2003-08-08 / Front Page

Local Reaction Mixed to Arverne By the Sea Vote

By Elizabeth Roth
Local Reaction Mixed to Arverne By the Sea Vote

Community Board 14 tackled the development plan for the central and eastern portions of the massive Arverne By The Sea project last week, approving it and sending it on to city government for final approval.

That approval has sparked intense debate throughout the community and has polarized opinion as to what Rockaway needs for its revitalization.

It is difficult to find anyone who is involved with the community who has nothing to say about the issue, because the long-delayed development of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area could become a seminal issue for Rockaway.

There are some who think that the development will be the savoir of Rockaway, while others think it will deal a deathblow to Rockaway's hopes of revitalization. Still others believe the development plan is designed to "gentrify" Rockaway, pushing minorities out of the area entirely.

Vince Castallano, the chair of the Committee for Urban Renewal, who supported the plan, told The Wave, "for most of the people on the board it is the most important vote they will ever make."

One of the project's most vocal opponents, Kevin Callaghan, a local activist, and former board member, said that this decision would resonate in Rockaway for the next hundred years. He indicated that the dozens of housing units, the apartment buildings, the new schools, would, in fact, radically change the landscape of the peninsula.

The question on the mind of many Rockaway residents is how the development will change Rockaway; to them, that is the crux of the problem.

The relatively high density of the project is causing a difference of opinion. Castallano believes that the project really isn't high density, not when compared against other such developments like Battery Park City. However, the actual permit to build lists it in the category of high density, meaning there are apartment buildings and condos.

"This isn't the plan we wanted." Callaghan lamented. "We wanted one and two family houses, lots of space, all that. I believe this is a serious mistake." He blames the problem partially on the fact that community board appointments are political, meaning the representatives are not elected by the community, and that the board members were under pressure from the local politicians who appointed them.

While this may be true, many board members decided to make the best of it. "My opinion is that the city is going to go ahead anyway, and that by doing it the way we did we got our conditions and problems heard," Jeff Cohen, another board member explained. A lot of the people who spoke out against it have not been present at the last four years of meetings."

Some of the board members claim they were not notified of the most recent special meetings at all, interfering with their right to participate in the process. Both Stephen Cooper and Reverend Henrietta Fulliard said that one of the reasons that they abstained from the vote was that they and others, that they declined to name, were not notified the final meeting, when conditions to tack onto the approval vote were finalized. Out of the 15 mem­bers of the Committee for Urban Renewal, headed by Castellano, which they both belong to, slightly over half were at that meeting. How many of those absent were not informed it was taking place could not be confirmed.

"I don't want to say anything about all the infighting in the committee" said Cooper. "My concern is the matter of the park. It could be an important thing for all of Far Rockaway." Cooper is talking about the large central park included in the plans. It was originally supposed to be a pure nature preserve, a haven for endangered species, a teaching tool, and a place to relax. A soccer field was added on to the plan against his wishes, prompting his abstention. However, he also says that if the developers adhere to what they are promising to do, the project is a good idea.

Locals understand that whatever the disagreements, the plan is going ahead. The developers are promising to employ local workers and to keep locals in the process, which should be underway as soon as the city's permitting process allows.

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