2003-08-29 / Editorial/Opinion

From the

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

Vacations can give people a whole new perspective on life as well as on the community in which they live.

There are not many communities in this nation that are surrounded on two sides by water as Rockaway is. Those that have that kind of access to the water exploit that access for the good of both residents and tourists.

Rockaway, however, is in New York City, a political subdivision that, in its zeal to keep from being sued, restricts rather than exploits access to the water.

Drive through Maryland and Virginia. At almost every exit, there is a sign that says "Public Boat Ramp, This Exit."

It got me thinking about Rockaway and the one boat ramp that previously served the boating community, but was shut down last September. The city’s Education Department, which owns the property because it is attached to Beach Channel High School, says that it is dangerous. Many boaters, however, believe that it was shut down because the city fears law suits arising out of accidents at the site.

Not only did the city shut down the boat ramp, it placed a fence around the entire site so that fishermen are now excluded from plying their avocation as well as boaters.

The nearest public boat ramps are now in Brooklyn and in Inwood. Here we are, a peninsula surrounded by water with no way for residents to get access to that water. When I told a resident of tidewater Virginia about that, he laughed at the stupidity of New York City’s leaders. He is right.

Then, we have the beach. Surfing is not allowed. Buggie-boarding is not allowed. Surf-casting is not allowed. Beach parties that include beer or music are frowned at. Permits, required for beach use, are denied or cost so much that beach use becomes prohibitive.

In Virginia, for example, the beaches welcome surfers, designating specific beaches for the sport with the understanding that those who surf do so "at their own risk."

Fishing is welcomed. There are boat ramps on every river in the commonwealth every few miles.

The ocean beaches, such as Virginia Beach, allow cooking and drinking beer on the beach. Only if something untoward occurs do the police intervene.

I went to visit relatives in the area of Louden County, Virginia, about 30 miles north west of Washington, D.C. The area is so isolated from the city that a person who wants to pick up a bus from the last metro stop in the area must call in advance and make a reservation or the bus will not show up.

There are new homes and townhouses everywhere, much like Rockaway. The new homes are going for considerably less than the new homes in Rockaway or the older homes in Belle Harbor and Neponsit.

Along with the home development, there is residential development as well. In fact, it seems that with each new section of development comes a new outlet mall.

It was so hot on the day we were to go into D.C. that we decided to do one of the air-conditioned malls instead. It was a good decision and it struck me again that a mall such as the one at Tyson’s Corner, Virginia or the one at Leesburg would be perfect for the eastern end of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area.

Think about it in terms of economic development and jobs.

More than one hundred stores, each open 12 hours a day, employing four or five clerks and a manager in each store. That’s 500 jobs right off the bat, with many more needed in maintenance and security.

Think of the area such an outlet mall would draw from. At present, Rockaway residents go to the Tanger Mall in Riverhead (at the end of the LI Expressway) or to Woodbury Mall, in upstate New York. There were even dozens of automobiles with New York State license plates in the two Virginia shopping malls that I visited over the past week. In fact, there were automobiles from Maryland and West Virginia there as well, people who would drive 100 miles or so once or twice a year to shop the outlet malls for better value than they can get from their local stores.

Why then, wouldn’t people from Nassau County, as well as the outer boroughs of New York City come to Rockaway to shop at such a mall?

One argument against the large malls is that they take business away from local "mom and pop" stores that have been in the neighborhood for years. That is not a problem for Rockaway, because there are few mom and pop stores around. in any case. For example, there are no clothing stores in the west end of Rockaway. Recently, when I went to get a dress shirt for a wedding, there was no place in Rockaway to purchase a shirt.

About a year ago, after a visit to Tanger Mall, I approached the management by e-mail to ask them about Rockaway. They said that they had not thought about New York City, but that they would check out the possibilities.

I never heard from them again, and I can only assume that they were rebuffed by city officials.

That is a shame, because a discount mall is something that could make Rockaway’s revitalization a reality.

In any case, I am back in Rockaway, where the first thing I hear is that federal officials are thinking of closing down the old Coast Guard Station area to fishermen.

Some things never change. The ocean will always be there, and so will the bay.

The question remains, however, will Rockaway residents be able to make use of either of them.

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