Arverne By the Sea Application Approved
Community Board 14 voted on Tuesday by a vote of 29 in favor, four opposed and nine members abstaining to approve the Land Use Proposal for the Arverne by the Sea project, in front of a packed room so full that latecomers had to stand in the hallway. The session, which lasted almost three and a half hours, was characterized by a mix of hope and disgust; hope that the development will bring jobs and families to the Rockaways and make a fallow stretch of land useful and productive, and disgust with the perceived insensitivity of the developers and the board itself towards the environment, Rockaway’s quality of life and the inner city community.
The proposal would bring approximately 2300 housing units to the area, along with more than 100 new stores, a huge community center, a large central park, a few smaller parks scattered around the development and either one or two schools. These are all things the community would like to see, according to many of those who spoke at the long meeting. The questions those who attended the meeting had were more about the quality of the development and about the quality of life it would bring to Rockaway.
The original plan specified one 800-seat school, with any excess students being farmed out to other local schools, many of which were described as "underutilized". However, their data on the schools is four years old. The other elementary schools in the area are now at maximum capacity and growing. One of the conditions for approval is a second school, but the developers have yet to work out the logistics.
Another problem discussed at the meeting was the coastal evacuation route in case of an emergency. The plan calls for Rockaway Freeway to be eliminated and used for parking, with Rockaway Beach Boulevard widened to accept the extra traffic. Some saw the reduction of access roads as a safety problem in case of hurricanes.
Other objections included quality of life problems such as overcrowded roads, pollution in Jamaica Bay, the quality of building materials, doubt about the intention of the developers to use local workers, and others. These objections were countered by some of the developers, and other speakers willing and ready to welcome more people to the community.
Councilman James Sanders attended and briefly spoke. He explained that he was in favor of the development, but that a lot of people had expressed problems, and that it was his responsibility to make sure that the developers heard them.
Another topic under discussion was the price of the new housing units. The statistics for Arverne state that 23% of the residents live well below the poverty line, many with income that totals less than $10,000 a year. They have been promised more housing for years, and while current residents of the area are slated to receive preference for the new housing, they have to be able to afford it. While the smallest, least expensive condos were labeled as costing $180,000, others are $300,000 and $400,000.
On the other hand, the developers want to make a profit, and the target buyer will have to earn between 50,000, and 70,000 dollars a year. The housing is labeled as middle income and that is what it is. But with only one parking space per unit, overcrowded schools, very high population density, and surprisingly limited beach access, the unit is not quite a suburb, and not quite a project. So will it be a good place to live?
Residents will have to wait to find out. Most of the development will not be completed for ten years. The head of the Community Board, Jonathan Gaska is very optimistic. "Those that are against the project made some very good points that will only make the project better. The developers have gone above and beyond the call of duty in interacting with the community and I think it will be a very good thing for us."
The people in the stands, metaphorically speaking, seemed to disagree. As the "yes" votes stacked up, the muttered swearing and at least one incredulous cry of "Weren’t you listening?" permeated the air. The two hours of concerns voiced by Council members and citizens, white and black, organized and spontaneous seemed to have never occurred.
A plea by former board member Kevin Callaghan that "It is incumbent upon you to say no to this plan if you have any doubts about it at all" had no perceptible affect. Reverend Henrietta Fullard, one of the board members from Arverne alleges that other members of the Urban Renewal Committee had been "intimidated" into voting the way they had, and others had not been informed of the vote. She refused to elaborate, but explained that she abstained because she felt the process was not legitimate.
At any rate, the vote is cast. Arverne by the Sea will go ahead and the community will just have to live with the result.