On Tuesday, October 13, Community Board 14 (CB14), convened for their October meeting via Zoom. With a total of 76 participants, community members were eager to hear the presentation provided by the Parks and Public Safety Committee, regarding the Arverne East Nature Preserve Project.
The meeting began with a brief report from Chairwoman Dolores Orr. Orr relayed a message from Assemblywoman Stacy Pfeffer Amato, stating that anyone who has requested an absentee ballot may track their ballot from the time it has been mailed out, to when it has been received by the Board of Elections. Tracking of absentee ballots can be checked at nycabsentee.com. Orr also informed the board that early voting in Rockaway begins on Saturday, October 24, and will continue until Sunday, November 1, at the Rockaway YMCA.
Following Orr’s report, District Manager Jonathan Gaska spoke about the virtual meeting he attended regarding the city’s reevaluation plan for COVID-19 hot spots. Gaska reported that the number of positive test results for COVID-19 across the peninsula has increased. He stated that he has personally seen less community members wearing masks on and around the boardwalk, as well as much bigger crowds of people together. If these numbers do not decrease, then the peninsula should expect much stricter citywide regulations regarding masks and social distancing laws. Gaska concluded his report by stating that since March, the City has spent a little over $4 billion in response to COVID-19.
The meeting continued with Gaska reporting on behalf of CB14’s Budget Committee. Gaska reported on the Fiscal Year 2020 Capital and Expense Priorities List. During CB14’s September meeting, the board proposed additions to be added to the Capital and Expense Report. Gaska stated that the request of planting trees along Beach Channel Drive from Beach 99th Street to Beach 113th Street was added to the list. He also stated that he added a request to fund and redesign the ferry pier on Beach 108th St. This will include slips for parking, as well as an addition of creating bathrooms at the pier. The final item added to the expense report was that there be a request to study and locate a tier 2 or tier 3 trauma center on the Rockaway peninsula. The motion to approve the Capital and Expense Budget as presented was approved unanimously by CB14. It should be noted that while these requests are made, not every item receives funding.
The final presentation came from the Parks and Public Safety Committee regarding the Arverne East Nature Preserve. The proposed Arverne East Nature Preserve will be located adjacent to the boardwalk from Beach 44th Street to Beach 56th Place, and will cover approximately 35 acres of land. On behalf of the Parks Dept. Landscape and Architecture Team, Kristin Reardon presented an overview of the nature preserve, as well as the preserve’s purpose.
The goal of the project is to create 35 acres of new parkland for the benefit of the community, including a nature preserve. She stated that they want to preserve and enhance the native habitat that exists, improve access to the Rockaway boardwalk, and program the public space for community use. On Beach 44th Street there will be a multipurpose building, which will include a restroom and comfort station for community members, but mainly serve as a basis for operation of the Parks Dept. staff. This site has been funded to provide two year-round staff members, as well as an additional two seasonal staff employees.
The main purpose for this site is to connect all existing natural areas that have been damaged due to the dumping of debris, as well as refill those areas with different planting types to create this continuous habitat throughout the preserve. Additionally, they want to provide circulation and program use throughout the site. There will be a sidewalk perimeter surrounding the preserve which will connect to the boardwalk, allowing community members to walk from the boardwalk to the nature preserve. The intention of the walkway perimeter is to allow educational programs for community members to enjoy the different types of vegetation occurring within the preserve. Along these pathways, there will be a variety of seating, with the installment of educational notes on benches, which will provide information about the different plant types within the preserve, as well as a history regarding the site’s natural habitat. Reardon added that these pathways will be made of concrete and RPL pavement, as a way to prevent future flood damage, and will include lighting fixtures.
There are many plans for how this space will be utilized. There will be ranger walks through and around the preserve for both school groups and community groups, as well as wildlife engagement activities for these groups. There will also be designated quiet walking pathways away from cars and bikes, for people who do not wish to walk on the boardwalk. Yoga and fitness classes are also envisioned for this space and will take place on the boardwalk on Beach 44th Street.
In order for this proposal to commence, CB14 had to provide a letter of support to the Parks Department. However, CB14 members did not agree. While there were many objections expressed by CB14 members to the Arverne East Nature Preserve Project, the lack of lighting to be provided on the site, the lack of parking, safety and security measures, and the assuredness of full time maintenance for the preserve were the most apparent concerns. Board members expressed that although this site is intended for day usage, that will not stop individuals from going to the preserve after hours. The necessity for more lighting is one of utmost importance. Additionally, with the lack of lighting and no guarantee for security cameras, there is no way for members to ensure the safety of children who could be potentially harmed while on the preserve.
The meeting concluded with CB14 members voting against writing a letter in support of the Arverne East Nature Preserve Project. Board members asked Parks to consider their many suggestions regarding how to improve this site, and come back to present this proposal again, in hopes to see changes made to ensure the safety of Rockaway’s community members.
By Marina Cregan
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