Community Board 14 May Meeting Recap

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 Due to the shelter-in-place orders that still remain for NYC, Community Board 14 (CB14) decided to hold its May meeting via Zoom, on Tuesday, May 19. This was the first time CB14 was able to have a meeting since March, and 64 participants joined in to watch and participate in the Zoom conference. Although it was hard at first for members to adjust to the Zoom platform, the meeting proved to be successful for the community in providing important updates regarding COVID-19, the status of our beaches this summer, as well as any existing projects that were discussed during CB14’s March meeting.

The meeting began with the usual report from the Chair, Dolores Orr, who began expressing her condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one due to COVID-19, or who is sick with the virus. As Orr continued, she provided an update on the Arverne East Project. Orr stated that this project was approved a while ago, but now the new format is completely different from what CB14 had originally approved. Despite the Mayor’s office putting the ULURP process on hold, Housing Preservation Development (HPD) is trying to push CB14 to hold a virtual meeting so they can speed this process up. However, CB14 does not want to hold a virtual meeting, because it will not give the community the full opportunity they deserve to be involved.

Orr continued with her report, happily reporting that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied the Clean Waters Certificate that the Williams Pipeline needed to go forward with a new pipeline.

Lastly, Orr said that the City Planning Committee had reached out to her regarding Rockaway’s challenges during the pandemic. Orr responded that she found a lot of people in affordable housing and apartment buildings are struggling to fully isolate themselves. She suggested that all future building projects should include two bedrooms and adding at least a half bath in one bedroom, so people have the opportunity to be fully isolated if necessary.

Following Orr’s report, Jon Gaska provided an update regarding the status of beaches and boardwalk for this summer. He stated that the 100th and 101 precincts will have 20 school safety agents patrolling the boardwalk, seven days a week, from 10-6 p.m. Gaska then continued by stating that CB14 had written a letter to DOT in the beginning of the pandemic, not knowing what would be open. They suggested having electronic transportation signs on the Belt Parkway and before both Cross Bay and Marine Park Bridge, in order to let people who are driving into Rockaway know what is open and what’s not. He concluded stating that the DOT liked this idea and will start to put signs up. Gaska reached out to the MTA to do the same but has not received a response.

Councilman Donovan Richards spoke briefly to CB14 addressing important updates regarding COVID-19 and its status in Queens. Sadly, he reported that several hundred people have died across the peninsula. He also stated that on the Peninsula Hospital site they had re-zoned, the developer has offered about 30,000 sq. ft to the city so they can build a Health and Hospitals facility. Because we only have one hospital on the peninsula, Richards said, “I think now is an opportune time as federal dollars come down for us to take advantage of that.”

Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. followed Richards, by stating that he is working closely with the Parks Commissioner on ensuring that beaches will be open this summer. He stated, “If beaches are open, then so is the water.” Addabbo also urged anyone who is having trouble with their unemployment claims to call his office, and they will help get you in touch with their contact service at unemployment. To that, Assemblywoman Stacey Pfeffer Amato, stated that some people who are self-employed feel they don’t qualify for unemployment. But, she urged everyone who was self-employed to check out unemployment’s self-employed package. Amato also provided a positive update regarding the stores at the MTA-owned property on Beach 116th. Stores such as the Last Stop Cafe, and A & J Jewelry Corp. will remain open at least through the end of the year.

After our elected officials spoke, Queens Parks Commissioner Michael Dockett provided important updates regarding beaches for the summer. He stated that starting Memorial Day weekend, there will be no large gatherings on beaches, and swimming is prohibited. Dockett said that beach visits should not last all day, and people shouldn’t remain on the beach longer than about two hours. He also stated that restrooms will be open every day from 6 a.m.-10 p.m, and they will be cleaned thoroughly. Social distancing will be encouraged within the restrooms.

Dockett then continued stating that food service on the boardwalk will be allowed, but all workers must wear masks, have hand sanitizer readily available for employees/customers, to-go service only, and if online menus can be created by the seller, that is the ideal option for ordering. Finally, Dockett concluded by stating the Parks Dept. is starting to train existing lifeguards, who are able to recertify their qualifications, this week, so they are prepared when the Mayor opens the waters. Although Dockett’s report seemed promising from the Parks’ perspective, many CB14 members questioned how these new social distancing measures will play out once the weather starts getting warmer. Dockett responded by saying these are simply temporary measures, and if people refuse to follow orders, then more drastic and permanent measures will be taken to secure our beaches.

The last report was brought by NYC Dept. of Health’s, Chae No. He reported that as of Monday, May 18, the numbers of COVID-19 cases across NYC were dropping, but they are still there and stressed the importance of everyone wearing face coverings of some sort whenever they leave their home. The focus of his report was on the new, Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), which is found mainly in children and has a link to COVID-19. No stated that common symptoms of MIS-C are fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, red/pink eyes and lips, as well as possible peeling of the skin. He assured the community that NYS is working closely with the CDC in order to find out more about this virus and will provide future updates. Because of such uncertainty revolving around MIS-C, CB14 members asked questions regarding how contagious it is. No responded that the CDC and DOH are still unsure how contagious MIS-C is, but they strongly urge any child suspected of the virus to self-quarantine, especially if they are in the house with someone who has symptoms or has been diagnosed with COVID-19. No concluded his report by stating that NY will open 10 new testing sites throughout the five boroughs on May 25, one of which will be in Rockaway, and recommended everyone to be tested regardless of age.

 By Marina Cregan

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