Downtown Far Rock Rezoning Plans Sounds Good, But What Do Locals Need?

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“It took 30 years for us to finally get here,” said Councilman Donovan Richards at the City’s Council’s hearing last Thursday about the heralded, but disputed proposed down Far Rockaway Rezoning plan.

The plan for downtown Far Rockaway is the second neighborhood rezoning proposed by the de Blasio administration to move through the public review process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) through which a zoning change becomes law.

The proposal includes the redevelopment of downtown’s long-abandoned shopping mall and some adjacent properties through the creation of an Urban Renewal Area. That means the city would use eminent domain or negotiations to take ownership of those properties, redesign the street grid, and work with private developers to build new housing, commercial and community facilities.

The proposal also includes a rezoning of that area, the nearby streets and two public sites in the area. Altogether the proposal is expected to lead to an increase of 3,123 units of housing, of which the city expects half will be rent-restricted, as well as a boost in retail space and room for community facilities. The administration has already committed at least $91 million in city investments as part of a larger plan for the area.

However, though local residents, Community Board 14 and Borough President Melinda Katz both approved the Far Rockaway rezoning, there are a few reservations about open space, parking, transportation, school seats, job access, and the threats of displacement. Many want to ensure the plan actually benefits the area’s low-income residents.

Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, is supportive of Richards’ work on the plan, but reiterated Community Board 14’s concerns — lower heights and a significant scale-back of the proposed density (for instance, 1,100 apartments, not 1,700, in the Urban Renewal Area), the necessity of a new school, much more parking to serve the peninsula’s car-dependent residents, and that a Department of Sanitation lot, instead of being given to a developer to construct affordable housing, should be used as a playground, among other concerns.

Local resident, Jeffrey Williams-Maisonet gave a telling testimony about what Far Rockaway youth need with this Rezoning. “Growing up to almost nothing, messed up side streets and sidewalks, a neighborhood that was very challenged and violent, and no opportunity for youth whatsoever, we need to hear and see more about this Rezoning plan,” Williams-Maisonet said. He then shared a nine-year-old’s diary entry about why he has no desire to live in the area: ‘I don’t want to own my parent’s home in this neighborhood because there’s nothing here for kids to do, no good places to eat, and no fun places for us kids.’ Williams-Maisonet ended by saying, “This is just another example of how young people feel in Far Rockaway, and why this plan is so crucial to the community. There’s no point in building all these fabulous developments if we are not offering opportunities for those already living in the struggle. People do not change, when the neighborhood appears to be well, they change, when they see hope. We need a community space, more public schools, more job opportunities that could put people back on their feet and hope in the community again. So when we go outside to the city and tell people we are from Far Rockaway, we can be proud about it.”

Many local residents and business owners in the area agreed that something needs to be done, but all with the aim of boosting the people already living in the area. St. John’s hospital also submitted a testimony in support of the plan.

The subcommittee will likely take a final vote on the proposal on Monday, August 21 at 9:30 a.m. at 250 Broadway, the 16th floor Committee Room. That will be followed by a vote by the Land Use Committee, then a final vote by City Council.

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