2010-02-26 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Rockaway Master Plan Must Be Community Effort
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Several weeks ago approximately 50 area residents got together to discuss the viability of creating a Master Plan for the Rockaways. The meeting was a success as everyone agreed it was time Rockawayites took charge of their future. The aftermath is where things start to go astray.

Jeanne DuPont, the president of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, called for and hosted the meeting. Now, before I go any further, let me say that DuPont has done some wonderful things for the peninsula in the short time her organization has been in existence. But with people asking for follow up meetings and wanting to form committees to hash out what should be in such a plan, DuPont’s follow-up email is very disillusioning.

The email titled “next steps” makes it clear who is running the show – DuPont and the RWA, not the Rockaway community. She writes: “We’ve received a lot of emails from people asking when we will meet again but until we are able to bring in a professional planner and landscape architect it seems premature to get anything underway. We should have more details later this spring and hope to schedule our next meeting in June to let everyone know the plans.”

By the way, who are the we in the email from DuPont? The folks at RWA? It seems she is making the agenda without input from others. Her idea to wait five months between meetings is ridiculous. And bringing in a professional planner and landscape architect before any decisions have been made, that’s a big leap from an initial meeting to see if there is interest in such a plan and the brainstorming session that came with it. Brainstorming does not mean consensus. No next steps can be made until the community meets again. They must decide on the people they want to head the organization. What committees will be formed? Will this be a comprehensive plan or just center on a few needs of the Rockaways?

This cannot be known until the committees have done their homework and the groups report back to the whole community. So far the only thing that has been decided is that there will be another meeting. On the issue of a professional planner, it is the Department of City Planning’s role to, according to their website; provide “technical assistance and information on land use, demographics, housing, and community facilities.

[It] reviews community based planning options to help [the] community decide whether a 197-a master plan is appropriate [and] provides guidance on the review process, and plan content to address the issues identified.” They also review the plan draft before it is submitted for approval.

The email from DuPont also says, “There has been a lot of interest in supporting a public space waterfront plan for Rockaway and Broad Channel. For the next few months there will be a great deal of work to secure funding and plan ‘next steps’ in this area.”

She goes on to say, “however, there were also many interested in including transportation, evacuation planning and economic development.”

But she seems to suggest the waterfront is the top priority. It is understandable, with that being her organization’s mandate. But thought should be given to improving the quality of life for those who live in the Rockaways. We must concentrate on better public transportation, jobs and infrastructure. And we must protect our history. The bungalows, which brought thousands to the Rockaway shores in the early 1900s, should not be left endangered.

When you have Martin Scorsese coming twice in twelve months to film with those historic homes as backdrop, and other productions using Rockaway sites – there must be something special that locals don’t see that Hollywood does. If you protect what they are coming for, in the future additional film projects could be an economic boon for the area.

If a waterfront plan were in the offing, the one drawn up by Community Board 14 in 1993 would be a good jumping off point.

It includes an access selection of a public boat launch in the Beach 40s; or a public dock near Beach Channel High School; a ferry terminal at 108 Street at Jamaica Bay; or access by way of Jamaica Bay Park. Of course, this was 1993; but it would be a good start to the process.

Something else to think about, DuPont has a lot of irons in the fire with RWA. Is she the right person, particularly since she is a part-time resident of the area, to lead this? There have been people who have been at the forefront of making Rockaway a better place for their whole lives. These should be the, or among the, leaders of this movement.

DuPont herself said it best when I spoke with her at January’s meeting. She said, “This has to be a community based plan … This offers [the chance] for the community to speak their mind and get involved.”

Next steps? It should be a March meeting.

Continuous ideas, information and consensus should be flowing among people and not just when one person feels it is time for an email. Developing a 197-a master plan could change Rockaway for the better, but only if it is done right – as a community.

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