BHPOA May Meeting Recap

By Katie McFadden

As it draws closer to summer, the May Belle Harbor Property Owners Association meeting at P.S. 114 on Tuesday, May 21, was busier than usual with beach issues, City of Yes and safety on the agenda.

BHPOA president Paul King opened the meeting with a lightning round. He reminded folks about the Community Boathouse. Currently, it’s normal homebase of Bay Breeze Park on Beach 88th Street is under renovation, so they are operating kayaking programs out of Vernam Barbados Preserve on Beach 75th and Amstel Blvd. On the issue of “fat trees,” or trees along the median in Belle Harbor that block street views, King advised folks to not take matters in their own hands by trimming the trees, as it can cause more damage. Instead, contact the BHPOA or 311. King also announced that in the appeals court, the city lost its bid to shift retirees to Medicare Advantage, so retired city workers can keep their insurance plans.

Rockaway Parks Administrator Eric Peterson and Deputy Administrator Khalil Bratton were on hand to address some concerns about the beaches including issues with mobimats, lifeguard coverage, garbage and more.

Starting on the lifeguard shortage, Peterson said, “We are in much better shape than the last couple of years.” The number of candidates who requested information about the job was up 60-70%. They had about 600 people take the test and half of those qualified for training. Returning lifeguards have also been taking their qualification tests. “We’re looking at 50% of beaches covered this weekend, which is not far off from past Memorial Days as we wait for students to finish school,” Peterson said. As construction is taking place from Beach 108th to Beach 126th, Peterson expects beaches in the upper Beach 120s to the lower 140s to have coverage when possible.

Peterson discussed an issue of erosion in the Beach 140s, saying it was “more than what the engineers had anticipated.” The Army Corps is looking over their modeling. Peterson said they have a 50-year authorization for maintenance and dredging, but more sand replenishment is currently not funded, so the city would need to obtain funding to have it done. Regarding some steel I-beams that were left in some areas where dune construction took place, Peterson said the plan is to remove them. Regarding the remaining wooden jetty pieces, Peterson said the plan is to remove them, but the city needs to transfer funding to the Army Corps for the contractor to carry out that aspect of the work. He expects them to be removed sometime between summer and spring.

There were many concerns mentioned about mobimats that have been getting covered in sand, or are losing sand underneath, making them unstable to traverse over. Bratton explained that NYC Parks now has six to eight staffers dedicated to servicing the mobimats. As far as sand missing from underneath mats, Bratton said they are addressing it as they see it by removing sand from the top of the mats and filling in the spaces underneath. As Parks gets ready for the beach opening, Bratton said they are continuously working on getting the mats properly placed by the weekend. Some neighbors pointed out that the locations where Parks anticipates building wooden ADA ramps in the future, Beach 131st and 135th, are currently very difficult to get beach access. Peterson said he has received calls from neighbors with mobility issues in those areas and will be paying particular attention to maintaining the mobimats there.

Regarding garbage complaints on Belle Harbor beaches, Bratton said there were not enough trash cans uptown last year. Parks is now adding more trash corrals uptown, with four to six garbage cans in each. They will be adding additional cans to areas that they find to be hotspots, like Beach 129th. Someone complained about trash not being picked up around the beach walls, Bratton said they were having issues with their garbage trucks but will now be better addressing those garbage cans.

Ciara Donley from Councilwoman Joann Ariola’s office provided some updates. Regarding garbage, Donley encouraged people to take photos to send to the councilwoman’s office so they can contact Parks to clean it up. Ariola is also working with the chief of police to try to get more officers for the district’s beach detail. She also read a statement from Ariola about her objection to the controversial City of Yes Housing Opportunity plan.

King then segued into a discussion on City of Yes. He said that even though city planning won’t be voting on it until September and the city council will vote on it at the end of the year, “the fight is right now” for communities to have their say. Massive zoning change proposals have been on the BHPOA’s radar, as they have had urban planner Paul Graziano come to their meetings a few times over the past year or so, to deliver stark warnings about how these zoning plans could be detrimental to areas with predominantly one- and two-family homes, like Belle Harbor.

King gave a few highlights from the massive plan. “City planning thinks we need more buildings, and they don’t care where they go,” King said. “If I lived a little closer to the train, someone could buy my house, knock it down and put a building up instead, with no parking.” On the proposal on Accessory Dwelling Units, King said, “if you’ve got a big garage, you can turn that into a home. Apartments can pop up in basements and it’s going to add more crowding to our one to two family home neighborhoods. Property values will take a huge hit.”

He reminded folks about Alma’s proposal to add 15 new buildings to the already existing Surfside buildings property from Beach 105th to Beach 108th. “Today, we can stop that. If City of Yes goes through, they can do it no matter what community board or elected officials say. They could do the same to the St. Francis schoolyard or the Temple Beth El lot. These are things that do not meet the character of the neighborhood and don’t do anything for our quality of life,” King said.

As a member of Community Board 14, which already gave feedback on the City of Yes Economic Opportunity plan, King said city planning has made very few changes to that plan with 18 proposals, since reviewing community feedback. “They only made changes to four proposals. If they’re doing that for Economic Opportunity, that’s what’s going to happen with Housing Opportunity.”

King urged everyone to turn out for a citywide rally against City of Yes on Friday, May 31 at 11 a.m. at City Hall in Manhattan, so city council can see big numbers of people against this proposal. He also advised people to urge their friends and family in other parts of the city, to urge their council members to come out against this plan, as Councilwoman Ariola is already against it, but a majority of city council needs to vote it down. He also advised people to come to the June 11 Community Board 14 meeting to speak publicly on this issue, as CB14 will be voting on it.

Lastly, on the topic of safety, King was seeking feedback on what the community can do to help out police, who are understaffed, as crime ramps up with the warmer weather. He once again brought up the idea of having private security, like Neponsit has, but reminded folks that they need about 500 households to contribute $300 to $400 a year to make it cost effective. He also brought up the idea of a neighborhood watch and asked if people would be willing to volunteer to drive around late at night, to be an extra set of eyes on the neighborhood and call 911 if they see something. Everyone was reminded to call 911 when they see a crime happening, no matter how small, as current police stats don’t reflect actual crimes taking place since they are not being reported.

The next BHPOA meeting will be held on June 18.

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