BORO Prez GREENLIGHTS FIREHOUSE MOVE – AGAINST CB 14 WISHES

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Community Board 14 rejected the proposed move. The Queens Borough President approved it.

A little background. In June 2016, The Rockaway Times reported that the FDNY was looking to move from its landmarked firehouse on Beach 116th Street because a much-needed renovation was far more costly than a relocation.

The firehouse, more than 100 years old and home to Engine 268 and Ladder 137, received landmark status in 2013.  Such a designation preserves history but is often at odds with modernization efforts – which is needed at the Beach 116th facility.

When updating the firehouse was explored, and renovation estimates climbed, the FDNY and the City started eyeing a property a few hundred feet north on Beach Channel Drive, between Beach 116th and Beach 117th Street as a new firehouse location.

The site, most recently home of an HSBC bank branch and formerly the Sunset Diner, had been vacant since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  The building and lot is owned by Jeff Sutton, who according to Forbes magazine is worth $3.4 billion and is among the top 200 richest Americans.

The City began doing soil tests and exploring the overall feasibility of the site, apparently without the knowledge of Sutton, whose attorney just recently contacted the Community Board to inquire if the City was interested in taking possession of the property. (The Rockaway Times had emailed Sutton’s office more than a year ago for comment about the FDNY’s interest.  The email got no response).

The City has eminent domain rights (it can seize property for the public good) so it is not unusual for the City to start a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) before alerting the owner. A ULURP is a standardized City procedure in which applications affecting the land use of city property would be publicly reviewed. Some of the process includes public hearings, Community Board and Borough President recommendations, and environmental impact studies.

In the case of Sutton’s property (116-11 Beach Channel Drive), the ULURP process is well underway. In June 2017, Community Board 14 rejected the proposed move and instead recommended the firehouse be moved four blocks east to approximately Beach 112th Street and Beach Channel Drive, which is an unused lot (west of the ferry parking lot) owned by National Grid.

The Community Board sent its recommendation to Melinda Katz, the Queens Borough President.

After reviewing CB 14’s recommendation, the BP issued her own recommendation. “The location of firehouses is critical in determining response times and the overall strategy of the Fire Department to provide fire and emergency protection for our neighborhoods and communities.  It is also critical when replacing firehouses to ensure continuity and timeliness of service. On the Rockaway Peninsula there is the added challenge of proximity to the waters of Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean especially during extraordinary weather events.

“Based on the above I hereby recommend approval of this application with the following conditions:

“Community Board 14 has expressed concerns about the proposed site and has recommended another for consideration. The Fire Department should evaluate the feasibility of the alternative recommended by the community board.

“The landmarked Beach 116th Street Firehouse has been an iconic part of the community for over 100 years. The Rockaway Peninsula is in need of a cultural and arts center.  Beach 116th Street is centrally located and has long been an economic and cultural hub of Rockaway.  Adapting the landmarked firehouse for re-use as a cultural and arts center would be a logical repurposing of the building that would serve the entire peninsula.”

Katz’s condition that the FDNY “should evaluate” the alternative site is not binding and probably not a particularly attractive option for the FDNY.  Such an evaluation would mean starting the ULURP process over, thereby prolonging the effort to find and establish a modern firehouse.  In effect, her recommendation is a green light for the FDNY to relocate to the 116th site.

In 2016, Jim Long, a spokesman for the FDNY said it could be five years before trucks and engines rolled out of a new facility.  Now, perhaps it’s just four years.

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