March CB14 Meeting Recap
By Katie McFadden
Members of Community Board 14 and neighbors braved the elements on a stormy Tuesday, March 14, to make it to the monthly CB14 meeting at the Knights of Columbus. With a land use item for a new building proposal on the agenda and an announcement of more hotels serving as shelters, it was not one to miss.
District Manager Jon Gaska started off with some not-so-good news. He said CB14 received an email from the Department of Homeless Services on Monday saying that, on an emergency basis, they are placing homeless men at two hotels located at 10-21 and 10-25 Beach 21st Street. The Windgate by Wyndham Hotel will fill 150 beds and the JFK Rockaway Hotel will fill 104. This is being run by provider Hogar. Elected officials were notified and Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers, who Gaska said is not happy, is on the case. Chairwoman Dolores Orr shared a sentiment felt by many. “I think everyone predicted as soon as the hotels started construction, at some point they would become shelters,” Orr said. “I’m sad to say we were correct.”
Members of the NYPD then provided updates, including Captain Steve Hyland, the new executive officer of the 100th Precinct. He announced they were searching for a missing 10-year-old girl from Beach 59th Street. He then provided crime stat updates for the last 28 days. Murder and rape levels are at zero, robberies were three vs. two last year, felony assault was 5 vs. 4, burglary is even at 3 vs. 3, grand larceny is at 10 vs. 8, and grand larceny auto is at 5 vs. 2. Lt. Rosario of Transit District 23 said they’ve been making several more arrests and giving out more summonses recently and described a subway stabbing event that happened on Tuesday. He also noted that of the recent arrests, “75% of people we’ve arrested have a history of robbery, shootings, stabbings and assaults.”
Councilwoman Brooks-Powers was on hand to provide some updates. CB 14 had put in a request to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to find out how much of the new affordable housing developments are filled. The Councilwoman said Rockaway Village is leased at 75%, Beach 21 is leased at 10% (but a project manager later said this was incorrect, and it is 90% filled), and Cornaga Commons is leased over 50%. “What does this mean? HPD has funded a record number of projects in Far Rockaway since rezoning and we’ve been outpacing the other boroughs. We have a lot of housing coming off the ground at the same time and these units are taking time to fill. I’m gonna call HPD to plan construction so it’s timed properly,” Brooks-Powers said. She also reminded people about her Trauma and Healthcare task force, which will be holding an in-person meeting on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Rock Safe Streets (34-11 Beach Channel Drive) to present data findings. She also urged that everyone fill out the healthcare survey, to help them determine what Rockaway needs. The survey can be found on her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CMSelvenaBrooksPowers). “I need everyone to show up. If I’m standing alone, it only does so much,” she said.
The floor then opened to those who signed up for public speaking. One neighbor of Surfside again brought up the upcoming proposal by Alma realty to build more buildings on the land from Beach 105th to Beach 108th. Citing a lack of proper infrastructure, the neighbor explained why they are strongly against the project. Liz Geraghty spoke about the overdevelopment in general, while Rockaway lacks services like a hospital and enough police patrols. “Elected officials, get what is needed here!” she said.
Eugene Falik complained about the DOT for having a sidewalk on Redfern Ave closed for too long, and a planter by the Far Rockaway subway station that is causing people to block traffic when they drop someone off at that station.
Several neighbors brought up a concern over a building at 139 Beach 119th Street. The building was long neglected, but suddenly, there is a lot of action taking place at the building that only has permits for a new hot water heater. Construction crews have not been answering questions, leading neighbors to believe the building is being fixed up as a shelter or halfway house. “We’ve been calling for a year about this building and now suddenly it’s an emergency to get this built? They’re working on it 24/7. I don’t know who has a permit for what, but the story goes that this is going to be the newest halfway house in Rockaway—just what we don’t need,” Kathy Heavey said. The neighbors claim that when they call DOB to investigate, the construction crews leave the scene, raising suspicions even higher.
A representative from the Rockaway Community Justice Center spoke about them hiring locally and other opportunities they provide. Lastly, Christine James applauded sanitation and the local councilwomen for staying on top of cleanup efforts around the community and asked that attention be brought to the Rockaway Freeway due to potholes and broken sidewalks along this strip that is frequently used by pedestrians.
Representatives from National Grid made a quick presentation on a project they’ll be starting in April to replace a regulator station on Augustina Avenue, from Beach 12th to Minton Street. They will be replacing an existing regulatory station that was built in 1956 and is due for replacement due to corrosion. The project takes place in front of three homes. Augustina Ave. will be closed to through traffic but open to the residents while construction is taking place. The project will be done by the fall, in time for the next heating season. The board took no issue with this necessary project.
They were not so welcoming of the next project presented. Community Builders was hoping for a zoning change from an R4-1 to an R6A for a property located at 29-32 Beach Channel Drive. They hope to build an eight-story building with 106 new housing units of 100% affordable housing, with 27 parking spaces, plus access to another 25 parking spaces at a neighboring building. The building will be sustainable and flood resistant. When this was presented to the CB14 Land Use committee earlier in the month, they expressed concerns over the congestion in the area and limited parking, and a desire for one to two family homes rather than more apartment buildings. The committee made a motion to oppose the upzoning needed for the building.
Knowing the odds weren’t in their favor, Community Builders, a 501c3, and their legal representatives were back to state their case for the need for the building. They explained they’re the same ones behind the new Beach 21 affordable development and they’re hoping to expand their reach. They claimed they have some letters of support, including from nonprofits RDRC, FRANC and the Ocean Bay Community Center, as well as 16 residents of the neighboring building. To move forward, they need the zoning change, a text amendment and a Waterfront Revitalization Certification.
After hearing their proposal, Orr reminded the board that CB14 has a moratorium on any further development requiring an R6A or higher upzoning. A motion was made to oppose the upzoning for this project. With an overwhelming yes vote, two no votes and two abstentions, the motion to oppose the upzoning carried. The project still has to go through the rest of the ULURP approval process ahead of the Borough President and City Council to be approved.