CB14 Votes Against Peninsula Hospital Redevelopment Plan

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After a nearly four-hour Community Board 14 meeting, focusing specifically on the proposed redevelopment plan for the old Peninsula Hospital site, the Board voted against the zoning changes needed for the plan to move forward as is, while making several recommendations on how to improve it.

In a packed hall at the Knights of Columbus on Tuesday, June 25, dozens of people threw their support or dissent behind the Arker Companies’ proposed development for the land where Peninsula Hospital once stood. Their plan, which they’ve now dubbed Edgemere Commons, calls for the development of 11 buildings that will include 2,200 affordable rentable apartments, 72,000 square feet of retail space, 973 parking spots for residents and the retail space, some open space, resiliency measures and more.

When the floor was open to public speaking, a majority of speakers passionately spoke about their reasons to support the project. Many of them included members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ. The union is the only one that Arker Companies has agreed to work with so far when it comes to the project. Other supporters included seniors who are now living in another Arker Companies project, Beach Channel Senior Apartments, a 154-unit building for low-income seniors, which opened in November. Another big group of supporters included members of the Rockaway Youth Task Force and other youth, including those who are in, or have recently graduated college. Many spoke of how they support the development of 2,200 affordable units so that they can afford to live on the Rockaway peninsula and have a good quality of life. Other supporters included residents of the east end of the peninsula who feel the project could improve the neighborhood with more retail and job possibilities.

Some also expressed their views against the project as is, due to several issues. Glenn DiResto, who has been outspoken against many aspects of the project said, “I want to see this land developed just as bad as everybody else, but I don’t want to take the first thing they’re shoving down our throat. We deserve better.” Many spoke about specific concerns like the density of the project, with insufficient healthcare facilities and schools around, and the impact the thousands of additional residents that the building would bring, would have on traffic and transportation, among other concerns.

Following dozens of speakers, Manuel Silva, Chief of Staff to Councilman Donovan Richards, spoke on behalf of the councilman, who was not present at the meeting, to share Richards’ thoughts on the project. According to Silva, Richards knows the plan isn’t perfect. “The councilmember does not entirely support this project as it stands,” Silva said. “He supports what it’s going to bring and he supports the Arkers and what they‘ve done in the past, but the details of the plan are still being negotiated with the community and with the city council members, who are going to have the final say on what goes forward.”

Silva continued with Richards’ statement, acknowledging Edgemere’s “lack of job opportunities, limited access to fresh food and a lack of quality retail. Now we have a new opportunity to change that. I look forward to working with Arker Companies and City Hall as we flesh out all the details on this long overdue plan because this is not a done deal. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that any development that takes place on that site is within the best interests of the community.” Richards’ statement showed support for affordability, with the focus on residents who make between $22K to $70K, and the importance on ensuring that at least 50% of the units goes toward current Rockaway residents. It also reflected the scale of the project. “We have heard concerns about the density and height of this project and those concerns are not falling on deaf ears. We will be taking a close look at striking the right balance that will not stymie growth as this project comes to the city council in the coming months,” Richards’ statement said.

The discussion was open to questions and concerns from CB14 members after Arker Companies principal Daniel Moritz gave a formal presentation on the project. Among the concerns were flooding on the streets surrounding the project, the density, the lack of schools in the area and no proposal for one with the development, the desire for a hospital over an urgent care facility, the disappointment over Western Beef being locked in as a supermarket provider over other possibilities, and much more.

After heavy discussion, the Board made a motion to disapprove of the zoning changes the developers need to move the project forward, along with several modification/condition requests. They included Density: The total amount of units should be reduced by a minimum of 30-50 percent; Parking: Residential parking should be increased to a minimum of 75% of total units built; That the negative impact on local schools identified in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) shall be addressed by a new school being funded, built and zoned for new residents and existing local students in the immediate area for the purpose of creating a neighborhood school; That a prevailing wage agreement be signed, which will be applicable for all workers; That in consultation with the community board and community—a holistic transportation/traffic plan be created and funded to mitigate the numerous traffic issues identified in DEIS that will affect all of the peninsula, east to west; That the developer and city has further discussions with the community board in terms of what the proper Area Media Income for the project should be; That the developer be required to report to the Community Board every five months as to the progress of the project and to discuss and resolve issues that may arise; Shadow Impact: That the height of the buildings not exceed 12 stories; That the developers build and maintain a park on the land; That a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) be signed that will guarantee that Community Board 14 residents get construction and other available jobs at development site, including at the supermarket etc.; Residents of Community board 14 shall get a minimum of 50%  preference of all available units in each phase of development; And that a website be created and updated regularly to let the community know what’s going on as the process goes forward.

The motion then went to a vote. Twenty-eight members voted Yes to disapproving the rezoning, while five voted No to disapproving the zoning and one person abstained. Following the ULURP process, the proposal now goes to the Queens Borough President for her recommendation before it heads to the City Planning Commission, then City Council, and then the mayor.

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