The empty lots in Far Rockaway are slowly disappearing, construction fences and scaffolding have taken their place and signs offering properties for rent or sale are scattered on the rooftops of buildings along Central Avenue.
These changes are among the effects of the Far Rockaway rezoning plan, which was approved in 2017. At an update this week on progress since the passage of the plan, elected officials and community leaders said the area can expect more changes and some temporary inconveniences over the next few years.
Residents and stakeholders who have begun to feel the strain of construction connected to the rezoning gathered at a charter school on Central Avenue Monday night to hear about upcoming projects and what to expect over the next few years from city agencies and the NYC Economic Development Corporation.
“This is going to make Rockaway better from end to end but we are gonna take some hits,” said Jonathan Gaska, District Manager for Queens Community Board 14. “It’s going to be a mess but we are going to plan in advance by keeping stakeholders involved and keeping the community engaged. Let’s look at the glass half full.”
The 20-block Far Rockaway rezoning was expected create an estimated 3,000 new housing units. It is a part of the 2015 de Blasio administration housing plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units, in part by rezoning up to 15 neighborhoods. Since then, East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, Jerome Avenue and Inwood have been rezoned.
The administration on Monday gave a presentation on its progress. The city has moved quickly from last year’s groundbreaking at an abandoned shopping center to make way for Far Rockaway Village, a project comprising 700 units of housing and 90,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. There’s another commercial and residential project just a few blocks away and there are plans for a 219-unit mixed-use residential and commercial building.
“We passed several rezonings and the speed we are seeing in the City Council is astonishing. And it shows the city’s commitment to the affordable housing plan and we are going to continue these ongoing discussions with the city to make sure the city keeps its commitments,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards.
An estimated $200,000 has been awarded in grants for cultural and community organizations. According to the city’s Department of Small Business Services, over 50 businesses have visited the SBS mobile outreach unit and 18 storefronts have been improved. Over 500 consumers and merchants were surveyed in a “commercial needs assessment.”
Both the firehouse at 16-15 Central Avenue and the 101st Precinct Police Station at 16-12 Mott Avenue were landmarked because of their Renaissance and Colonial Revival design.
At the meeting, Community Board 14 member Felicia Johnson asked if Far Rockaway residents who were displaced and put into shelters during Hurricane Sandy were getting preference for the housing lottery in Far Rockaway. HPD Director for Queens and Staten Island Perris Straughter said those residents were a priority for the 10 percent set aside for each affordable housing project but displaced Far Rockaway residents were not guaranteed a spot. Richards did say there were community based organizations helping with housing lottery applications and HPD said they were going to continue tenant resource fairs for outreach. The housing agency also highlighted that over 500 households had received legal services through the “Right to Counsel” initiative.
Longtime Rockaway resident Norman Adler said the neighborhood had waited for almost 40 years to get capital improvements but he wanted to see more planning for transit and senior residents. Adler said he wanted to see a dedicated line between the A train and the LIRR station or a shuttle to permit use of the future shopping center. He added that he had not seen any plans for those with disabilities or to bring higher education institutions into the area.
Richards said he would push for more transit opportunities in the area and he warned residents that the free shuttle service to the 108th Street ferry stop needed to utilized or it could be discontinued.
Among the projects on the city’s to-do list are street improvements, which had residents complaining about that work exacerbating the lack of parking space in the neighborhood. A representative from city’s Department of Design and Construction said the construction was scheduled around traffic patterns after months of observation. The street repairs would be over a three-year period but would bring an inviting streetscape and a much-needed traffic signal, according to Department of Transportation Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia. The work is slated for this to begin this fall.