But Locals Worried About Concrete Effects
After many community board meetings, plans and discussions, Downtown Far Rockaway’s Revitalization will be soon underway with a projected start date of mid-September. The massive reconstruction with a price tag of $220M will replace 80-year-old water mains and sanitary sewers; build new affordable housing buildings; a Pedestrian Plaza at Beach 22nd Street, complete with new curbs and neckdowns; new sidewalks, driveways; and more. However, residents and merchants are worried about massive disruptions as the project has been condensed to be completed by July 15, 2022.
Last Thursday, The Rockaway Times and other media were invited to a presentation and a walkthrough of the downtown project led by Department of Design and Construction (DDC) representatives and Councilman Donovan Richards, who has had a heavy hand in spearheading Far Rockaway’s revitalization. According to DDC’s Deputy Commissioner of Infrastructure Eric Macfarlane, the amount of money the city is spending in the area is about $220M, with the infrastructure construction alone estimated at $114M.
“Old infrastructure has to be replaced before the economic development affordable housing buildings are finished because they have to connect to the sewers and the water main. So Phase 1 has to be finished, so the other projects can move along,” MacFarlane said.
The $114M infrastructure construction plan includes replacement of water mains and sanitary sewers (some that MacFarlane said are at least 80 years old), installation of new storm sewers, reconstruction of roadways, sidewalks, streetscape, and green infrastructure. The infrastructure construction will be done by the Department of Transportation (DOT), NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other private utilities.
MacFarlane said that the infrastructure reconstruction is direly needed and boasted the following benefits: alleviated community flooding conditions, enhanced water main capacity, replacing 80-year-old mains, improved water quality and pressure, and addressing current and future downtown expansion needs and resiliency. “Some of these water mains have been there for over 80 years, so it’s about time we replace these things,” he said.
As for how all of this construction will affect the merchant and residential community, which initially was supposed to take place over seven years, and now has been condensed to three years, Councilman Richards was brutally honest.
“There is going to be disruptions and there is no getting around impacts. We have very narrow streets as you can see. There will be impacts on businesses, but in the long term, this project is going to be beneficial to the businesses and business district that has suffered because of lack of infrastructure, like for example, having to step over the puddles every time it rains. So all the systematic issues that the community has endured are all going to be addressed here, but there are going to be impacts, and we want to make sure that all of the agencies that are part of this project are cohesively working together to make this as perfect as possible, but anywhere you do infrastructure work, there are going to be impacts, and we want to prepare the community, and give them an opportunity to chime in,” Richards said.
A community meeting about the reconstruction was announced to be held the same Thursday evening, however locals said they were unaware. One merchant with a business on Cornaga Avenue said, “We were not told about this meeting, and why weren’t we invited to the walkthrough? All we’ve heard about is the government money being spent here, but how is it going to affect us directly in the interim? So many stores have all already shut their doors for good. What’s going to happen to the rest of us in the next three years with the disruptions? I feel as merchants, we’ve been totally ignored throughout this process.”
Richards and MacFarlane said two Construction Community Liaisons (CCLs) will be assigned to the project to work with the community on any issues that arise. They have not been hired as of yet but are expected to be secured soon.
Arverne resident Edwin Williams also commented on how local Far Rock businesses will be affected. “The infrastructure upgrades alone will kill the small businesses in the area due to mobility and lack of parking. It may run a lot of small businesses away as you can already see for rent signs in the windows on Mott Avenue. All one needs to do is look at the hellish conditions on Rockaway Beach Blvd, and how it has affected businesses and residents from Beach 73rd to Beach 88th. The Far Rock project is far bigger and will be a larger headache for residents.”
Other Rockaway residents bemoaned how the construction will affect their commute and overall safety in the area.
Inwood resident Elisa Bachrow Hinken said, “Where are the evacuation routes—right through Far Rockaway under construction and the Queens-Nassau-Queens run? Rockaway residents are screwed. Remember the trestle was washed out? Stranded. Sitting ducks in Rockaway.”
Christine Dydzuhn, who works for a school in the direct area, expressed concerns about how the construction will affect children and school personnel. “Our school is located right in the hub of that construction. It makes parking very difficult for the teachers to get to school and teach in a timely fashion. Let alone finding any parking at all! Also once all of this housing is put into place—where are the children going to go to school? I don’t think the construction companies or district are really looking into the amount of people they want to put into the community and what they can actually provide for the children,” she said.
After the DDC presentation, the walkthrough led by DDC Director of Infrastructure Herve Mathelier, ended at the Q22 bus layover at Beach 22nd Street and Mott Avenue. Mathelier exuberantly expressed that the area will soon be home to a sparkling new plaza with an event space and stage. Something for locals to get excited about? Let’s see what happens in the next three years.
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