Marc Bussanich

Ten speakers raised deep concerns about the rezoning. Eleven spoke in support.

In what came as a surprise to some, Queens Community Board 14 voted on Wednesday night to approve with conditions the city’s proposed rezoning of downtown Far Rockaway by a vote of 26 to 2. In the past, several board members have critiqued the additional housing density the rezoning could bring.

Watch Marc Bussanich’s video of the hearing here.

The vote followed a public hearing in which 10 people voiced concerns about an influx of apartments (more than 3,000 in the original proposal), the plan’s lack of a new school or new hospital to accommodate that increased population, and the difficulty of creating a safe evacuation plan for so many people in the event of another hurricane.

But another 11 people voiced support of the rezoning, with many repeating the comment that downtown Far Rockaway is currently an “eye-sore” long overdue for change. Among them was a representative from St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, who said the hospital had its own expansion initiatives. Representatives from Councilman Donovan Richards’ office also voiced their support for a rezoning, though noting the Councilman would continue negotiating to ensure the plan was improved. Two others spoke in favor of ensuring the rezoning action also included good job and apprenticeship opportunities and two more asked that a public lot in the rezoning area not be sold to a developer but retained by the city for a community garden and compost site.

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The board’s “yes with conditions” sought to address some of the concerns raised by skeptics and shared by several board members. In the core of the redevelopment area, where the city has proposed allowing buildings with a maximum height of 12 stories as well as two buildings with a maximum of 15 stories, the board asked for a more modest upzoning that would limit height to ten stories.

Outside of that core area, where the city has proposed buildings with a maximum height of nine to ten stories, the board asked that the maximum height be four stories.

In addition, the board asked that the city use project-labor agreements that would require workers receive the city’s prevailing construction wage, and strike community benefits agreements with developers.

On the infrastructure front, the board asked the city to invest in sewer and water upgrades, widen the intersection of Mott Avenue and 21st Street, and create a new school, a new playground and park and a municipal parking lot, and reserve space in the rezoning area for healthcare and daycare facilities.

Affordable housing was also on the board’s radar screen. The board’s conditions specified that it wants 60 percent of the apartments to be rent-restricted, and of those, 20 percent to be affordable to families of three making below $24,480 and 80 percent affordable for families making $48,960 or more. They asked that 40 percent of the total apartments be homeownership opportunities, and for a requirement that there be a parking space for three of every four apartments.

Last but not least, the board asked that a committee composed of community stakeholders be organized to provide oversight over the course of the rezoning and redevelopment.

Much of the discussion on Wednesday night revolved around the question of whether there is a reason for the city to encourage housing growth in the Far Rockaways—which some people would like to see remain a less-dense suburb of the crowded city—beyond that of fulfilling citywide housing goals.

Representatives from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) said that the more than 50,000 applications the city recently received in a lottery for 100 affordable apartments in Far Rockaway is evidence of the strong desire for affordable housing in the area. They also said that adding new people at a mix of incomes was crucial to supporting the commercial revitalization that stakeholders unanimously desire. Perhaps the greatest case for this argument was the testimony of barbershop owner Calvin Thompson, who complained that businesses have been suffering for decades because so few people come to Far Rockaway to shop.

“We need the business,” Thompson said. “Please, please approve this so these businesses can survive.”

Others, however, questioned whether the reason the downtown area has remained fallow for so long was because of a lack of shoppers or because the recently deceased landlord Rita Stark did not take interest in revitalizing her large shopping mall.

Ultimately, the board’s vote suggests an acceptance of EDC’s argument that the area needs some residential density, but a willingness to challenge just how much. Board member Khaleel Anderson, however, told City Limits after the meeting that while he thought the decrease in the density was fair, he is still thinking about whether the reduced density will allow the creation of enough affordable housing to meet the need in Far Rockaway.

It is not entirely clear how EDC will respond to all of the community board’s suggestions. Earlier in the evening, EDC representatives justified their chosen density levels and repeated that their analysis had not suggested the new population would require a new school, but they also expressed a willingness to keep negotiating on both subjects. They also expressed confidence in the parking requirements they’ve already laid forth, said the Department of Environmental Protection is already working on below-surface infrastructure improvements and explained that the city requires prevailing wages for construction on all city-owned parcels.

Over the coming months, the rezoning proposal will be considered by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, followed by the City Planning Commission, and finally, the City Council—where by custom, Councilman Richards will wield all but total authority. Should the Council modify the proposal, it would head back to the Planning Commission. Were the Council vote contrary to the mayor’s wishes, he could veto their decision and force an override vote. (More on the ULURP process here.)

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3 thoughts on “Queens Board Approves Rockaway Rezoning With Significant Conditions

  1. There is one aspect to redevelopment and increased housing that I did not see mentioned, that is public transportation. Subway service is difficult on a good day, with increasing numbers of delayed and skipped trains. Many more A trains go to Lefferts Boulevard than Far Rockaway. It is not unusual to wait 20 minutes to a half hour for a train during rush hour! Often trains are already filled prior to leaving the Rockaway Peninsula. Transportation upgrades must be built into rezoning plans if Far Rockaway is to become home to more commuters.

  2. I fear for residents like myself who live in Far Rockaway, who require medical treatment at St. John’s Hospital. It is a filthy, overcrowded poorly run Hospital and the emergency room awful! My elderly uncle was brought there when he fell and lay rotting in the emergency room there. The ER was filthy! Little airbourne bugs were flying all over the place. For the most part the staff was insensitive, short tempered and rude. After he laid in the ER for two days, I called the advocate to ask when he would be put into a room and the ER staff got snippy with me about my calling! Totally unprofessional and insensitive. When they went to help my uncle toilet their rough handling caused a wound to open on his thigh as he had very delicate skin at 98 years of age. We were not the exception either. Everyone in the terribly overcrowded ER was treated that way and had no recourse but to accept this treatment! Recently, I risked having an ambulance take my husband to South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, when he suffered a heart attach rather then risk treatment at St. John’s Hospital! Thank the Lord for South Nassau Hospital. Like day and night! How in the world can we with good conscience allow this influx of new residents, many without means without addressing this problem.
    Don’t even get me started on the transportation issues! And schools!
    I laugh when these politicians speak about the “mix” of incomes needed in Far Rockaway. If a mix is needed then why isn’t more lower income housing put in Brooklyn Heights, Forest Hills, Park Slope etc. Yes people need homes, and we here are open to welcoming them, but they also need and deserve good services and support to keep them going in a healthy, well balanced state while growing up in these homes. Unfortunately we lack those services for the current population, let alone so many added residents.

  3. The coalición of The rockaways isnt surprised. By this they only gave The opposition 1 minute to speak all The concilman people signed up to. Speak cutting speaking time from 3 minutos to1 minute and when called didnt come up to speak they didnt really giveus public participation like the other neighborhood boards did with only 1 minute to speak they made me look bad however they still gave concessions thank to City limits giving US the coalition of the rockaways Bruce Jacobs coverage the coalition of the rockaways will continue to work to make sure this rezoning improves this neighborhood because we love our neighborhood we will makesure no corruption and greedy developers ruin our own booklet there is a man Holding a sign farrockaway needs more homeless shelters and a Modern. Police station. The coalition of the rockaways wants no shelters or hotel shelters and prisons dumped no them we. Want a hospital better transportation and better infurstucture we wants our bulkheads built up our beaches improved wewant buisnesses and developement not at. The residents expense we want cooruption and political favores elimated we had that problem before coalition of the rockaways chairman bruce jacobs

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