2008-04-25 / Front Page

Eye Eight-Story Buildings For Beach 116th

By Howard Schwach

The Department of City Planning has proposed a "comprehensive zoning strategy" for the Rockaways that could bring eight-story buildings to the Beach 116 Street shopping area and portions of Rockaway Beach Boulevard, as well as larger homes for the Orthodox in Far Rockaway, and some protection for the remaining bungalow stock throughout the peninsula.

These buildings in Harlem are representative of those that can be built on Beach 116 Street under the proposed rezoning plan. These buildings in Harlem are representative of those that can be built on Beach 116 Street under the proposed rezoning plan. The proposed zoning changes will encompass five neighborhoods stretching from the Nassau County border to Beach 129 Street: Far Rockaway, Edgemere and Somerville on the eastern end of the peninsula; Rockaway Beach and Rockaway Park in the western section. These neighborhoods share the peninsula with 10 other communities, including Bayswater, Mott Creek, Hammels, Seaside, Belle Harbor, Roxbury, Neponsit, Rockaway Point and Breezy Point, as well as Jacob Riis Park, and Fort Tilden units and a portion of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

"The Rockaway peninsula has evolved from a summertime destination to a series of unique and varied oceanfront communities, but today's zoning is outdated and does not relate to the area's existing built character," said Amanda Burden, the City Planning Director. "Working closely with the community, we have developed a comprehensive proposal that reflects and enhances the Rockaways' magnificent seashore locations and protects the beloved Rockaway bungalows."

The plan will mean that the development of two and three-family homes would be severely limited in areas where bungalows still exist, primarily along Seagirt Boulevard in Edgemere and Beach 108 Street in Rockaway Park.

It will also provide "zoning flexibility" for residents to enlarge their one-family homes in a 22-block portion of Far Rockaway where the population is comprised primarily of Orthodox Jews, who traditionally have large families and need the added bedroom space.

More parking and more open space would be required in new developments as well.

Most Rockaway residents, as well as the majority of Community Board 14 members, who have been dealing with the city on this rezoning plan for more than two years, want the plan to be implemented.

"Ninety-eight percent of the people we have spoken with are happy with the city's plan," said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska. "The one block that will get all the attention is Beach 116 Street and the fact that some people think that the plan will negatively impact the block and the area around it, especially in terms of parking."

The proposal would allow for eightstory buildings on both the eastern and western sides of the shopping street, from Rockaway Beach Boulevard to the boardwalk, where parking is already at a premium.

Gaska added, however, that the city has made a concession to Rockaway in terms of the parking requirements for the Beach 116 Street buildings, which could go as high as eight stories.

"Traditionally, R-7 zones get [a ratio of] 50 percent off-street parking for each residential unit built. The city made a modification of that rule just for Rockaway, and the developers of the Beach 116 Street project will have to provide 85 percent off-street parking," Gaska said.

That means, he added, for each 100 apartments, the developers would have been mandated to provide 50 parking slots under the old rules, but will now have to provide 85 spaces.

Gaska admits that some of his board members continue to oppose the plan, even though everybody believes that something must be done to change the character of the busy shopping street.

"Fifty percent [of the CB 14 members] think that R-7 zoning is not the answer, and the other fifty percent think that it is," he said. "But 100 percent agree that something has to be done."

John Young, the director of the Queens office for the City Planning Commission, told The Wave that the plans for Beach 116 Street are not very different from what is happening on other shopping streets.

"We are not proposing anything that isn't already part of the context of the area," Young said. "We are looking to increase year-round foot traffic on the street, rather than just the crowds that come to the beach during the high season. Providing shops and restaurants on the ground floor and residences on the other floors will have a positive impact on the entire street, and we hope that the people will walk to other areas nearby to shop as well."

Young said that the city was particularly interested in solving the parking problem by increasing the mandatory "off-street accessory parking" that will mandate the developers to provide more parking, and he believes that most of the developers will do even better than 85 percent because those who purchase the apartments will demand parking slots.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has praised the planning department's proposal for Rockaway.

"The plan will protect the five neighborhoods from overdevelopment and will preserve the character of the area," the mayor said in a prepared statement.

The City Planning agency certified the plan last Monday, April 21. That starts the clock for the Uniform Land Review Process (ULURP) to begin.

Community Board 14 has 60 days to vote on the plan. Gaska says that he expects it to be on the agenda for the May 13 meeting.

The proposal then goes to Borough President Helen Marshall, who has 30 days to hold public hearings and decide on the project.

From there, it goes to the City Planning Department, which has 60 days to hold public hearings and vote.

Finally, the proposal then goes to the City Council for a final vote.

"You're looking at a minimum of 200 days," Gaska said. "That would bring us to October before the ULURP process finally ends."

Young, however, thinks that the process will move along much quicker.

"Both the community board and the borough president have said that they will expedite the hearings," he said. We could see this done in four months rather than seven."

Several developers have already indicated that, should the plan be adopted by the City Council, properties such as the former Lawrence Hotel and the former Beach Club, as well as other sites, would soon fall to developers because the ability to build up to eight stories with stores on the first floor and apartments and condos above, would make the development economically feasible.

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