had led some residents in opposition to the distribution center, focused on a light recreation kind of development that wouldn’t add to the traffic in the area, the main criticism of the distribution center project by the community.

Avella (D–Bayside) recalled that prior to the emergence of the distribution center proposal two years ago, he had floated an idea before the city Economic Development Corporation, which was seeking to develop the site.

“I had proposed at an EDC meeting to have a developer build a park there, including a golf driving range and a miniature golf putting setup. When completed it would be turned over to the city as a public park.

“That’s the thing we’d like to see. All the community has ever gotten out of the corporate park development over the years was heavy traffic and clogged roadways. Now they want a recreational facility, they want to get something back for the community,” Avella said.

State Senator Frank Padavan, another area lawmaker, also saw good coming from the mayor’s decision to abandon the distribution center proposal. “After many meetings and conversations with both the mayor and the EDC, we’ve been successful in pointing out problems with utilizing this site for a project of this scale and convincing them at the very least, a comprehensive study is necessary before anything proposed for this site is even suggested,” he stated.

The Republican lawmaker noted that the mayor and the EDC “were looking for creative ways to develop abandoned properties around the city and to create jobs.” Padavan said he had supported them in that endeavor. “[However,] the community rightly had concerns about traffic, noise and pollution issues at this location, and I’m happy to report that the mayor and the EDC have been responsive to these concerns.”

But while the local lawmaker and community leaders and residents were overjoyed at the mayor’s change of heart, the College Point Wholesale Distribution Development Corporation decidedly was not. This organization, made up of some 200 Asian American small businessmen, had negotiated the contract for the distribution center with the mayor and the EDC.

According to Jay Chung, president of the consortium, the mayor had politicized the project while taking the distributors for granted. Chung said his group had already spent about $1 million in design and legal fees on the plan. The city was to have built the huge distribution center containing showrooms and work space.

Hundreds of trucks would bring toys, trinkets and assorted goods into the warehouse space and other trucks would later deliver the items to local stores and merchants.

Citing all the planning that had gone into the project and its sudden abandonment by the mayor, Chung complained: “We are victims. We followed all the rules and did the things they wanted us to do and now suddenly, because of political reasons, they canceled this project. The project was a symbol of pride in the Asian community. We are sad and frustrated.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said the administration will try to find an alternative location for the project, but this did not seem to placate Chung. He said his organization was considering all options, including possible legal action against the city.

When the mayor announced the project last February, he called it a major benefit for the city’s economy and predicted it would create 400 permanent jobs. As part of the project, the city poured $30 million into developing a storm sewer to improve the land in the corporate park where the former airport was located. Another $11 million would be used to widen Linden Place to reduce congestion on other nearby roads.

The community opposed these plans as well as the proposed widening of 20th Avenue.

From the start, Avella attacked the plan, saying there had been better uses proposed for the airport site which would not negatively impact the community as the distribution center would. The EDC failed to respond to his criticisms or that of the community, and he brought a suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force the EDC to give up pertinent documents. He was upheld on the point, but the EDC stonewalled and refused to release the documents.

In all, Avella and his supporters in the community held four protest rallies in their campaign to block the project. It was more than the mayor could take, considering he’s running for re-election next year, so he relented and pulled the plug on the project.

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