Community Board 14 June Meeting Recap

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At one of the last Community Board 14 (CB14) meetings before the summer hiatus, the agenda was jam-packed with updates on the Riis Park Bathhouse, and committee reports on Land Use, Health, Transportation and other issues.

CB14 Chair Dolores Orr kicked off the meeting by reminding board members to make it a point to attend their various committee meetings, as attendance has been low. District Manager Jon Gaska reported on some 311 complaint statistics in the neighborhood, pointing out complaints over asbestos, leaks, sewer backups and even one for ice cream truck noise.

The floor was then open to public speaking. Matt Viggiano of the Mayor’s Office began by advising the audience to take precautionary measures to protect their homes by getting flood insurance. For more info, see floodhelpny.org. Lew Simon provided some updates, including on the natural gas pipeline situation, claiming that National Grid is refusing to install new gas connections as a result of the new pipeline proposal being temporarily shot down. JK Canepa spoke further on this, calling it extortion, as National Grid is using it as a tool to get the pipeline passed, but she says there is no need for a new natural gas connection.

Several neighbors spoke about the situation at 174 Beach 120th Street, as neighbors believe the property being purchased at a public auction by a city employee, Mimi Fuhrman, is a conflict of interest, and Fuhrman’s intention of using it as an SRO is a great concern. Florence Ferguson gave some updates on the Beach 59th Playground, saying that a design team is still coming up with a final redesign for the park, but there will be a summer fun event there on Saturday, June 22. A resident named Jack called it “embarrassing” that many demanded a ferry shuttle to operate in Far Rockaway, yet few have been using it since the pilot program launched.

Several spoke out against the Peninsula Hospital site development plan, which is causing great concern mostly due to the density of adding 2,200 apartment units. Since it is such a controversial issue, CB14 is having a special meeting on June 25 just to discuss it. Eugene Falik suggested that opponents of the project be given time to make a presentation at the meeting, since Arker Companies will have time to sell the project positively. Glenn DiResto, who has consistently opposed the project’s size and  a population majorly restricted to less than 80% Area Median Income, pointed out that CB14 has previously said that they would not support any new affordable housing in the community, unless it was for 60% AMI or greater, and that they’d prefer home ownership and market rate housing.

Following public speaking, Jen Nersesian of the National Park Service, was joined by Riis Park Beach Bazaar co-owners, Belvy Klein and Aaron Broudo, to provide some updates on the Riis Park Bathhouse, which will see a $30 million investment that includes a historic rehabilitation. Broudo said it will include a 28-room hotel, a catering hall, a rooftop restaurant and even a swimming pool. Klein spoke of how they’re working more with the community, as when they initially started, 95% of the staff was from Brooklyn, but now 98% is Rockaway locals, which was met with loud applause. Nersesian provided unrelated updates such as contracts going out to rebuild a playground in Riis and repair parts of the boardwalk, plus a replacement of the parking lot fee booths, which will operate quicker, to hopefully alleviate the traffic going into Riis.

One of the biggest committee reports of the night came from the Land Use committee. First up was Denis S. O’Connor’s Funeral home, which was looking for a C2-3 overlay zoning change that would allow them to continue operating as is without having to ask for special permission due to a garage and parking lot that was added many years ago. Nothing is changing at the funeral home, besides younger owners eventually taking over for owner, Vincent O’Connor. The zoning change received full support from the board.

The second Land Use item had many scratching their heads as it involved 43 different Sandy damaged properties that the city wishes to acquire for various purposes such as open space, resilient housing and auction. Orr tried to break it down, saying that 30 parcels would be used for public open space or yard expansion, with four going to NYC Parks and the others being opened to lease or purchase by adjacent property owners, to be used as additional land that can’t be built upon. Twenty of those properties are in Broad Channel, with the rest in Arverne and Edgemere. Another eight properties will be given to a developer through a Request for Proposals, to be redeveloped into one to two family homes that will be sold. These are scattered around the Rockaway peninsula. One property in Neponsit will be put up for auction and will go to the highest bidder to be developed. With many questions and concerns, the board requested that HPD address some of their concerns and come back in September, but they made a motion to support the acquisition and disposition of the public open space and yard expansion properties, to object the acquisition of the properties under housing manage redevelopment and to support the private auction. The motion carried.

The Transportation Committee report included safety and mobility improvements to the Q52/Q53 bus routes, which calls for changes along the route, including a median extension at Rockaway Beach Blvd. and Beach 116th Street, an eastbound bus lane at Rockaway Beach Blvd. between 108th to 102nd and some median extensions, adding an eastbound bus lane during peak hours between Beach 102nd to 94th Street, a pedestrian island at Rockaway Beach Blvd. and Beach 90th Street, adding three concrete median extensions and turning lanes at Rockaway Beach Blvd., from Beach 73rd and Beach 67th, and a southbound bus lane on Beach 59th from Beach Channel Drive to Rockaway Beach Blvd. No vote was required for these items.

The Youth Services and Education Committee provided some updates on local schools. Scholars’ Academy was named a top school by US News and World Report. The committee made a recommendation that a gifted and talented program should be added to the east end of the peninsula to give kids there more opportunity. Some also want to rebuild P.S. 47 in Broad Channel. Funding is available for such a project, but the community needs to request it.

Finally, during the Health and Social Services Committee report, Orr gave a recap, skipping the update on St. John’s Hospital, and focusing on a new proposal to add a substance abuse outpatient clinic at 230 Beach 102nd Street, which would conveniently be around the corner from the proposed homeless shelter at Beach 101st. She explained that the company Millin Associates, is a medical billing company, that has no experience with running a substance abuse clinic. The representative claimed that the area was underserved and that overdoses are a big problem within Queens and said there were no counseling centers within five miles of the area, but attendees pointed out that there are actually seven within a five-mile radius. There was a lot of chatter among the board about the shady proposal. A motion was made to write a letter to the state opposing this clinic as the company has not demonstrated a need for it. The motion carried.

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