Ulrich is All Ears on Community Funding

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Peninsula improvements were on the agenda last Monday when several community-minded folks turned out, with ideas in hand, to present their wish-list for Councilman Eric Ulrich’s 2018 budget.

Dog poop, bike racks and a little verbal sparring over painting a wall were a few of the more livelier topics at the first of three community engagement sessions Ulrich is holding.  

The office at 114-12 Beach Channel Drive was suggestion-central on May 7 for the handful of people that showed up, representing Far Rockaway, Rockaway Park, Belle Harbor and Neponsit.

Ulrich arrived, along with his daughter, Lily, who got right to her homework as Ulrich got to his work with the community.

Ulrich started by explaining the genesis of community engagement sessions outside the realm of Participatory Budgeting (PB) and why he’s choosing to fund directly from his budget instead of through the citywide Participatory Budgeting program this year. “This streamlines the process and gets things done quicker,” Ulrich said. “We pulled out of PB because it placed so many rules and restrictions that made it almost impossible to get the things that communities wanted. City agencies were becoming less and less cooperative. This gives us more flexibility now and avoids a long procurement process,” Ulrich said.

Among the calls for increased signage for cyclists and pedestrians, and speed bumps and stop signs on Shore Front Parkway, Hank Iori, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (BHPOA) tossed around a few ideas for bicycle racks on the beaches. He estimates the installation of two galvanized steel racks at each beach entryway would cost roughly $26,000 and would create a safer entry and exit to and from the beach.

A request to increase the number of dog bag stations caused a bit more concern. Belle Harbor resident, Barbara Larkin pointed out that in light of the dog restrictions on the beach during the summer, newly placed dog bag stations may create confusion, while others made it clear that not everyone will welcome dog bag stations on their corners.

Jill Lauri, Rockaway resident and member of the Rockaway Beach Civic  Association (RBCA), continued on the signage issues saying, “I’d like to see an increase in specialty signage on the peninsula. Something of an educational campaign, to educate people about respecting wildlife and controlling litter.”

Litter was on the mind of Bridget Klapinski as well, who, in an attempt to corral flying debris on the boardwalk, requested that the existing wire garbage cans be swapped out for covered garbage cans. Ulrich concurred.

Then came the plant vs. paint debate. Things heated up a bit when Daniel Ruscillo, member of Community Board 14, presented his wife, Linda’s idea to paint the boardwalk wall, which was met with fierce opposition by a Rockaway Park resident who’s  actively involved with RCA’s planting initiative. The two went head-to-head for a bit, prompting Larkin to weigh in with,  “I’d like to see fauna as opposed to paint.” She then commended the RCA for the ‘beautiful job’ they’ve done on the plantings.

“Let’s work together,” Robert Schwach, Ulrich's deputy chief of staff interjected. “We shouldn’t be afraid of new ideas.” Speculating that painting is likely prohibited, Ulrich decided to put it to rest until the feasibility of the idea was presented to the Parks Department. 

Next up were beach upgrade proposals, including a request to extend lifeguard coverage until 8 p.m., replacement of the 12 volleyball nets washed away by Hurricane Sandy, and a request to increase the number of sunscreen dispensers along the boardwalk.

Uneasy Shore Front Parkway residents, alarmed by the continued threat of speeding, proposed the possibility of speed bump or stop signs. “Some sort of traffic calming device is needed there,” Ulrich agreed. 

John Signorelli, 3rd executive vice president of the BHPOA advocated for an increase in solar panels on the peninsula, followed by an impassioned plea to extend the SANDHW11 project, currently in progress from Beach 116th Street to Beach 124th Street, to Beach 145th Street.  In lieu of simple repaving, he requested complete reconstruction of the stretch, citing widespread deterioration sustained in Hurricane Sandy. Continued discussion on this proposal will take place at the upcoming BHPOA meeting with Department of Transportation (DOT) officials on May 15 at 7 p.m. at P.S./M.S 114Q.  Ulrich said he’ll consider funding $600,000 toward the project pending cooperation with DOT.

Bus congestion on Beach 116th Street and the idea of creating a transit hub to offload passengers in an effort to ease traffic, as well as the request for a LINK informational kiosk in Far Rockaway was proposed. 

Last up, Rick Horan of the new Community Boathouse on Beach 88th Street thanked Ulrich and Schwach for their assistance in securing 22 additional kayaks, expected to arrive this month, before moving on to request  $5,000 in funding for Queens Railway, a non-profit organization advocating reactivating the old Rockaway Beach Rail Line (RBRL). “The money would be used to get the word out about the project,” Horan said.

Ulrich said he would consider the request upon submission of a proposal, but wasn’t so confident in its workability at this point, stating, “It’s a lot harder and more complicated than it seems,” although agreeing with Horan that the revamping of JFK airport may reignite interest.

While an exact dollar amount allocated for Rockaway is still up in the air, Ulrich's Director of Communications Natalia Ko­zikowska said, “Much like every year since taking office, Councilman Ulrich will ensure the Rockaways receive their fair share of city services and funding. The Councilman is proud of the many investments he’s made in the Rockaways and will continue to advocate for the community.”

With that, the first community engagement session ended; just in time for a bedtime story for Lily.

The final community engagement session is scheduled for Thursday, May 10 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  at the Ozone Park District Office (93-06 101st  Avenue). Call Councilman Ulrich’s office at 718-738-1083 for more information or to propose a suggestion.

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