Beauty And The Beast?
By John C. McLoughlin
Rockaway’s own version of "Beauty and the Beast" is playing in Belle Harbor, and most residents aren’t even aware. Ask Howie Sirota, a resident of Beach 128 street since 1995 (having previously lived on Beach 135 street), and he’ll tell you that Rockaway’s version is filled with as much drama as the Broadway performance.
In this performance, the Beauty is played by a sign that would be placed on beach walls from 126 street to 141 street, which reads the street number and "Belle Harbor." Ask Sirota, and he’ll say the Beast is non-other than the leaders of a local civic association and the New York City Parks Department.
A few months back, Sirota joined with a number of Belle Harbor residents in replacing the fading inscriptions on the beach walls with new signs. Beach 126, 127 and 141 streets were completed when the Parks Department put the squash on the remaining streets, from 128 to 140 streets. Sirota believed the Parks Department negative reaction to the project stems from a "territorial" dispute with the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association.
"I didn’t know that this was going to be such a hot issue," Sirota said. "We just wanted to beautify the neighborhood."
According to Sirota, the civic association and a few of its leaders "want to impose boundaries" on Belle Harbor. Sirota said the association will not acknowledge that Belle Harbor doesn’t end at Beach 130 street, but extends to the bayside of Beach 124 street and up and across Rockaway Beach boulevard to Beach 126 street. This is documented by deeds of hundreds of homeowners and has been verified by Rockaway’s own historian, Emil Lucev.
Sirota said that the civic is causing "economic injury to hundreds of homeowners" by denying this "historical right." Sirota believes this controversy has less to do with signs beautifying the neighborhood and more to do with some leaders "protecting their turf."
Jack King, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, disputes this claim. King said the association, which was established 55 years ago, has procedures and that "people can’t just put signs up on their own."
King noted that in the past, the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association put signs up between Beach 130 to 141 streets that say, "Curb Your Dog." This was voted on and approved by the board of directors.
King said that the civic "never denied" that Beach 126 street started Belle Harbor, but that zoning differences is the reason the association does not represent homeowners past Beach 130. The issue they have with Sirota and the signs is procedural. "If you have an idea--good, bad or indifferent-say to us ‘I’d like to do this’ and we’ll listen to it at a board of directors meeting," King said.
Enter stage left--as the drama unfolds--the New York City Parks Department. According to Sirota, the Parks Department listened to King and got the hook out--putting an end to the signs. Sirota also believes that Parks Department employees in Rockaway have a grudge against him since exposing a "shakedown" a few years back.
A Parks Department spokesperson told The Wave that the signs were not permitted to be put up because "it wasn’t considered Belle Harbor." As of press time, Parks did not call back The Wave to answer further inquiries about the future of this project.
In an attempt to allow residents to voice their opinion, Sirota has started a petition drive asking the Parks Department to allow the signs to continue to be placed.
And the controversy continues…the final act is yet to be performed.