Calling the project “transformational on so many levels,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards recommended approval of the Arverne East development proposal with conditions to ensure it is a true community-first initiative that brings housing, economic, cultural investment and local hiring to a section of the borough that “has long deserved it.”
The development would bring more than 1,500 units of housing, community, retail and restaurant space and a nature preserve to 81 acres of city-owned land that has been vacant and dilapidated for more than 40 years. The proposal, from L&M Development Partners, Triangle Equities and the Bluestone Organization, would develop the underutilized beachfront property stretching from Beach 32nd Street to Beach 59th Street.
“This project is very dear to me having lived in the Ocean Village apartments growing up right across the street,” Richards said. “Every morning I woke up to the blight. This project has been in the works since the early 1970s and now more than ever it will be critical as we work our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and create a pathway for upward mobility in this community.”
Richards added that the Arverne East project would bring “an economic justice” solution in the Rockaways, which have seen far more development in the western portion of the peninsula in recent years.
“It really is a tale of two Rockaways and the disparities are very clear from east to west,” he said. “The eastern end has the highest unemployment rate in the borough. It was ravaged by the high COVID rate. There are no supermarkets and a lack of healthcare options and affordable housing. This project will help us build it back better coming out of the pandemic.”
In stating his approval, Richards added an extended list of recommendations in part to placate Community Board 14 members who disapproved of the application by a vote of 26-1 in November. They include commitments for local hiring for all construction and non-construction workers and a 30 percent goal for MWBE businesses and firms; a new city Health and Hospitals Corporation facility; children and senior care services; new schools in the area; a new community center; improved transportation options; and street widening.
Richards is also recommending improved access to the beach from Beach 32nd to Beach 59th Street with staffing and lifeguards “for the underserved east end of Rockaway Beach” as well as new concession opportunities on the boardwalk created with a focus on local providers of food and beverages, clothing, accessories or other goods “that reflect the culture” of Rockaway.
“These businesses are necessary to attract and cater to a growing number of visitors to the beach and area in general,” Richards wrote in his recommendations. “Such concession opportunities would also help the economy of the Rockaways while creating much-needed jobs.”
Richards also called for a Community Advisory Board with representatives from Community Board 14, local community and civic organizations, relevant government agencies and elected officials to meet with the development team on a quarterly basis for the duration of the project.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato called for a new Environmental Impact Statement to be conducted for the Arverne East development, saying the current one was conducted in the early 2000s and did not account for numerous factors including major weather events, the COVID-19 pandemic and demographic trends that have changed over time.
“Look, I love and respect my colleagues in government and we share the same goals but the only thing that has really changed over time is the population growth,” Richards said. “Leadership includes the ability to make decisions even when they may be unpopular. I don’t need another study to tell me about what we need. When opportunity knocks you don’t turn it away or the area will be blighted for another 40 years.”