CB 14 Meeting - Not a Valentine's Treat for All

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From the number of people that showed up on Valentine’s Day, this past Tuesday, February 14, Community Board 14 (CB14) meeting was indeed a hot ticket, though for some, love was not in the air.

Queens Public Transit Committee (QPTC) representatives were quite vocal about their disappointment with CB14’s vote endorsing SBS in last month’s board meeting. “The vote by CB14 endorsing SBS should have been put off,” said one QPTC representative. “The fact that it is the Department of Transportation (DOT) arguing for Select Bus Service (SBS), rather than the MTA, says an awful lot. I believe that the purpose of SBS has nothing to do with bus service. It’s part of a deliberate plan on the part of the City to disadvantage motorists and the people in Far Rockaway.”

Phillip McManus, chair of QPTC also shared his angst with CB14’s vote. “The process is unfair. We are all volunteers and spend the time to care about the community. When the process stops you from speaking, when you have a community board that allows DOT to speak 30 minutes, and then bars input from the public whatsoever, is unfair.

It makes us know that DOT has the power, and we don’t. It should be the other way around. Our constitution allows us to speak, and we should be able to speak when appropriate. We need to stand united. We are the ones that are fighting for the ferry in Far Rockaway. Though, we are trying to fight for unity, we are ultimately being manipulated by this process. I would also like CB14 to consider that when you are making a vote, and don’t have input from the public, you should hold off on the vote,” McManus said. When his speaking time was up, he left the podium, and received a rounding applause from supporters in the room.

Next up was Kevin Alexander, president of the Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation (RDRC). He shared that RDRC is submitting two applications to the New York State Homes and Community Renewal program potentially amounting to a pot of $91M to revitalize downtown Far Rockaway.

Alexander explained the components of the plan. “We are seeking capital funds to improving storefronts in downtown Far Rockaway. Also to renovate second and third apartments as well. Those apartments will remain affordable for the life span of the 10-year project. This will fall in line with the current storefront program that already has improved 18 storefronts in downtown Far Rockaway.

We are seeking CB14’s approval for both the technical assistance (TA) and stabilization for support of the anchor program that is part of NYS’ Main streets program. For the TA component, we want to attract consultants who would help with the interior and exterior redesign and architectural feasibility. The funding level will be up to $20K.

For the downtown anchor, matching grants may be awarded to a building owner for renovation of stand-alone, single-site project. These funds are intended to help establish or expand cultural, residential or business anchors that are local revitalization efforts. These projects should be “shovel ready” at the time of application. Funding level for this could be up to $500K,” Alexander said.

A CB14 member questioned RDRC’s proposal to use NYS’ state funds to renovate the 18 Far Rockaway businesses, that have already received existing NYC-funded exterior renovations. Alexander explained, “With City storefront improvements, we were only able to focus on the exterior facades. However, with the anchor project, buildings with more square footage will receive both exterior and interior enhancements. However, the caveat, is that these bigger spaces, such as RDRC’s Renaissance Center, will have to front load the money before receiving the grant.”

The CB14 member posed the question, “So you are saying that RDRC, who owns the Renaissance Center, will be negotiating with itself to get funding for renovations?” When Alexander replied, “Yes,” the room erupted in laughter. With a few abstentions from CB14 members in attendance, the board voted to pass RDRC’s plan.

Next up was the Ad Hoc Downtown Far Rockaway Committee report. According to the representative, the Ad Hoc committee was formed to focus on downtown Far Rockaway’s revitalization. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has submitted a proposal that includes provisos to encourage more commercial and residential development for urban renewal. For example, one their focuses is the shopping center on Beach 20th Street. EDC proposes to add a few thousand housing units, with some in buildings that would be 15 stories high, offering some parking and commercial spaces.

However, the representative said that the Far Rockaway Ad Hoc committee is concerned. “With adding more people to the area, why did the EDC proposal not also include additional options for schools, playgrounds, public transportation, and homeownership in the area? We are all in favor of revitalization of downtown Far Rockaway, but this plan is too broad of a scope. It  does not take into consideration the already dense population in the area, what we would need to alleviate traffic congestions, the lack of recreational spaces for children and troublesome transit commuting,” said the representative.

The Far Rockaway Ad Hoc will be meeting Thursday, February 16 to further discuss and make motions on how they will address EDC’s plan. CB14 will have 60 days to make a vote on the plan.

Other announcements at CB14’s meeting:

- At the March CB14 meeting, the QPTC will be able to present their concerns with DOT’s SBS plan.

- Also voting will take place on whether to add another charter school to the old Beach Channel High School location.

- From August 14 -17, St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway will be hosting a Good Health and Well Being event, where they will offer counseling to locals who are seeking healthcare, but are uninsured. They will also be handing out goodie bags to attendees.

- The performance space and flagpole on Beach 94th will be going up soon.

- The design of the Far Rockaway Skate Park is finished. Construction is expected to start Fall 2017.

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