2001-12-08 / Front Page

‘Arverne By The Sea’ Project Approved, To Include Middle-Class Homes, Stores, Rec Center, And School

‘Arverne By The Sea’ Project Approved,
To Include Middle-Class Homes, Stores,
Rec Center, And School

By Howard Schwach

If Mayor Giuliani has his way, 2,100 new middle-class homes, a state-of-the-art recreation center, a strip mall and a school might soon rise like a phoenix from the Arverne Urban Renewal Area (AURA), an area where only saw grass and rubble grew before.

At a news conference at City Hall, Giuliani, flanked by both the outgoing and incoming Borough Presidents, Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall, announced that his administration has chosen a consortium of the Benjamin Development and Beechwood Organization, two Long Island Corporations, to develop the land.

The initial development of the area outlined by Giuliani will take in AURA land between Beach 63 Street and Beach 74 Street.

"This expansive development will foster a wide range of housing and economic opportunities in the Rockaway peninsula community," said Mayor Giuliani. "I’m really glad that we are able to get this done and on the road to getting started."

"This is something we have been working on for quite some time, and it really couldn’t come at a better time for Rockaway, given all of the things that Rockaway has been though recently" Giuliani added, alluding to the World Trade Center disaster and to the crash of Flight 587 in Belle Harbor.

"For a long time, we’ve been looking at the 300 acres to figure out what we can do with them," Shulman said. "We’ve had lots of proposals. Some of them looked very interesting and some of them really didn’t have a prayer. Now, we have a very good proposal that we believe will give a shot in the arm to the Rockaway peninsula and create the housing that we desperately need."

"This has been a dream for 30 or 40 years," added HPD Commissioner Jerilyn Perine, "We don’t get to see this too much in New York City, because large expanses of vacant land are exceedingly rare."

"This community will not have any parallel anywhere in the world," she added. "This will bring the ocean to our front door."

"The Community Board is pleased with the announcement," says Jonathon Gaska, the district manager of CB 14, "This was a community driven plan. We believe, that when all of the phases are complete, this plan will change Rockaway for the better. It will spur economic development throughout the district and it will provide jobs to build a new neighborhood, a new community, in that long-vacant area."

The plan calls for 2,300 middle class one and two-family homes, along with a mix of mid-rise (4 to 6-story) apartment houses, which will include a mix of condos and rental units; a 250 thousand square foot commercial and retail area that would be sited east of Beach 73 Street, between the elevated structure and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which would include a supermarket and ten stores; an 800 student "charter school" for students in grades Kindergarten to the eighth grade; and a state of the art recreation center that would include a pool, a gym, workout rooms and outdoor playing fields.

It is expected that the homes will be targeted to those families with a combined income of $65 to $70 thousand in yearly income.

"We are confident that the extensive neighborhood amenities, the easy commute to job centers and the unique oceanfront setting will make Arverne-By-The-Sea one of New York’s most desirable communities," said a spokesperson for Benjamin-Beechwood. "It will feature a myriad of community resources, including a new charter school, a community recreation center, as well as shops and restaurants in a town-square setting centered around a renovated subway station."

Leslie A. Lerner, a partner in the Beechwood Organization, agrees.

"We took a look at the RFP and we liked what we saw," Lerner told The Wave. "We have been heavily involved in building two-family homes in New York City for many years, and we have found that that type of house is what sells best in the outer boroughs."

Approximately 10 buildings on the site will be the mid-rise variety. They will include rental units and coops and will all have retail units on the ground floor.

"We will provide a mix of a little of everything, Lerner added. The largest percentage of the site, by far, however, will consist of two-family homes.

The developer will also be responsible for the development of the entire infrastructure, including all of the roads, the school and the community center.

And, while most Rockaway officials seem effusive about the plan, others are more cautious.

"This has to be more than a pretty picture," says Liz Sulik, the president of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce. "We have seen these pictures before. "We have to get the whole package this time, the stores, the homes, the school, the recreation center."

"I am skeptical," she adds, "that we will ever get the whole package."

Gaska adds that this is just the first phase of the development.

There are even those in Rockaway who do not want development on the Arverne land.

"This is just a cash cow for people who want to profit off the land," says Bernie Blum, the president of the Friends of Rockaway, a local environmental advocacy group. "They are going to dump homes into an area that might flood at any time. The area needs waterfront recreation than it does homes."

"Nobody understands the impact this development will have on the water quality on Jamaica Bay or on flooding from both the ocean and the bay. No impact study has been done."

"They just say, ‘build,’ while it is clear that this is the wrong plan at the wrong time," Blum adds.

"The second phase of the development plan will reportedly include a 9-hole golf course, a commercial area, some entertainment venues and office space.

"We hope to get the Request for Proposals for that second phase out by February," Gaska says.

Work on Phase One is slated to begin in June of 2002.

"Only a small portion of the site has all the necessary permits and is ready to go," Lerner told The Wave. "We will have that demonstration site ready for development in June."

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