2003-06-13 / Community

Arverne Update: Moving Right Along

By Elizabeth Roth
Arverne Update: Moving Right Along By Elizabeth Roth

The Wave often gets E-mail from people who once lived in Rockaway but have moved away. Many of them have questions about their past community. Some have questions about a specific event that happened in their childhood. Others want to check out an obituary or a specific address. A good number, however, only want to know what ever happened to the Arverne Urban Renewal Area.

The empty land that makes up the AURA has always been one of the great mysteries of life for those of us who live in the Rockaways.

With beachfront property in such high demand, and with real estate prices going through the roof in nearby Belle Harbor and Neponsit, why are those waterfront vacant lots sitting in empty chaos in Arverne?

To many residents, it makes no sense to have left that property fallow for so long. Surely the beach should be drawing power enough for some developer or another to take the risk of building something there. The truth is that many people have wanted to build many things over the years, but deals or finances fell through, plans were never realized and the lots remained, doing nothing in particular except cause aggravation.

The Arverne by the Sea Project looks like the best hope yet to provide houses for people who need them in places that now hold little more than grass and blown sand.

Arverne By The Sea is the brainchild of the Beechwood organization and Benjamin Development, two corporations with many successful complexes in Long Island and other parts of the city. The Arverne by the Sea plans look like nothing more than a resort town, complete with it’s own stores, playgrounds, a school and anything else needed by anyone lucky enough to secure permission to live there.

However, while thousands of names have been taken down as potential buyers, and everyone involved seems uniformly enthusiastic, to the naked eye there seems to be little progress.. Furthermore, look into the issue and you discover that the section of completed buildings that were recently completed and inhabited were built by a different group altogether, the Briarwood Organization.

Peter Foley of Benjamin Construction explains that foundations have been poured for one section and the rest of construction should begin next winter. The lottery for choosing the families that will inhabit the houses that are closer to completion should begin later in the summer.

As for the financial status of the project given the new economic climate of the city, no one is worried. CEO of Beechwood Les Lerner ex­plains, "There is a very strong de­mand for middle class housing. The economy has not affected that at all."

Jon Gaska, district manager of Com­munity Board 14 is equally positive and has nothing but praise of the developers. "So far they have reacted to the community concerns, the recreation center will be built in the first phase, it will bring thousands of retail jobs which the community certainly needs, and hundreds of working middle class families to the Rockaways, which the com­munity also sorely needs," he said.

At an informational presentation held last week at a meeting of Community Board 14, officials from the Housing Preservation and De­velopment Agency (HPD) said that the project would be developed in several phases. The official titles for those two phases are "Water’s Edge I," and "Water’s Edge II." They are called "Arverne By The Sea," and "Arverne East" by the developers.

Arverne East, from Beach 35 Street to Beach 61 Street, will include a 35-acre park. Construction on that area will begin in 2005. The park will include a nature preserve for birds and turtles.

A 600-seat school to serve the families in the housing area is also on the planning board.

A recreation center, reportedly to be run by the YMCA, will be available to all Rockaway residents.

The main point to remember, ex­perts say, is that future phases will not be built if the project is not a success in its earlier phase.

Construction is expected to be completed for a phases by 2009.

The biggest clouds hanging over the project, according to local housing experts are the economy and the fact that a number of projects in the area have failed to materialize in the past.

Kevin Callaghan, a former Com­munity Board 14 member, and a vocal opponent of Arverne By The Sea, said that the meeting that a similar project was pitched to the community board 35 years ago and that the project was Ocean Village.

Callaghan pointed out that Ocean Village has been less than a success in providing safe and comfortable housing for its residents.

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