2013-08-30 / Front Page

TOP 10

Rockaway Renaissance Is Real
By Kevin Boyle

Rockaway has never – never – had its plate quite so full. We heard someone say the Marshall Plan is underway for Rockaway. (The Marshall Plan is what they call the reconstruction of Europe after World War 2). And while such a description is a bit tongue-in-cheek, there’s no denying Rockaway is poised to undergo dramatic and positive change. Yes, positive. Maybe great. The threat of flood insurance premiums still looms large but if Rockaway can fend off that monster, look out, happy days are coming.

In no particular order, The Wave has identified ten issues that will have an impact on the Rockaway renaissance.

Stop FEMA Now. Although it’s not an inyour face issue like rusting, dilapidated lifeguard stations that cost millions, the threat of runaway flood insurance premiums is far from resolved. FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program are still planning on making up for their near-bankruptcy on your back. FEMA is the same agency that will reimburse Parks for those $3 million lifeguard shacks. FEMA can spend money like that and then turn around and expect homeowners to bail out their flood program without a fight. But FEMA will be getting a fight. If you’re a homeowner with or without a mortgage; if you’re a street level business owner; if you rent and want to live in a stable neighborhood you should support Stop FEMA Now. Look them up online and plan to go to the meeting on September 28th in Broad Channel. You should not assume others will do the job for you. Residents of Howard Beach, Broad Channel, and all of Rockaway should commit to being informed.

Beach protection. Sand is being pumped from Beach 89th Street to Beach 149th Street. A second phase of sand pumping will soon cover Beach 19th Street through Beach 149th Street. Many people feel this is helpful but worry that a storm will wash away the sand and Rockaway will be left as vulnerable as ever. TheArmy Corps of Engineers is completing a study that may or may not lead to the installation of jetties or groins. It’s likely to be 2015 before hard structures are in place. Rockaway will remain vulnerable. Our reps, starting with Chuck Schumer, must stay after Army Corps to get this study done. They say the money is finally in place to get things done. But there is no firm timetable and we’d like to see one. We’ve been studied long enough. You can follow what the Army Corps is up to here: www.usace.army.mil (then put Rockaway in the search bar).

The Game Changer Competition is being run by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The City will award or grant up to $18 million dollars for projects that will generate significant economic activity. Proposals should be submitted by September 16th. Details about eligibility and what EDC is looking for can be found at NYCEDC.com.

This competition is a great opportunity to shape Rockaway in a positive way. Possible game changers might include revitalization and development for Beach 116th Street or Beach 108th Street. Other possibilities include bayside waterfront projects and the rejuvenation of rundown shopping centers. It’s possible that there will be more than one Game Changer competition as another round of Sandy money will soon be delivered.

Jamaica Bay transformation. Although this is considered one of the top ten it actually has three components that could stand alone as factors sure to influence Rockaway’s future: the Science and Resiliency Center; the Jamaica Bay/ Rockaway Parks Conservancy; and the draft of the Gateway General Management Plan.

Rockaway’s backyard will attract millions of dollars and top talent from the worlds of science and philanthropy. A Science and Resiliency Center will be built. Locations being considered are the Coast Guard station at Fort Tilden, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Floyd Bennett Field and possibly somewhere along undeveloped coast, east of Beach 84th Street. Academic teams will use Jamaica Bay as a laboratory, in the words of Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, to determines the best ways to deal with rising sea levels and climate change. The Conservancy, called the Jamaica Bay – Rockaway Parks Conservancy – will look to protect the Bay while encouraging increased recreational use. Finally, Gateway has just released a draft of its General Management Plan, a comprehensive overview of what the National Park Service (NPS) is considering for the area’s future. The plan lays out options — one example: should Fort Tilden offer overnight accommodations of some kind and recreational activities or have very little or no development. Such choices are presented for many areas of Gateway. Another option is developing sports fields and other attractions at Riis Park. The Plan is available online at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=16091 .

Hint: If you google: Gateway General Management Plan National Documents you might get there easier than typing in that long internet address.

There is a Public Comment period open until October 2nd. All comments will be published. Please have a look and weigh in with your comments.

There’s little doubt: the bay has a future.

The new boardwalk. Several top flight design firms submitted proposals to the City by its mid-August deadline. It is expected that the Economic Development Corporation and the Parks Department will select one of these firms and then Parks will reveal boardwalk design plans in September (possibly at a Community Board meeting). The Wave asked Parks and EDC to consider revealing all submitted proposals to the Rockaway community before choosing the firm to get the job.

There may be a rally at City Hall to protest the refusal to allow Rockaway into the decision-making.

Parks has said it hopes the plans get “community approval” which is different than what occurred in January. At that meeting, Parks had already made its decisions about “short term” concession islands and other matters. Parks has alleged that the Rockaway community has contributed to future plans by way of a town hall meeting it held at Beach Channel High School and through a website in which residents could offer their own ideas or vote for others. Keep an eye out for when Parks will make its announcement. The new boardwalk is a vital step in the Rockaway renaissance.

The Mayoral race. Primary Day is Tuesday, September 10th. Although the field has no outstanding candidate – none showed any real understanding of Sandy-impacted areas and issues – it is vital that Rockaway voters turn out. When the race narrows down to a runoff and then the general election in November, campaign people will look at total votes from geographic areas and pay attention accordingly. If Rockaway votes in large numbers the future Mayor will take note. Vote.

New York State Rising Community Grants. This has been flying below the radar a bit partly because the announcement was full of geographic uncertainties and yet-to-be named committees. Locals will soon have a direct say in how millions of dollars will be spent in Rockaway. It is expected some $60 million will be spent for infrastructure and/or economic initiatives. The directive is a bit vague but committees made up of local leaders will eventually decide on some big projects. We urge committees to consider a wide assortment of ideas and perhaps have the community vote in a participatory manner. (We don’t want committees acting like Mayor Bloomberg, do we?)

The communities getting this State money break down into four areas: Breezy Point, Rockaway (likely west of Beach 74th Street); Rockaway east of Beach 74th Street; and Broad Channel.

Far Roc Competition / Arverne East – The folks who were essentially given Arverne East (80 acres east of Ocean Village) to develop that last stretch of wonderful beachfront sat on their hands for more than five years, waiting out the economic downturn. With a new administration taking over City Hall in the new year, the group has suddenly sprung to life. They kicked off a design competition in the spring and now have four finalists (three of which are from outside the U.S.). The competition is not binding: the developers don’t have to use the winning design or hire the design team. Although the competition may amount to nothing it does seem likely that with all the money and momentum coming to Rockaway, the developers won’t be sitting on the sidelines as they have done since 2007. Their choices can affect and determine much of the future of the east end. With a new boardwalk and new businesses, dramatic improvements no longer seem farfetched.

Hospitals – Healthcare. There are rumors about the health of St. John’s Hospital, the only hospital on the peninsula. There is merger talk and a lot of politicians making noise but so far there are only rumors.

Rebuilding – NYC Build It Back. The jury is still out on this program that may reimburse some homeowners for repairs and may help others rebuild. Many people have registered and started the process. There is still time to register by calling 311.

That’s the top ten and we could have easily added a few more items that deserve attention such as the Army Corps Reformulation Study (which will consider jetties, etc.) and the continuing fight to keep and expand ferry service.

And although merely mentioned above, the next round of Sandy money could spell some even greater things for Rockaway. Stay tuned. These are exciting times.

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