2011-09-30 / Front Page

Task Force Rings Loud And Clear

By Nicholas Briano

The findings and recommendations of the Rockaway Task Force were released this week during a press conference on the border of both Rockaway City Council districts and provided little surprise as to what the residents of Rockaway need in order to improve their quality of life.

The eight-person panel, four from each of the council districts, was selected a year ago to provide recommendations directly to the high level government officials in City Hall regarding how to improve conditions across the entire Rockaway peninsula. The panel convened more than 20 times over the course of the year and published a report for the mayor making recommendations that will help revitalize the peninsula both socially and economically.

Most notable is the request to cancel the Arverne East development and transform those acres of vacant oceanside land into a center of retail and economic development that will provide jobs and opportunities for locals.

Councilmember James Sanders Jr. and Councilmember Eric Ulrich held the press conference at Beach 74 Street on the boardwalk this past Tuesday with members of the task force to discuss their recommendations.

“These are realistic and practical solutions,” Sanders said. “This is the renaissance of Rockaway and this report is a mere beginning of things to come. It’s our time.”

That renaissance includes hopes that the city will recognize Rockaway as a growing cultural epicenter, not only for residents, but visitors as well. The council members say it’s about making Rockaway a priority.

“This took several months of meetings and the Rockaway Task Force has met with the highest echelon of City Hall,” Ulrich said. “There’s real concrete, good stuff in this report.” Some items from the reports, as Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska says, have been needs and wants of the community for decades, but he says there’s also some new stuff in there as well.

“Hopefully the council will fund these projects,” he said. “It’s the beginning of the beginning for Rockaway’s renaissance. If government worked as hard as these task force volunteers, a lot more would get done in government.”

Some of those requests include much desired transportation improvements that would include a new express train service pilot program during rush hour to accommodate the growing population of working residents as well as more express buses and an extension of the shuttle to Howard Beach. Beach facilities are a must in the report. The task force wants to see more structural boardwalk improvements and public facilities that include showers, restrooms and Coney Island-type concessions.

Among the other requests are the development of Far Rockaway’s Stark Mall, better emergency preparedness, the transformation of the Rockaway Courthouse into an educational facility, public use of the former MGP site in Rockaway Park and replacement of the bulkhead at Beach 108 Street.

Task force member John Lepore says the city is finally taking notice of Rockaway.

“There’s many issues that have been ignored for many years here,” he said. “We finally have the ear of City Hall and have a list of actionable items. The city really seemed interested in making an impact here.”

Karen Sloan-Payne, another task force member, stressed the importance of Rockaway residents having a say in what becomes of their community as the peninsula witnessed a rebirth over the summer months with an increased presence of day visitors who have found a new interest in Rockaway Beach.

“Rockaway is a jewel that went undiscovered for many years,” she said. “People are finding here what we already knew about for a long time. We want to spur the growth but make sure people here have a say in what their community becomes.”

Perhaps the tallest order of the task force recommendations is elimination of the Cross Bay Bridge toll which is under the jurisdiction of the MTA, a state-run agency. The task force feels this is an unnecessary burden on residents. Hundreds attending public hearings, political press conferences and even a protest march across the bridge were not enough to stop the MTA from revoking the resident rebate program. Instead residents had to settle for a compromise that currently provides free trips only after the first two paid tolls of each day.

“The city has four representatives on the MTA Board,” Ulrich said. “They need to stand up for Rockaway.”

“The city has never given the MTA a clear understanding of Rockaway,” Sanders said about Rockaway MTA improvements. “The city needs to make Rockaway a priority and tell them we’re important to the city.”

The task force consisted of Charles Jacobs, president of Arverne by the Sea Homeowners Association; Sender Schwartz, community leader in Far Rockaway’s orthodox community; Andrea Sanders, president of Victorious Women’s Organization; local activist Edwin Williams; Karen Sloan-Payne, Dayton Towers’ representative for Civic and Political Affairs; Steven Greenberg, former president of the Breezy Point Co-op; John Lepore, president of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce; and Dan Mundy Sr., a longtime Community Board 14 member and environmentalist.

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