JACKSON HEIGHTS — Hundreds of Queens residents were up in arms Monday night over the planned mega-development of Willets Point and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, slamming the developers at a town hall meeting for a land grab.
Members of several community groups blasted the plans for the gritty industrial neighborhood and sprawling greenspace, which include a new mall, an expansion of the U.S. Tennis Center and a brand new Major League Soccer stadium.
"No one would be proposing these projects at Central Park or Prospect Park," said Donovan Finn, a professor of urban planning at Stony Brook University and a Jackson Heights resident of five years.
Finn criticized the city and developers for failing to acknowledge that work on the three projects would occur simultaneously, and said that the developers were seeking to gain control of pubic land for use in ways that would not benefit the community.
"Developers see this park as an ATM machine," Finn said.
Like with the 2006 Yankee Stadium construction deal, the three projects would require that the city turn over several acres of parkland, in a process known as alienation. The MLS stadium project would require up to 13 acres of land east of the Unisphere, placing a 25,000 seat-stadium on top of what is currently Industry Pond.
The USTA project would call for the expansion of the National Tennis Center by an acre and would reroute United Nations Avenue North around the expanded center.
The Willets West plan, submitted by the owners of the New York Mets, would call for the construction of a 1.4 million square-foot shopping mall on the western parking lot of Citi Field, where Shea Stadium used to stand. Although the land is currently used by the Mets, it is still owned by the city and is legally considered parkland.
City Councilwoman Julissa Fererras, whose district includes the park, said that she was wary of the mayor's rush to allocate the land, and that she wanted to make sure the community's voice was heard in all development discussions.
"Every inch of parkland that we lose is parkland that we will not get back," Ferreras said.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm was more forceful, saying: "You can't just ignore our community and take our parkland away."
While Major League Soccer has offered to renovate the soccer fields that exist around the proposed stadium site, residents are still wary of a deal, especially with the other two projects occuring simultaneously.
Margardia Guilarte, who owns a soccer league that plays there, said that the developments could ruin her business.
"They're not being clear on everything," said Guilarte, whose father used to own a league in the park, "Maybe MLS isn't bad, but what about the other two? It's not one developer, it's many."
"It's going to kill the park."
Even with the city's previous success at sweeping away public protest to build Yankee Stadium and the Barclays Center, residents said they believed that at the very least, they could earn a seat the table for discussions on the project.
"We have to hope we do," Finn said.