On Thursday, April 26, the public got a chance to have their say in the future plans for the old Peninsula Hospital site near Beach 51st Street. However, with the only public scoping meeting held at 4 p.m. on a Thursday by the Department of City Planning, only a few locals were available to voice their thoughts on the plan that calls for 17 buildings and more than 2,200 residential units on a less than 10-acre piece of land.
At P.S. 105, a school diagonally across from the recently-razed Peninsula Hospital site, not even a quarter of the auditorium was full as the Department of City Planning held its scoping meeting, outlining the early plans for the future of the site and zoning changes that will be necessary to make some aspects of the plan possible.
In the summer of 2016, Arker Companies and the Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, together under the Peninsula Rockaway Limited Partnership, purchased the Peninsula Hospital site, which had been unused since the hospital closed in 2012, for $19 million. At the end of March of this year, the Department of City Planning (DCP) released a draft scope of the project, detailing the early plan for the site’s future. It calls for an approximately 2,289,000 gross square feet (gsf) development on the 9.34-acre site. The plan includes 17 buildings with around 2,200 residential dwelling units, of which 1,910 are intended to be affordable, restricted to households with incomes up to 80 percent of Area Median Income, while another 270 units will be set aside for senior housing. In addition to housing, the project would include approximately 151,800 gsf of retail space, around 25,000 gsf of which may be used for a gym; approximately 64,400 gsf of community facility space programed for medical offices, and approximately 37,600 square feet of publicly-accessible open space. The whole site would only include 624 new parking spaces. The planners expect the entire project to be complete by 2034, with construction starting some time in 2019.
Arker Companies is no stranger to Rockaway. The company recently developed the Beach Channel Senior Housing project, a seven-story, 154-unit building, mostly reserved for senior citizens and formerly homeless families, located at 34-11 Beach Channel Drive. This was the first project to break ground, in August 2015, under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $350 Million program to provide affordable housing for seniors. The Peninsula site would be Arker’s second Rockaway project.
At Thursday’s meeting, DCP and interested parties gave a brief presentation on the project and opened the floor to public comments. The response among the few that signed up to speak was mixed, with some adamantly against the plan, others in support of it, and many explaining some concerns with certain aspects of the project planned for an already vulnerable peninsula.
Councilman Donovan Richards, the only elected official to appear at the meeting, said he “looks forward to working with Arker on this long overdue plan,” but, “we need to make the plan better.” He complimented Arker for hiring many locals for the Beach Channel Senior Housing project, but said the newly proposed project needs to take some things into consideration. “It is critical that some sort of medical facility be included in this plan. There should also be significant square footage for recreation areas for families,” Richards said. He also suggested bringing quality, healthy food store options to the area, urged that 50 percent of the units be made available to residents first and that jobs related to the project go to locals. Richards also pointed out local flooding issues, saying, “In this area, from Beach 56th to 48th, the streets flood with the slightest amount of rainfall, so I’m looking forward to seeing a plan to reduce flooding and improving the draining system in this area as we entertain new development. Resiliency is going to be critical,” he said. He also addressed the need for improved transportation in the area, a need for adequate parking related to the project, the possibility of creating another school in a borough that faces overcrowding in current classrooms and more. “We have some ways to go in this plan to make it a better plan for this community,” he said, adding, “This will go through the ULURP process and will make its way to my desk and we’ll be the ones saying if we like it and want to approve it or not.”
Among other public comments, many pointed out the inconvenient time of holding the meeting at 4 p.m. on a Thursday, many requested that the project include something for children and families, some thanked Arker for providing local jobs, several expressed concerns over having adequate parking, many pointed out that the peninsula can’t meet the medical needs of the residents already here, and some pointed out that the company wants to squeeze too many people into one area.
“They took away the only other hospital and now want to turn it into housing units. Where are they gonna go when they’re sick? I can promise you that St. John’s, in its current capacity, cannot handle 2,000 more patients. I’m not against housing or adding people, but the amount you’re doing is ridiculous,” a resident named Samuel said.
“This isn’t even a 10-acre site and you want to put 2,200 units on it,” local Glenn DiResto said. “Compare that to Arverne by the Sea. That has the same number of units, 2,200 on 120 acres of land. Not 10 acres. The city is planning to cram 2,200 on 10 acres. That’s too populated for this peninsula that already lacks services such as adequate transportation, schools, hospitals and retail. This plan needs to be scaled back and looked at by the city.”
The documents related to this project and meeting can be found at www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/applicants/scoping-documents.page
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