2004-12-03 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

How can we talk about Rockaway and Arverne without the mention of Robert Moses or Remington Vernam?

To me, I have to look into the past to be able to speak about the future. I consider myself to be a historical junkie when it comes to geographical information, thanks in part to the Wave’s historical columnist Emil Lucev, my brother, Craig Bachrow and my parents.

Arverne began as a number of streets and villas laid out in 1882, from Beach 47 to Beach 74th Streets. The format was the creation of developer Remington Vernam, whose signature on checks, R. Vernam, soon morphed into the community’s name. From 1888 to 1908, Arverne was a fashionable resort area where wealthy families from Manhattan came to vacation. The area started to slowly decline after the Great Depression of the 1930s. The wooden structures of hotels and bungalows, festered with dry rot from salt air exposure became firetraps. Most of these buildings were seasonally used. Some were later retrofitted with heat. Arverne’s hotels Germania, Columbia, Waldorf and Colonial Hall burned. In 1922, the “Great Fire of Arverne” devastated a large portion of the area. Read more about this in Old Rockaway in Early Photographs by Vincent Seyfried and William Asadorian. It is also the final fire that led to the demise of the synagogue, Derech Emunoh, first built around 1905. The building was architecturally beautiful, both inside and out. Fond memories of family Bar and Bas-Mitzvahs, related simchas and great friendships in that shul will forever be etched in my memory.

Fast forward to the 1960’s. Abandoned, neglected and fire-stricken areas in Arverne near the beach, was the description for the day. In comes Robert Moses, who had his eye on the Rockaways from the 1930’s through the late 1960’s. People praised him, people cursed him. Either way, in my opinion, he did not bring down Arverne. Urban renewal of this depilated area was stopped due to financial problems that began in the Lindsey administration and never recovered for Arverne until present day construction. Moses wanted to hook up Rockaway, via the Belt Parkway, Cross Bay Bridge, the Nassau Expressway and follow through Atlantic Beach to Jones Beach and Ocean Parkway. I will go further and say this about Moses’ plan: Whatever parts in this development that was completed on the “Moses Highway” related to the shoreline has preserved our right to beach access. Shorefront Parkway, dubbed “the road to nowhere” was part of that plan. What Shorefront Parkway does for Rockaway is preserves the public’s right to beach access via separation of residential and beach areas. We have a large grass medians, wide roads and unobstructed views of the boardwalks and beaches. There are beachfront recreational facilities such as handball courts, basketball courts and playgrounds for our families. Years after moving to Florida, my late uncle would return to Rockaway to play handball on Shore Front Parkway with many of his friends, even if my uncle grew up in Brooklyn.

Present day plans for the Arverne By The Sea project was amended to include an oceanfront road to expand from Beach 73rd Street. The plan lacks recreational facilities such as those that are present on Shore Front Parkway. Along with that are the absences of parking facilities for those who want to access the beach and need to park their cars. In New York State, 1990 legislation added Article 49 of the Environmental Conservation Law, which in part called for the establishment of Regional Advisory Committees to advise the New York Department of Environmental Conservation on the creation and implementation of an open space conservation program. The Advisory Committee defines open space as “game courts, playing fields, esplanades, lawns and sitting areas, appropriate for active or passive recreation.” They continue to say, “this definition does not include spaces that serve only as visual amenities or where access is not permitted. Emphasis should be placed on green space. Conventional ‘hard space’ play facilities alone are not enough to meet the needs of inner city communities.” I don’t see plans for our waterfront in the Arverne By The Sea project to establish these criteria. I don’t see them plan to continue the vision that Moses created for Shore Front Parkway.

As far as the transferring of public land from the City of New York to a private developer, the Advisory Committee specifically notes the following: “The Region 2 Advisory Committee continues to support the policies adopted in previous provisions of the Open Space Plan regarding intergovernmental property transfers. These policies have recognized the potential for enlarging and consolidating public land holdings by means of transfers without fee of municipally owned properties between governmental agencies.

This is perhaps a unique circumstance in New York City with so many agencies holding land here. The committee has identified many government-owned properties in the city with open space value. Outstanding opportunities to increase and enhance public open space here can be realized by creating a mechanism to foster such transfers of such government-owned land within the Open Space Plan policy guidelines.

The committee recommends that such a mechanism be identified and activated.” I don’t see any enhancement of public open space as previously defined on the map for our beachfront. Arverne By The Sea plans “preserves” and counts these as open spaces. Specifically, thirty five acres will be maintained as a central nature preserve and twenty four acres as dune preserve. Again, there are no plans for “open spaces” as defined by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and recommended by the Advisory Committee for the Open Space Conservation Program.

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