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Unnatural Preserve

 Dear Editor:

Whether you’re a Rockaway native or a visitor, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the piping plover, the threatened shorebird that commands entire beaches to be shut down to allow for its undisturbed breeding. Did you know that the dunes and marshes of Far Rockaway are also home to the Yellow Crown Night Heron? How about the ring-necked pheasant? Probably not. 

Did you know that Rockaway is home to a 4,000 square foot brewery? Did you know that the Arverne East development plans to include a new 10,000 square foot brewery and a 60,000 square foot boutique hotel? Probably.

For decades, residents have passed by the lots spanning from Beach 60th street to Beach 32nd Street. For decades, residents have wondered how the city of New York could allow such a prime swath of beachfront property to deteriorate as a literal dumping ground.

The solution was always obvious though now it is official: money talks.

Isn’t it a shame how the City seems to always prioritize money over its ever-shrinking natural resources? There are 115 acres of natural land running adjacent to the beach in Far Rockaway. The recently approved Arverne East plan allocates 30% of the land for a nature preserve and 70% to be developed into a combination of residential / commercial space.

The Arverne East website lists the primary components of the project and lists “nature preserve” at the top of the list. Clever marketing to reassure a community built around the natural landscape of New York City that your primary objective is to develop a nature preserve.

If that is the case then why does the nature preserve only receive 30% of the land being redeveloped? Notice how the specs of the nature preserve are missing though the specs of the rest of the space are front and center. Forgive me for thinking that those would be important specs to include since the nature preserve is the top primary component of the project.

Development is appreciated. Local employment and community programs are appreciated. It seems hypocritical, however, to continually headline that this project will introduce a nature preserve, while the nature preserve is the smallest part of this immense project.

Forgive me for thinking too outside of the box here, but can’t all of these residential and commercial plans take place across all of the existing residential and commercial space adjacent to the 115 acres of natural land? Wouldn’t that be true investment in the existing community? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Arverne East, a project that is so proud of its efforts to preserve nature, to uhm… preserve nature? Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a city where funds were poured into actually preserving natural land to let local ecosystems flourish? Or to educate the community on those natural communities? Wouldn’t it be nice if developers had to work with the land that’s already zoned for residential & commercial before tapping into the natural landscape?

I’ll be the first one to agree that the land has always been an eyesore. Development is long overdue. My point is that it’s a shame that the city would rather see 80 acres of natural, beachfront landscape turned into high-rises than to take the seemingly sensical route to overhaul the dilapidated infrastructure in the existing community.

Didn’t the pandemic lockdown just remind New Yorkers how important it is to have access to the outdoors? One would think the City would have the wherewithal to capitalize on keeping the limited outdoor space it has and develop it for the use of the City’s residents. Educating those residents on the local ecosystems would be a plus. 

Nope! Money talks.
Josh Steinberg





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