There was a packed agenda at the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association’s last meeting of the year on Tuesday, November 16. From introducing new councilwoman-elect Joann Ariola, to an announcement from St. John’s Episcopal Hospital to a Parks Department update on the dune crossovers, information about the old P.S. 256Q’s demolition and possible redistricting in the future, the meeting was full of important information.
BHPOA president Paul King kicked off the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence for the late Lew Simon. He then introduced District 32’s next councilwoman Joann Ariola.
Ariola recapped her landslide win in the election, giving much credit to Rockaway voters. “Rockaway came out in record numbers, presidential numbers in this race. The numbers we got, 67.7% of the vote for the entire district, is the highest ever received by an elected official for city council. I’m so proud to be the first woman to represent this district,” she said. In preparation of taking over for Councilman Eric Ulrich in January, Ariola has been wasting no time meeting with civic associations, police precincts, principals and others. “On January 1st, we’re just going to hit the ground running,” she said. She added that for now, she’s keeping Ulrich’s offices and some of his staff will remain, but she is in search of a bigger office space for Rockaway to make it a co-district office. “I want to be part of and continue to work with Neponsit and Belle Harbor when it comes to the Neponsit Home, when it comes to what the Army Corps of Engineers wants to do here,” she said. “I won’t let you down.” Ariola also provided her phone number for constituents to reach her with concerns— 516-498-7524.”
Next up was Nancy Leghart, Executive Director of the new St. John's ICARE Foundation to speak about this new fundraising initiative for Rockaway’s only hospital. The hospital will officially launch the Foundation next year. “The mission of the ICARE Foundation is to foster a culture of philanthropy to secure, manage and distribute gifts in support of the mission of St. John’s Hospital,” she said. The name comes from the hospital’s values—Innovation, Compassion, Accountability, Respect and Empathy. The hospital found that donations have been a significant help. “We had no donors in our database. We now have a thousand donors in our database, and we’ve been able to raise $20,00 for a new GE Giraffe Incubator Carestation and four GE BiliSoft Phototherapy Systems, which are for children with jaundice. This was all done through Giving Tuesday campaign online,” Leghart said. Now they’re raising money for doula services for new moms including $100,000 towards their Labor and Delivery Project and $120,000 towards equipment for the new Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center. Other things like grants, sponsorships and in-kind donations have been a big help to the hospital.
St. John’s is making improvements such as their Margaret O. Carpenter Center coming in 2022, a newly renovated and expanded emergency department, a new teaching center under construction, a new level 3 certified medical home under construction, a completed lobby pharmacy and improved labor and delivery services coming soon. With the Foundation, they hope this philanthropy will help make the hospital even better. “Our goal is to raise money and help sustain the hospital into the future,” Leghart said.
Next was an update on the dune crossovers for the area from First Deputy Commissioner of the Parks Department Liam Kavanagh. The proposed walkway and dune crossovers have been a point of contention for local residents. King pointed out the federal, state and city agencies involved have been working with the civic to address concerns. A compromise was made on the original proposed concrete walkway along the beach wall, to instead use a Mobimat style walkway. On Tuesday, Kanavagh was there to provide an update on the dune crossovers that also raised concern, mostly due to their massive size that would take up a lot of beach space.
Kavanagh presented the original crossover ramps that were proposed, as well as two alterative ideas presented to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by John Signorelli, Joe Hartigan, Steve Gifford, Harold Paez and members of the BHPOA. Kavanagh apologized for not having better diagrams to show, but the first series of alternatives would reduce the overall spread of the crossover, so it doesn’t take up as much beach space. ”The Army Corps believes it’s something that looks feasible. It reduces the east-west spread of the ramp system. This has promise,” Kavanagh said. He then presented Paez’s parabolic, curving ramp. “It’s very long but it has appeal because it’s a nice-looking structure. We have examples similar to this connected to the boardwalk,” Kavanagh said. He noted that the ultimate design will done by the contractor that is hired by USACE for Phase 2 of their beach protection project. Kavanagh said they’re also looking into alternative products to Mobimats.
While the overall tone of the meeting was less angry than when the original proposal was made, residents still had concerns. Some continued to request that the number of ramps be reduced from four to two. Some continued to express concern over the proposed Mobimat walkway. Some accused the Parks Department of trying to turn Belle Harbor and Neponsit into a tourist destination, with people bringing up concerns about DFDs damaging their property. Others pointed out that the Parks Department has trouble maintaining the current Mobimats and ramps along the beach.
King noted that these proposals would be discussed further in a meeting on Thursday, November 18 with Congressman Gregory Meeks. As we go to press, it was announced that Meeks cancelled the meeting.
Next, John Signorelli provided an update on the old PS256Q demolition and playground construction. A subcommittee of homeowners near the school has been formed to maintain dialogue with the School Construction Authority regarding the project. Permits are being sought for the demolition and playground construction, with hopes of it being completed by August 2023. It will take two to three months to demolish the building in pieces from the roof down. Students will not be relocated. Abatement will be done before. Rodent control will be done. For the playground, the type of equipment is still being discussed. Once finished, it will continue to be open after school hours ‘til dark. Security will be on hand during the entire construction project.
King ended the meeting by discussing possible redistricting issues in the future for congressional and state representation. Some proposals could loop Rockaway in with parts of Brooklyn rather than Queens. King said the BHPOA will be taking a closer look at this as more updates are made. For more information about redistricting, check out: www.nyirc.gov/
By Katie McFadden
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