2010-11-05 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

Rockaway: Unique, Beautiful, Dilapidated
By Peter Stubben

Rockaway’s abundant natural resources glisten all 365 days, every year! To have a bird sanctuary in your backyard and an ocean beach at your doorstep is a bit unusual for a neighborhood in America’s greatest megalopolis, no? On a quiet Saturday morning as the cicadas click, the mockingbirds dance on the rooftops and the local geese rehearse their fall migrations who could guess we live amidst the world’s tallest buildings and within the world’s center for button-down finance. Beside the rejuvenating bay and ocean, though, and amidst private homeowners who outdo each other each spring, summer and fall with flower beds and renovations sit an awful and decaying public infrastructure with vast stretches of abandoned public property.

Amidst the decay and abandonment a tectonic shift occurred here in the Rockaways in the fall of 2003 when a private developer announced a $750 million project to develop at least 40 square blocks with private beach-front homes. The Arverne-By-The-Sea plans also called for a school, a shopping center and a ‘Y’! How marvelous?

You’d think the city would be delighted to have these idle and empty lots that were abandoned for two generations to be put back into circulation, attracting more than 2,000 homeowners who not only will develop and beautify their new real estate, but will also - not withstanding the abatements - be paying property, income and sales taxes to boost the city’s revenue streams. You’d think with a private $750 million shake-up of the status quo, the city might invest a hundred million, too...you know, to grease the skids.

Reality, though, bites. Some recent events point otherwise:

The Bridge Toll... uh-ho! Beach Channel High School... sorry!

The ‘Y’... ooops!

Naturally, no development this size is completed whole - it is developed stage by stage - and after the first phase of Arverne homes was completely sold out and new homeowners moved in and adjusted to Rockaway’s rocky and slow transport systems, the MTA kicks them in the teeth with a toll where there was none...a toll impossible to avoid and ignore...a toll that increases costs of living by some $600 to $800 per year. Hey, wait a minute, is the city and the MTA playing a bait and switch here?

From the perspective of our new neighbors, how can they think otherwise?

No sales pitch for a home these days is complete without school info. So, again, after settling in, our new neighbors are again rocked by news trickling down from NYC’s School Chancellor. Sorry, he says, but we gotta close the only remaining comprehensive high school here on the Rockaway peninsula. You guys will just have to send your kids to high school in Howard Beach, or maybe Richmond Hill or maybe Woodhaven. What???

Re. the Arverne ‘Y’, the Mayor explicitly ignored local appeals to boost the new pool into an Olympian from funds not drawn from the city’s budget but from funds donated to the Mayor by the Port Authority of NY & NJ for that express purpose, and then the city throws a temper tantrum and demands a halt to the Y’s construction - can you believe it? - because the building is not green-certified. Here we have a city that daily pollutes Rockaway’s air with the disgustingly astringent discharges of our Beach 106 Street water treatment plant and daily pollutes Rockaway’s bay with marsh-destroying sulfuric discharges, and this very same city unilaterally halts construction of our new pool and basketball court because the building is not environmentally pure. Oh those ancient Greeks, they never met pure, unreconstructed irony...New York City’s crusading City Hall bureaucrats!!!

In the first case of the ridiculous toll on the Cross Bay Bridge - the only toll collected in America from travelers who never leave their zip code - there has been no remediation, and Arverne’s new owners (along with all other Rockawayites) gotta think they’ve been juked. In the second case of BCHS, after months of demonstrations and meetings the city has relented and the school will remain open (I believe). In the third case, and thanks to the intervention of Rockaway’s newly-created Task Force and NYC Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, construction of the ‘Y’ has resumed.

On a very bright note, the new Arverne shopping center just opened to a resounding success last weekend!!!

Generally speaking, though, shouldn’t the city be supporting - not thwarting! - Rockaway’s fumbles into the future? Shouldn’t the city and her DOT have gone out of their way to link bluewater bounded Rockaway to the city’s ferry network (and thrown in JFK, to boot!)? Shouldn’t the city and her EDC be investing, improving and renovating Rockaway’s dilapidated public infrastructure? Shouldn’t the city and her Parks and Recreation be investing in Rockaway Beach as a destination...reinvigorating the boardwalk and amenities, for instance?

The new Rockaway Task Force, created jointly by Rockaway’s two councilmen, seeks those ends, I believe, and will hold one more listening session in November here in Far Rockaway. It is preparing recommendations for Mayor Bloomberg that include transportation improvements, infrastructure investments and desperately needed bayfront access.

The Task Force wants to hear from you - I believe - and can be reached by e-mail . Thank you.

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