Two Stadiums. No Waiting.

Yanks and Mets plans leave little room for public debate

Moreover, because Macombs Dam Park received funds under the federal Land and Water Conservation Program in the 1980s, the National Park Service still must certify that lost parkland is replaced by equivalent green space. In actuality, says Lukas Herbert, a Westchester city planner who lives near Yankee Stadium and serves on Community Board 4, "the replacement parkland that they're building is almost a mile away, and it's going to be difficult for senior citizens and kids to get there. Right now you walk out your front door, and the park is right there." Save Our Parks is considering a lawsuit over both the EIS failings and the federal park-replacement regs, but, says Herbert, "a lot of us are concerned that if the City Council approves it, they're going to go in and start tearing down trees."

The Mets project, meanwhile, virtually disappeared from the radar after Bloomberg's initial announcement last summer of a new 44,000-seat facility—about 25 percent smaller capacity than Shea Stadium, though roughly the same height—to be built in what's now the center field parking lot. Unlike the Yankees' series of ULURP hearings, the Mets plan has only a single public hearing to its credit so far: an Empire State Development Authority shindig that was held at four on a Monday afternoon, and drew all of six speakers.

"It was a farce," says Flushing community activist David Oats, who has long lobbied for an Olympic stadium in Queens. "Here's a huge, multimillion-dollar project that will affect New York City for generations, and they hold one hearing at four o'clock in the afternoon, and they don't even send out a press release?"

The city insists that the Mets plan doesn't need a fresh public review process because it already conducted an impact study back in 2001, when the project was set to sport a retractable roof and a different financing scheme. It's hard to say, though, since the Mets have still not released their designs for a new stadium, and official state documents indicate design schematics as "intentionally deleted."

The speed of the process has also left little time for the sort of intensive scrutiny that the Jets and Nets plans were subjected to, either by good-government groups or the press. The city Independent Budget Office hasn't weighed in on the fiscal impact of the baseball projects (the IBO's Doug Turetsky says "elected officials have not been coming asking about this"), and no public polls have been conducted, aside from one last July that found just 27 percent of New Yorkers would endorse a new Queens stadium if it cost $180 million in public funds. (The actual Mets subsidy, including tax breaks, would be closer to $400 million.)

The council itself mostly seems to be hoping the whole thing goes away without any tiresome public debate, especially after the tightly controlled Bronx Democratic machine lined up early behind the Yankees. Unlike with the Jets and Nets proposals, a local Bronx councilmember, Helen Foster, co-sponsored the Home Rule message OK'ing the parks grab. Foster recently declared she's not "ready to concede" to building a stadium in the park, while Maria del Carmen Arroyo, whose district actually includes the stadium site, is officially undecided; last Thursday's scheduled council hearing was abruptly postponed at the request of Bronx members, with Arroyo citing unspecified "concerns" that City Hall had yet to address. (Neither Foster nor Arroyo returned calls for this article.)

Jeremy Soffin of the Regional Plan Association, a veteran of the West Side wars, blames "stadium fatigue" after eight years and counting of sports facility squabbles, dating back to Rudy Giuliani's ill-fated gambit to move the Yankees to the West Side rail yards. Others insist that it's less about the timing of these stadium plans, and more about the color of their borough. "In no other community would they accept a stadium across the street from where people live, and accept parking garages to replace parkland," says Anita Antonetty, a Save Our Parks member and recording secretary for Bronx Community Board 4. "The process is just too fast, and the alternatives are not being explored at all."

The still larger concern, adds David Gratt of Friends of Yankee Stadium, is what sort of precedent this sets for future city projects. "The Bronx Terminal Market went through this way; the stadiums are going through this way," says Gratt, a former Department of City Planning staffer. "Developers now expect to finalize their deals by sitting down with the mayor's office, the borough president, and the council. And the process, which was originally designed to solicit public input, is being used to disregard the public."

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