2004-03-19 / Columnists

From the

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

I guess that as one nears 65 years of age, he or she begins to become more nostalgic for the "good old days," which probably were not that good to begin with.

Editing The Wave adds both the impetus and the ability to go back into the past at will simply by unlocking the door to the paper’s archives.

It is amazing how a trip into the past can allow a person to both appreciate the present and to understand that the past and the present are not too far apart after all.

For example, the lead story in the March 23, 1954 issue of The Wave headlined, "Civic Club Prepares For Battle As Estimate Board Considers Belle Harbor Zoning Changes."

The headlines were a lot longer in those days because the paper was a "broadsheet" with a front page that measured twenty-two inches by seventeen inches versus today’s 15 inches by 11 inches.

While the headline is longer, the story sounds much like it could have been written for this week’s issue.

The subhead told the story.

"Say That Restriction Would Stymie Renting In The Community; Charge Wealthy Advocate Change At the Expense Of The Small Home owners."

The Civic Club, which represented homeowners throughout Rockaway, wanted to postpone a vote in the Board of Estimate that would change Belle Harbor (Beach 130 Street to Beach 142 Street – where was Neponsit 50 years ago) from an E-1 Zone to a G Zone.

An E-1 Zone allowed for both one and two-family homes and the rental of apartments in those homes.

A G Zone allowed only one-family homes, with no rentals allowed, although those two-family homes that were in place would allow to remain so. No further conversions from one to two-family.

According to the story, the club was attempting to "marshal its full forces for an all out fight to defeat the change at the next hearing." The Rockaway meeting was held at the Washington Hotel, which just closed its doors for good last month.

If the local civic club was opposed to the plan, one might ask today, why was the Board of Estimate pushing it through in record time?

According to Franklin O. Hyde, a spokesperson for the club, "The zone change, which would limit future construction to one-family homes and stymie rentals in the west end, is rumored to be backed by the very highest power in Tammany Hall [the political club then in control of both the mayor and the city government] at the behest of a wealthy local resident."

"One effect of this [new zoning rule] is that it will forever prevent home owners from converting their one family homes to two-family, creating a hardship should higher taxes, death in the family or other circumstances dictate that such a move become necessary," Hyde added.

The story goes on to say that the resolution of the zoning change was requested by the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association to limit future development of anything other than one family homes in the community.

It does not name the "wealthy local resident" who got the property owners association to request the change, but there were probably no lack of people who wanted to "safeguard" the community by shutting out renters.

This was not the first time, or the last, that locals went out of their way to restrict access to "their" community.

Jean Caplan Fox, a long-time Neponsit resident whose father, Phillip Caplan, was a noted architect in Rockaway, wrote in The Wave’s 110th Anniversary Issue last July, "I remember carrying petitions along with Fred Hammer, Milton Kerner [two local politicians] and at least 20 other volunteers asking for no parking regulations for the ocean blocks in Belle Harbor, in order to remedy the intolerable conditions resulting in careless parkers from other areas of New York."

Those rules were later expanded to other blocks as well from May to September. Then there was the move by locals to stop the boardwalk expansion plan put forth by master builder Robert Moses.

Moses wanted to expand the boardwalk from its present terminus at Beach 126 Street to connect with the boardwalk at Riis Park (which Moses built for the city).

The Belle Harbor Property Owners again marshaled their forces and beat down the outsiders.

What arguments were put forth by the association for not wanting a boardwalk at the end of their beach streets?

Look at the old Waves and you will find a whiff of what you hear today about the center malls and the new no parking ban on Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

"An expansion of the boardwalk would allow people to walk from Beach 116 Street and use our beaches," one property owners association official said.

"It would make our beaches much more crowded with people who would then use our lawns and backyards as bathrooms," said another.

Eventually, the Board of Estimate turned down the boardwalk expansion due to "community opposition."

Keep out the DFD’s who want to park on our streets!

Keep out those pesky renters. Homeowners only need apply!

Don’t allow people to walk to our beaches!

Stop them from parking on Rockaway Beach Boulevard!

It all sounds so familiar.

A few years ago, I was drummed out of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association. I rented an upstairs apartment on Beach 134 Street at the time.

I went to a couple of meetings, wrote some things about the association in my "Short Takes" column, paid my dues.

One day, I got a letter from Jack King, the then-president of the BHPOA. The envelope held a check from the association made out in my name for two years dues and a letter saying that I could no longer be a member because I did not own a home.

To paraphrase the letter, King said that only homeowners have a financial stake in the community and therefore should be the only ones to make important decisions confronting them.

That is the way that many people in the west end still feel.

Homeowners are good.

Renters are bad, as are those who want to park in "their" streets and those who want to use "their" beaches.

Some things never change, fifty years ago to today.

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