Rockaway Overwhelmingly Rejects Alma Proposal at Scoping Meeting

By Katie McFadden

The application process is moving forward for Alma’s proposal to build even more residential units on the land where the Surfside buildings from Beach 105th to Beach 108th Street reside, and at a scoping meeting for the project with City Planning on Thursday, April 4, Rockaway made it known that it isn’t wanted.

On Thursday, April 4, the planning team for the Alma proposal, elected officials, civic leaders, residents of Surfside and neighbors from the community, logged on to Zoom to participate in a public scoping meeting for the proposed rezoning of 106-10 Shore Front Parkway. The meeting was moderated by Stephanie Shellooe, Director of the Environmental Assessment and Review Division of the NYC Department of City Planning. As she explained, the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to gather public input on the proposed project to help shape the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project before it is written. “We will review comments and the department will decide what changes, if any, need to be issued to the draft scope of work and we’ll issue a final scope of work for the DEIS to be prepared,” Shellooe said.

A planning team represented property manager Alma Realty to present some details about their proposed plan. Jay Valgora, founder and principal of STUDIO V Architecture, presented most of the plan, including a slideshow with pretty renderings of their future vision for the site that stretches from Beach 105th to Beach 108th Street, between Shore Front Parkway and Rockaway Beach Blvd. The site is currently home to three towers that make up the Surfside Residences, a pool deck and a large asphalt area where residents have paid parking spaces, all managed by Alma Realty. The new development, a total of 15 buildings, would be built on the asphalt and in between the current three buildings.

Valgora explained that the three existing towers were done by Robert Moses as part of a plan he called “outdated.” They’re hoping to change the landscape. “The Rockaways is a really special community, so we’re hoping to create something that will be very special there,” Valgora said.

Slides showed the scope of the tremendous project. Currently, Surfside has 771 units. After construction, the area would have 2,331 residential units. There are currently 641 parking spaces. The new project would have 1,822 parking spaces. They said the cars would be placed in an interior garage, but the renderings did not show this space. The plan would also include 29,000 square feet of retail space and a 14,000 square foot community facility that would include a public aquatic center to “teach swimming to children and have senior programs,” Valgora said.

A new pool deck would be created for the current residents and the new residents would have rooftop pools. The proposed buildings are comprised of a mix of towers and smaller “bungalow” like buildings for the retail space, community facility and limited small-scale housing. Valgora did not say how tall the towers would be, but an online project brief submitted to City Planning says the rezoning would allow for “four new buildings with a maximum of 24 stories.” Valgora went on to highlight green open spaces that they’ll create on the property featuring trees, plantings, gardens, lawns, native plantings, dunes, dune planting and seagrass.

Lastly, he enthusiastically described a new Rockaway Resiliency Hub that they would create in response to Hurricane Sandy. This facility on Beach 105th Street would house elevated firetrucks in a parking garage, generators, portable water and other resources for emergencies. “I believe passionately in this,” Valgora said.

Overall, the plan would add 1.3 billion gross square feet of building space. This would include 1,560 new dwelling units with 25-30% having “permanent affordability” at 60-80% of the Area Median Income. The planners expect this would bring approximately 4,212 additional residents to the area, for a total of 6,294 residents.

Following the presentation, Shellooe welcomed comments from those who registered to speak. Despite being at 2 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, about 26 people signed up to let City Planning know their thoughts about the project, and not one person had something favorable to say. Shellooe allowed local elected officials to plead their case first.

Reading a letter she was submitting to City Planning, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said, “I am writing to express my deep objection and firm opposition to the plan proposed by Alma Realty to build nearly 2,000 new units on the Rockaway peninsula. Since taking office in 2017, I have worked in tandem with the tenants of this apartment complex to resolve hundreds of cases that are the result of a bad landlord. Alma Realty has ignored tenant concerns, violated numerous existing laws and regulations on a City and State level, and continuously been placed on different ‘Worst Landlord Watchlist.’ Let me be clear, Alma is a bad landlord, a horrible community partner, and should never be allowed to build new housing units on this peninsula.”

Councilwoman Joann Ariola mocked the presentation, calling it, “the land of make believe.” She went on to express her strong opposition to the plan, citing the many times current Surfside residents have called her office to help them address issues that property manager, Alma, allegedly ignored, from heat issues to broken elevators, water issues and beyond, which were only addressed after her office contacted Alma. She also addressed the even broader issue of Alma being sued by the city for “dangerous and unsanitary conditions” at 13 other buildings that they manage across the city, with more than 800 uncorrected violations. “Alma is a slumlord. They should not be granted any additional project anywhere in New York City and especially not in Rockaway,” she said, citing the many insufficient infrastructure issues that already plague the peninsula. “I oppose this project and I will always oppose this project,” she ended.

Dolores Orr, longtime chairwoman of Community Board 14, reminded City Planning that since June 1, 2022, CB14 has a moratorium against any upzoning due to the lack of adequate infrastructure to support the influx of new residents. “What happens on one end of the peninsula, impacts the other. Looking at what has happened over the last six to seven years, we have over 12,000 new units of housing and we project there to be at least 30,000 new residents coming and this Alma project is not even a part of what we had when we passed the moratorium,” Orr said. Lacking adequate medical services, enough schools, and even a set evacuation plan on a peninsula that seems to flood even more frequently, Orr made it clear that adding these additional buildings to the narrowest piece of land on the peninsula, would simply overwhelm the community.

Barbara Buffolino, the president of Surfside’s housing association, SHAFT, has been on top of the fight against Alma’s proposal for over a decade. “This project will allow over 300% in population density, would be double the size of the current buildings and would reduce the required spacing between buildings. It will endanger the current residents and the Rockaway community,” she said.

Karen Nevirs, a resident of Surfside for 40 years and member of SHAFT, spoke about the decline of the current properties ever since Alma bought it 20 years ago. “When Alma bought the buildings, they broke the union 32BJ and decreased the staff,” she said, which has resulted in issues not properly being addressed at the current properties. “Alma has demonstrated systematic neglect. Alma is a bad actor. This will destroy our Rockaway community. Alma should’ve started plans to put plants in and act as good people 20 years ago when they took over this property.”

Among other speakers were residents of neighboring bungalows and Dayton Towers, president of uptown civics including Paul King and Amanda Agoglia, assembly candidate Tom Sullivan, former Surfside residents and more. Their comments echoed the thoughts of Rockaway Park resident Christopher Calabrese who said, “This project is so outrageously irresponsible, that it should have been dead on arrival.”

All of the comments made at the meeting will go on record and must be addressed in the DEIS. Written comments, which will also go on record, are being accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, April 15. They can be emailed to:

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