Ghost Of Robert Moses
In 2003 New York City sold Robert Moses’ last unfinished project, the Arverne Urban Renewal Area (AURA) in Rockaway, to Benjamin Beachwood LLC. Because it was a ULURP action, the city sold the land pursuant to a 1,151 page environmental impact statement (EIS) which laid out in painful detail every aspect of the development plan, its impacts and the required mitigations.
After Sandy destroyed the boardwalk in many Rockaway locations, NYC adopted a boardwalk rebuilding plan. This plan was adopted in secret, without the input of the Rockaway community. Even as the Parks Department was promising in January to include the community in the rebuilding plan, Parks was already submitting final plans for approval.
The problematic aspect of this plan is the addition of 35 public bathrooms and lifeguard offices in 17 locations across the city. More than half are in Rockaway and more are on the way. The cost? More than $100 million. Formerly called lifeguard shacks, these new lifeguard offices should now be called “Lifeguard Palaces” to reflect their luxury.
These facilities will (1) be aesthetically nightmarish to residents and visitors; (2) be of limited value since their locations do not coincide with the areas where the public uses the beaches in significant numbers; and (3) be elevated above the boardwalk and therefore hard to use by anyone with a weak bladder or difficulty climbing long ramps.
Making matters worse, NYC is building lifeguard palaces and public bathrooms at two locations the EIS designated as a “beachfront preserve” in Arverne. The city is violating deed restrictions, destroying habitat and proving once again you can’t trust city government. But the schoolyard bully always gets his way, because he can.
Furthermore, in their NYS Department of Environmental Conservation permit application, NYC claims the new facilities merely replace what was there before in order to qualify for speedy approval. The recently released schematics prove that is not true. These new facilities will be permanent, much larger than before, not on the same footprint and two stories high. Does DEC have an obligation to verify representations made to it by NYC, or are they merely a rubber stamp?
If NYC continues on this unilateral course, it will create a precedent by violating an EIS to which it agreed in 2003. Will this then make every covenant by NYC in every EIS unenforceable and voidable at the city’s whim? What good is a Charter if everyone ignores it? When is a law, not a law?
Possibly as bad, NYC has violated the Open Meetings Law by selecting these 17 locations and designs in secret. So much for “open government” and community participation.
Finally, will NYC violate the Coastal Erosion Hazard Act by building permanent facilities on the seaward side of the Coastal Erosion Hazard Line?
Perhaps naively, we thought the days were over of city bureaucrats ignoring “inconvenient” laws and steamrolling neighborhoods (e.g. the Cross Bronx Expressway) at their tyrannical whim. Local elected officials seem strangely silent. Even the environmental crowd is uncharacteristically quiet. Has a deal been made?
Students of history will recognize the techniques of Robert Moses. Has his ghost and playbook been resurrected by Mayor Bloomberg?
Hopefully, our mayoral wannabees will comment on this issue of city governance and community participation so the voters can have an idea of what type of administration we can expect next year.