2005-10-14 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

There is little doubt on anybody’s part that Rockaway is in a period of revitalization, based largely on the housing boom that has been seen on the peninsula for the past three years. That housing boom is driving everything else from commercial development to the demand for better transportation facilities.

In the wake of that boom, however, there are things that Rockaway will need over the next ten years if residents are to survive the boom.

First of all, we need the boom to continue. Should the housing bubble suddenly burst, as some predict, then all bets are off. If housing prices fall precipitously and the apartment market collapses as well, many of those who have bought the new homes with the hope of getting high rents for the second apartment in order to pay the mortgage may well find themselves in default and the banks and mortgage companies will become the largest landlord in Rockaway, with disastrous results to our local economy – such as it is.

Then, we need to find a way to keep our young professionals in Rockaway. Housing costs are at the point where even two-earner families cannot afford a home in the west end of Rockaway. Homes in Belle Harbor go for a minimum of $700 thousand. Homes in Neponsit cost more than a million dollars. Even Broad Channel is experiencing a rocket boost in home prices. Small, two-bedroom homes that sold for $150 thousand last year or the year before are going for $300 or even $400 thousand this year.

Where will the children of today’s homeowners or apartment renters go if they don’t have the large down payment necessary to buy a home that costs that much? They will have to either rent or move away from the peninsula.

Rockaway needs to improve its schools and the feeling among many that the schools are not safe. And, despite what our mayor and Department of Education officials tell us every day, many of our schools are still not safe. There was a time not so long ago when anybody who could do so sent their kids off the peninsula for middle and high school. Today, with the inception of the gifted program at the Scholar’s Academy, housed at MS 180, that may change.

What has to be done for those who can’t gain entrance to the Scholar’s Academy is a program to house all of the peninsula’s student trouble-makers – an alternative program housed in one building (I have suggested MS 198 in the past) that would allow the other 90 percent of the students who want to learn to do so while providing some babysitting services for the other 10 percent, who won’t learn no matter what we do. Until we rid ourselves of the “all students can learn” mantra and realize that some just don’t want to and that they don’t belong in the mainstream, our schools will continue to deteriorate no matter what we do, no matter what the governance structure of the curriculum.

Then, we need to boost our transportation to Manhattan just as we have boosted housing stock. The theory that, if you build it, transportation will follow,” is not necessarily true in a city that gives its all to Manhattan, Long Island City and Coney Island and leaves the rest of us with the dregs.

An affordable high-speed ferry service subsidized by the city. That is a ferry tale, at least as long as Bloomberg remains as the mayor. And, if you think that Freddy Ferrer can beat Bloomberg unless the mayor slips up and commits a horrendous crime in the middle of Giant’s Stadium at half-time, I have a bridge you might want to buy.

The answer is not in a ferry, but in an improved transit system of express buses and subway. The A-Train was pushed through Brooklyn rather than central Queens on the White Pot Junction line as a sop to the minority community in Brooklyn and to maximize ridership. If Rockaway development continues to grow, it will not be because it takes an hour and twenty minutes to get from Beach 116 Street to midtown. Now, a few express buses make the run. Add to that fleet and put those buses into express lanes and they will fill the bill.

Why do people come to live in Rockaway? Why is Arverne By The Sea so successful? Let me think – could it be the beach? Wow, what a concept. The problem with that is the fact that the Parks Department, the agency that controls the beach, looks at Rockaway as a residential area that just happens to have a beach rather than a beachfront community. There is a large difference.

People are not going to pay between $500 thousand and a million dollars to live on a beach that they can’t use when they want to. People understand that they have to be out of the water when there are no lifeguards on duty – at least, most people do. What they don’t understand is why they have to be off the beach by nine p.m. and off the boardwalk by 10 p.m. They don’t understand why they can’t have a beer on the beach when Bloomberg’s friends can drink all the wine they can consume at Central Park or Prospect Park concerts. They can’t understand why anything short of mayhem goes on in Coney Island while Rockaway has to live by other, gentler, more restrictive rules. I recently vacationed on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. The beaches there are open all night for bonfires, fishing, kite flying, etc. As long as people do not cause enough problems to attract police attention, they can do pretty much anything they want to do. Sit on the beach with your wife drinking a nice bottle of wine? Sure! Fishing? Sure! Kite flying? Sure! Building large sandcastles by moonlight? Sure! Get the picture? We should be given the same rights on our beach. Break the law, go to jail. Break some petty administrative rule made by the Park Department functionaries? What a laugh!

That’s what Rockaway needs in the coming decade. Rockaway could actually achieve a renaissance of sorts if some of those details are taken care of. It won’t be like the old days, when Rockaway attracted millions of DFD’s and the boardwalk was lined with stores, hotels and amusements. But it could be damned good if the city would only give us a hand.

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