The perpetrators in question - the Wilpon family (who owns the Mets baseball team) and the Related Companies - formed a development entity known as Queens Development Group, LLC. As the winning bidders to develop the Willets Point Urban Renewal area, where the automobile junkyards have been located for over a half century, their mandate was to build a new community based on the zoning approved in 2008. This new community was to have millions of square feet of commercial buildings as well as residential development (including affordable housing), a school and new parkland. All of this was to be built on the private property to the east of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Citifield.
In 2013, Queens Development Group announced that they would not be able to develop Willets Point without first building a new development to the west of Citifield. They called it Willets Point West, which would be a vast "entertainment and shopping mall complex" on 45 acres of public parkland. They argued that the property was only parking lots anyway, so building a mall there was perfectly fine.
There is only one problem with this: the city has no right to give away dedicated public parkland - whether used for a parking lot or a wilderness preserve - to private developers.
The power to alienate public parkland and return it to private use is under the sole jurisdiction of the New York State Legislature. In essence, New York City and Queens Development Group tried to bypass that legal process by claiming that they had the right to do it under an obscure New York City law.
Soon after, State Senator Tony Avella and I, along with other property owners, residents, business groups and civic and community organizations like the Queens Civic Congress became plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop this giveaway of public parkland to developers. The lawsuit was initiated by the City Club of New York on our behalf.
While the Supreme Court of New York, the lowest court, sided with the developers, this was overturned with a unanimous decision by the Appellate Court. Finally, today the New York State Court of Appeals - which is the highest court in New York State - affirmed that decision with a 6-1 vote.
If the courts had allowed our public parkland to be given by the city to developers without following the normal - and very rare - process of going through the New York State Legislature, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council could have done this to any public park in New York City - Central Park, Prospect Park, Kissena Park - and, of course, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park!
The link to the decision by the Court of Appeals is below:
https://www.nycourts.gov/ ctapps/Decisions/2017/Jun17/ 54opn17-Decision.pdf