What About the Harbor Light?

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Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel? Locals are hoping there will at least be a light in Belle Harbor—The Harbor Light.  The beloved local restaurant has long been missed since Hurricane Sandy’s infernos claimed it as a victim on October 29, 2012. Many pass the now rebuilt building each day and wonder—when is it opening?

That answer is still up in the air, but owner Sean Heeran remains hopeful that the answer is sooner than later.

On the night of Hurricane Sandy, the Harbor Light caught fire and burnt to the ground—another stab to the chest of Rockaway’s broken heart after the storm. However the Heeran family was determined to bring it back. “We were here for 33 years before Sandy and we had this building for our whole lives and all of a sudden it burned down. It’s been a long way back, but we’re not gonna give up,” Sean Heeran said. Construction began on the new building in December 2013, and yet more than four and a half years later, and nearly six years since the storm, the new Harbor Light’s doors remain closed.

With the exception of the restaurant equipment not in place yet, Heeran says the Harbor Light would open tomorrow, but that decision is not up to him. As many that recovered after Sandy already know, red tape doesn't make things easy. Currently, the red tape is being held by the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). On Tuesday, June 19, Heeran and his lawyer were given an opportunity to plead their case in front of the BSA for permission to open. “We just had this meeting and we go in front of them and they tell us that we have to give a stronger case and to come back in seven weeks,” Heeran said. “I was hoping this meeting would go okay and we’d catch the end of the summer but it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen.”

They will have another opportunity to present their case at a BSA public hearing in August. If all goes well with that meeting, Heeran would then need to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy, which he says they would likely get a few weeks after the BSA’s approval. “We’re hoping to be up and operating by early fall,” he said.

“This has just been a grueling process. But we want to let the people of Rockaway know that we’re trying our best. It’s just been a battle,” Heeran said. While the Harbor Light doors remain closed as we start another summer season, Heeran continues to pay property taxes and insurance, plus lawyer fees. He says that Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato and Councilman Eric Ulrich are doing their best to help with the situation. “They’re trying to help out whatever way possible. Dealing with the City is such a bigger thing. The City is so busy and there’s so much going on, but we want to thank everyone for being patient,” Heeran said. “We appreciate all of the support and everything the community has done for us. We’re doing our best.”

In the meantime, there's something the public can do to help. On Tuesday, July 3, starting at 6 p.m., head down to Volleyball at Riis Park (near Riis Park Beach Bazaar) to sign a petition in support of opening the Harbor Light. "Right now we are facing a challenging building variance issue. We need you to sign a petition of support which will be presented to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to show how much the Harbor Light means to our community. In addition, if you would like to write a letter of support it will be greatly appreciated, and you can bring the letter Tuesday for us to present to the BSA," Heeran said.

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