2002-08-03 / Columnists

On The Beach… With Beverly Baxter

Accentuating The Positive…
With Arverne-By-The-Sea
Developer Les Lerner

It is my hope that this column will attempt to quell some of the fears by clarifying much of the misinformation that has been advanced around the community regarding the new 400 million dollar development: Arverne-By-The-Sea. In the last two issues of The Wave there were ads placed, and paid for, by the NYC District Council of Carpenters condemning The Beechwood Organization's job on Gunther Avenue in the Bronx. The out-of-context quote that the ad attempts to exploit, along with its charges, was from an article featured in The Bronx Reporter (April 11, 2002) about how all remedial work was successfully being completed on that project. What the District Council of Carpenters deliberately fails to tell you in their ad is that all sixty-four homeowners were quite pleased with the work by Beechwood.  "I am very satisfied. The people (homeowners) are very satisfied. Everyone is responding in a very positive way", stated Joe Bacote, president of the Wickham-Gunther-Lodovick Homeowners Association. "We love these houses and we love this neighborhood," stated Edward Fabian, vice-president of the organization. In addition, State Senator Thompson, John Fratta, District Manager of Community Board 11; and Vincent Prezioso, president of the Northeast Bronx Association are all on record praising the work produced by Beechwood. In fact, the homeowners each signed a statement, "I hereby acknowledge the satisfactory completion of the above described work". The homes, which cost $350,000 each, afforded many middle-class buyers who are often priced out of an escalating market, the opportunity to own their own homes. The new homes, with their innovative design, have added so much to this area of the Bronx.
  The Beechwood Organization, founded in 1980, has crafted over 3200 homes. Coupled with Benjamin Developers, they bring to this joint venture to build Arverne-By-The-Sea a combined fifty years of experience in mixed-use development, along with a sales aggregate of nearly a billion dollars in their canon. They are considered icons in the construction industry and they will bring this formidable reputation to Arverne.

Since I am in contact with Beechwood President Les Lerner on nearly a daily basis, I am in a position to convey his responses to your well-thought out questions and concerns. On the issue of the use of non-union labor, Les Lerner states, "Before any decisions were made as to whether or not we would use union help, the Carpenters Union decided on their own that we weren't going to use them and staged a protest. In my personal and business life I generally talk first and argue (only if necessary) later. I don't mind telling you that their actions have left a sour taste in my mouth. The union claims that they are looking for jobs; yet how can they expect to get jobs if they convince the general public that we are no good and they shouldn't buy houses from us. No customers, no jobs. Common sense would tell them that I would need them in order to build an 800-seat school, 250,000 square feet of retail space, a 30,000 square foot community center, 1100 mid-rise condo units, and an entirely renovated transit plaza. Even if I don't use them on the construction of the houses, the other buildings make up better than 50 percent of the dollar volume of the entire construction." As for the charge by many that Rockaway labor will not benefit from the job, Les Lerner states, "I am under extreme pressure to hire local, semi-skilled members of the community. This concept is totally contrary to the union concept. We are still exploring all our different avenues."
  Although the developers may want to use local Real Estate Brokers, Les Lerner explains "HPD requires the use of a lottery system in order to make sure that every prospect has an equal opportunity to buy and no Real Estate Brokers are permitted."
  In addressing the Letter To The Editor (The Wave, July 20) from "Two Rockaway Moms" regarding their concerns about Infrastructure, Schools, Transportation, and Jobs, the developers will provide an 800-seat school, a day care center, a community recreation center, and a new Village Square Transit Plaza. Nearly twenty percent of the neighborhood will be parks and greenbelts. They will also extend Shorefront Parkway to Beach 62 Street as a one-lane road in each direction to absorb the flow of traffic. The 2300 homes and its resulted surge in Rockaway's population will provide many companies in the public as well as the private sector an opportunity to expand their facilities to meet this projected demand in services. Demolition and construction have already begun, as noted on the front page of last week's Wave, on a new 800-seat school on Central Avenue. There are also plans for another school to be built in Edgemere. The development will also necessitate the need for alternative forms of transportation. Companies like New York Waterways have been taking notice of Rockaway's promising future as a viable place to do business. There are also proposed plans to expand the QRail line to Rockaway.  
  Indeed, there are many concerns to be addressed. Both Benjamin and Beechwood have a reputation for working openly and in tandem with the communities in which they build and serve. They have already demonstrated much good will toward the community. In the wake of the electrical fire that ultimately claimed the 100-year-old Derech Emunoh Synagogue, Benjamin-Beechwood generously offered, at their company's expense, the temporary use of a double trailer for its congregation until other plans were made.     
   Yes, we have, during the last forty years, been given many false promissory notes and we have seen plans come and go with the tide. However, before we succumb to a knee jerk reaction and kick Santa up the chimney, we need to give Arverne-By-The-Sea a chance.  Its forecast has all the elements and potential of being the White Christmas we've been so long hoping for. Visit their beautiful website at www.arvernebythesea.com.

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