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Residents March Against Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Development

CORONA — A crowd of neighbors and local politicians marched on Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Sunday to protest a set of controversial development plans for the massive greenspace.

The plans, which would replace some public land with a mall, parking garages and two new stadiums, including a new tennis stadium and a new Major League Soccer stadium, were criticized by the crowd of about 100 people who braved the cold, rainy weather, holding signs that read "Put the Soccer Stadium in Central Park" and "Park Not For Sale."

"The Tennis Association wants to expand and take away more park land. You've got Willets Point development, in which the parking will probably be on park land," said State Sen. Tony Avella, who showed up in support of the group. "Why can't they buy some private land?"

Complaints were wide-ranging. Some said the construction would disrupt the neighborhood for years, causing traffic and air pollution. Others said a mall nearby, the Sky View Center in Flushing, is already underutilized.

But many of the activists accused the city of a land grab, fast-tracking development plans without community involvement and taking parkland away from a predominantly low-income, immigrant community.

"There is something wrong about taking public parkland from low-income people and giving it away to billionaires," said Joseph McKeller of the advocacy group Queens Congregations United for Action. "Is it right to take from those who have so little and give to those who have more than enough?"

Sunday's march came about a week after a public meeting in which MLS officials tried to assuage the fears of locals hesitant to support the $300 million soccer stadium proposal, which would replace the Fountain of the Planets.

MLS has vowed to replace any parkland it uses for the stadium. In October, the league proposed a number of replacement areas, including a toxic site alongside Flushing River.

Still, some officials have come out in favor of the stadium proposal. Assemblyman Francisco Moya and State Sen. Jose Paralta, whose districts include Corona and Jackson Heights, have both said that a soccer stadium would attract much-needed jobs for Queens.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, whose district borders the park in Corona, said she saw some of the benefits that development could bring to the area. But she also said she could not support a project that took away park space in a part of Queens lacking in public space.

"I understand that we need the constructions jobs and that we need to ensure that we have jobs in our community," Ferreras said. "But I don't think we should pin jobs against green space."