By Katie McFadden
From presentations by Sanitation, the National Park Service and residents making pleas against further development on the peninsula, the February Community Board 14 meeting was full of information.
There were more people in the audience than community board members in attendance at the February 15 meeting at the Knights of Columbus, but the agenda was full. Community Manager Jon Gaska announced that the board would be opposing new 5G towers in front of residential buildings and houses of worship until further study is done. Chairwoman Dolores Orr spoke about recent meetings she went to, including with the NYPD Chief of Patrol, which is discussing quality of life concerns with each precinct. As part of that, the 100th Precinct has been able to add some foot patrols to Beach 116th Street. The 101st Precinct will be focusing on illegal smoke shops near schools in the area. Orr also attended a Borough Board meeting in which all community boards met with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards to discuss topics like funding. She was disgusted to learn that Queens, which has the second highest population in NYC, still has the lowest budget for capital expenses.
In further announcements, Gaska said the DOT plans to remove jersey barriers near the new library building around Mott and Central Avenues, as they have been disrupting buses’ ability to turn. He also touched on the issue of residents of a new affordable housing building on Beach 21st Street not being able to park in the building’s garage as it’s not open yet. Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers, who was at the meeting, said she is working on this issue with the property owners and anticipates progress soon. Gaska also spoke about quality-of-life issues and said police are understaffed as classes used to produce 10 to 15 new officers per precinct, but now they’re only getting four or five new officers while many officers are retiring.
The NYPD was on hand to provide more updates including Deputy Inspector Carlos Farbara of the 100th Precinct who gave crime statistics for the month and Sgt. Walker of Transit District 23. Due to limited time, those with questions were advised to attend the next 100th Precinct Community Council meetings to ask questions. Local elected officials including Councilwomen Joann Ariola and Brooks-Powers, plus representatives for other officials, were also given time to provide updates. Ariola spoke about ongoing efforts with DSNY and Wildcats to clean up the community. She also announced that the demolition of the Neponsit Home is expected to take place next month. Brooks-Powers spoke about her district’s Trauma and Healthcare task force which is discussing ways to bring a trauma center or more healthcare options to the peninsula. She suggested people fill out a health care survey that was recently sent out by her office to assist with this process.
A representative from the Department of Sanitation provided information about the new City rules for putting out garbage that will go into effect on April 1. The current time that New Yorkers are permitted to put out garbage is after 4 p.m. In hopes of reducing vermin, the City has decided to reduce the amount of time garbage can be out on the street, so in April, residents will have to place trash in a 55 gallon or less container with a lid after 6 p.m., or in trash bags after 8 p.m. Commercial locations can place garbage out in a container within an hour of closing or in garbage bags after 8 p.m.
Some pointed out issues with this, especially when it comes to seniors or disabled folks and those who may have aides that go home early. Others pointed out that some businesses close much earlier than 8 p.m. The representative acknowledged the concerns and said these exceptions and ways to address them are being discussed. Orr noted that there will be some leniency and warnings will be given out for a period of time before fines are given for putting garbage out too early.
Members of the National Park Service, including Superintendent Jen Nersesian, were on hand to provide some updates on what’s going on with Riis Park. They spoke about programming and rehabilitation of the light poles on the boardwalk and the efforts of the NYC Plover Project. They also spoke about the 60-year lease with Riis Beach Bazaar for the Riis Bathhouse. “They will be investing $50 million into the historic rehabilitation for that, hotel rooms on the second floor, ground floor food and beverage, a swimming pool in the courtyard and visitor services,” Nersesian said. Rehabilitation work has begun and should take two years. They are also rehabilitating the structure at Bay 9.
Nersesian acknowledged that it’s been a tough year for Riis, as several bays had to be closed due to erosion last summer. “The Army Corps is working on those groins that are trapping sand, so we’ve lost sand at Riis,” she said. Riis will see sand replenishment efforts begin around March 15 to build the beaches back up. Additionally, Riis will see an infrastructure upgrade focusing on the parking lot. The booths will be rehabbed, and an automated system will be put in place to make paying the fee a smoother process for beachgoers. This project is in design and is expected to go out to contract in 2024.
Another thing NPS is looking at is rehabilitation of the deteriorating boardwalk. They tried to go out to bid last year, but didn’t get sufficient bids in, so they’re going to try again this year. They also hope to rehabilitate the playground, but they don’t have funding for it. They’re looking into planning the design while searching for funding. There are also ongoing efforts to provide more shading around the playground. The board had several questions for NPS, but invited them back as they were on a time constraint.
The room was then open to those who signed up for public speaking. Sonia Moise, president of the Edgemere Civic Association, opened with discussing a petition going out on Change.org about “Birds Over People.” As a resident of Edgemere, Sonia and others have grown frustrated over not being able to access their beach from Beach 35th to Beach 50th Street since 1996 due to the nesting piping plovers in the area. “Everyone’s concerned over birds but they’re putting birds over people,” she said. Things got heated when later, Chris Allieri of the NYC Plover Project spoke about the group’s efforts to protect these birds.
Another hot button issue during public speaking was the expected proposal by Alma Realty to build even more 20-story buildings on the land where the existing Surfside buildings are. Maureen Del Vecchio began, as a resident of Dayton, who used to live in Surfside and left because of the ways the current buildings deteriorated after Alma took over. She explained how Alma’s plan would take away current parking spots and would not provide enough new parking for the new buildings as well as the increase in traffic and other ways the development would negatively impact the peninsula. Andy Lauro, a current Surfside resident, explained that Alma reduced staff when they took over, including removing the super for each building, which has resulted in issues with elevators, heat, hot water and more. Lauro also spoke of how Alma has been named one of the worst landlords in the city and is facing a lawsuit for more than 800 violations in their properties.
Barbara Buffolino, president of the SHAFT housing association, explained that this development and others in Rockaway could impact everyone. “All of this development is going to affect all of us. I know Community Board 14 has a moratorium demanding more infrastructure be addressed before more development is done and Rockaway is with you. We have to stand up against this,” she said. At least three other community members spoke out against this project during public speaking.
Some other things that were brought up were the upcoming Autism walk on April 23 from Beach 126th to Beach 60th at 10 a.m. All are welcome to sign up that morning on Beach 126th. Another neighbor brought up the issue of the growing population of stray cats that are being fed around the boardwalk on Beach 105th. Mike Honan brought up the issue of police placards being used for summer parking and cars not being ticketed. He requested that the board get a program involving traffic officers to enforce ticketing for placards and covered license plates.
The meeting ended with new and old business. A few members brought up the low attendance of the meeting. Since not enough CB members have been showing up, CB14 has not been able to hold a quorum to vote on issues. Orr said some members haven’t been to one meeting since being appointed two years ago. Gaska said as part of the process for choosing new community board members, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards is expected to remove members who have poor attendance.
On March 6, there will be a Land Use committee meeting to discuss the rezoning for a property on Beach 32nd and Beach Channel Drive.