Aug. 1, 2023 By John Schilling
A proposal to bring more affordable housing to Far Rockaway divided locals during a July 18 meeting hosted by NYC Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers.
The meeting, which was held remotely, centered on garnering community feedback on the rezoning of an existing parking lot in the Bayswater section of Far Rockaway to allow for The Community Builders (TCB), a nonprofit developer, to build an approximate 100,000-gross-square-foot residential building made up of over 100 dwelling units across from Bayswater Park on Bay 32nd Street between Ocean Crest Boulevard and Beach Channel Drive.
“I’d like to hear thoughts from folks in terms of whether or not they support the project,” Brooks-Powers said. “And at a later point in time, there will be a more broader conversation about our community from a planning perspective.”
TCB Regional Vice President Jesse Batus started the meeting with a presentation of the full proposal for the residential building. According to Batus, the proposed residential building’s units would be “100% affordable” while also including a 2000 square foot community facility on the ground floor, a rooftop deck, an on-site fitness room and over 50 parking spaces.
“We take a holistic approach in what we develop,” Batus said. “We use housing with community facilities, commercial space. We try to add different elements so it’s not just straight apartments.”
Batus also shared TCB’s commitments for the construction period if the project comes to fruition. This includes maximizing local preference, implementing climate change resilient design and drainage infrastructure, 35% Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise utilization, 50% new hires requested by Community Board 14 (CB14) to allow for new jobs and a local labor monitor requested by Brooks-Powers to make sure TCB keeps to their commitments.
“We want to hear from the community,” Batus added. “We want to make sure that this is something that everybody is proud of and everybody has a chance to participate in.”
Additionally, Batus shared the plan for the space to be 50% local preference in leasing, the maximum allowed by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Based on that, TCB looked at the census track of the development itself and the surrounding areas to determine how many units would be available at different area median income (AMI) levels.
The lowest level, 30% AMI or an income ranging between $28,020 and $40,020, would result in $600-a-month for a studio apartment and $630 for a one bedroom unit, with rents increasing as prospective tenants move up the scale and depending on unit size.
Prior to the meeting, the project already received support from some local groups, as well as Queens Borough President Donovan Richards with conditions. When presented with the proposal earlier this year, CB14 ultimately voted in opposition of rezoning the space from R4-1.
“They wanted to upzone to R6A,” CB14 Chairperson Dolores Orr said. “We have put into place a moratorium, put every elected official all the way to the mayor on notification that we will not approve any upzoning for R6 and larger.”
Orr also mentioned that the idea to reimagine the project as a senior living facility was raised by TCB in an effort to gain more support for the rezoning, something Batus also confirmed at the meeting.
During the meeting, the loudest opposition came from Eugene Falik, a 74-year resident of Bayswater and a board member on the neighborhood’s civic association. Falik pointed to the large presence of affordable housing in the area already, as well as the proposed development’s close proximity to the park.
“It is the definition of an evil, anti-social project, which we’ve already had too many of in the Far Rockaway area,” Falik said. “I don’t believe all the poor people in the city need to live in the Far Rockaway area. We’ve gotten more than our fair share. These are people who need all kinds of services that Far Rockaway does not have.”
Falik’s frustrations were also shared by Lynette Shelborne-Barfield, a Far Rockaway local who lives blocks away from the proposed development.
Shelborne-Barfield referred to Rockaway as “oversaturated” with development, citing Edgemere Commons and asking Batus “Why isn’t what is already here enough?”
“I can’t even describe how disappointed I am with this overdeveloping in a community I lived in all my life,” Shelborne-Barfield added. “You’re changing the footprint of Bayswater in every possible moment and opportunity you can.”
Batus responded to Shelborne-Barfield by acknowledging her concerns but reiterating TCB’s enthusiasm to work on something they feel “made sense” for the community.
“Our goal is to build our capacity,” Batus said. “We want to be able to invest more here so we can create more jobs, we can create more opportunities, we can effectuate our mission.”
Citing similar concerns to Shelborne-Barfield, Edgemere Community Civic Association President Sonia Moise also voiced her opposition to the project but expressed her preference for it to be a senior living facility over affordable housing.
“People don’t think about the seniors,” Moise said. “I think that’s something that is desperately needed. [I’m] not saying that I’m for this development actually being at this location … but if it has to be built, I would prefer it to be 100% senior living.”
The strongest voices of support for the project came later on in the meeting from CB14 member Helen Montero and local business owner Jose Santana. Both expressed a desire for the building to be a senior living facility.
Montero recalled how an existing senior living facility in Far Rockaway nearby filled up quickly when it first opened and how the community’s elderly population will continue to grow with time.
“With it being a senior center, I truly believe that it would give our community an opportunity to get their own housing,” Montero said. “So for this to be another opportunity for our seniors to have somewhere to go … [that] doesn’t fall bad with me.”
Santana encouraged the meeting’s attendees to think about “need” over “want,” adding that it is his belief that a senior living facility is a definite need for the community.
“What we need to do first is make sure that our senior citizens, the same ones who took care of us … we need to take care of them,” Santana said. “The only way to take care of them is to make sure they have a roof over their head.”
The rest of the meeting included other contributions from members of the community ranging from skepticism to outright opposition. Two days after the meeting, the City Council’s Committee on Land Use and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises postponed action on the rezoning proposal until Aug. 1.
On Tuesday, the subcommittee laid over the proposal once more, leaving the project’s fate unclear for now.