Rockaway Rocks as Renaissance Arrives
Rebuilding boom benefits Arverne
By WARREN WOODBERRY Jr.
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
On one side of the railroad tracks in Arverne sit 300 acres of land that hold promise. On the other side awaits a neigborhood on the verge of a resurgence. The community of Arverne on the Rockaway Peninsula is ready to participate in the revitalization that is sweeping the narrow strip of land that is Queens' most southern shore.
For more than 40 years, people there have waited for a renaissance in the Rockaways. It seems one is finally underway, with talk of ferry service, new housing developments and other projects to improve the area.
People in Arverne have discovered that the Rockaways can be a poor man's paradise. No other place offers both views of the Manhattan skyline across Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean just outside your front door.
Linda DiCanio, 48, who has lived at Beach 69th St. for the last 11 years, enjoys morning walks with her shepherd dog, Trixie, on the boardwalk along Rockaway Beach.
"It's a prime area," DiCano said. "The people here are nice, too."
The people of Arverne see a bright spot on the horizon - literally.
The Arverne Urban Renewal Area, more than 300 acres of vacant, trashed-filled lots and overgrown shrubs, was part of a popular summer resort area in the early 1900s. The huge parcel between Beach 34th and 79th Sts. was once crowded with bungalows and hotels.
The long-stalled urban renewal project seems to be finally getting underway with the residential development named Arverne-by-the-Sea.
Benjamin Development of Garden City and Beechwood Organization of Jericho are building the 2,300-home community. The $350 million development also will feature retail space, a school, day-care center, community center and parkland.
And Beechwood-Benjamin has said it may assist in the rebuilding of the Derech Emunoh Synagogue, which burned in May. The 98-year-old synagogue, located at Beach 67th St. and Rockaway Beach Blvd., was demolished after it suffered four fires, two of which were arson, over the last decade.
"Arverne-by-the-Sea will really be a show piece for all of the Rockaways," said Leslie Lerner, an executive partner for the Benjamin-Beechwood developers. "It's really going to function like a new town.
"I'm excited to be involved in this. I have the confidence in this scheme compared to the past schemes."
Once fashionable resort
The neighborhood of Arverne - which includes Somerville - is bordered by Beach 58th St., Beach 73rd St., Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The low- to middle-income class community was plotted out in 1882 by developer Remington Vernam. His signature on checks, "R Vernam," inspired the community's name.
From 1888 to 1908, Arverne was a fashionable resort area where wealthy families from Manhattan came to vacation. But the area started to decline after the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The once-thriving seaside resort became an area of dilapidated structures crowded with year-round residents, many of whom were dependent on public assistance.
Efforts to revitalize the area date back to 1948 when the city announced plans to construct public housing for war veterans and newlyweds on the huge parcel.
By the 1950s, Arverne was known for having the worst firetraps in the Rockaways. A city slum clearance committee chaired by urban planner Robert Moses was designated to target such areas in the Rockaways.
In 1964, the area was slated for urban renewal, and the city started to raze thousands of summer bungalows.
In the 1970s, the neighborhood experienced "white flight," with much of the Jewish community leaving and the area quickly becoming predominantly black.
A gambling casino, amusement park and a sports entertainment center dubbed Technodome were all pipe dreams of developers who never saw their plans come to fruition.
City planners even considered making the Arverne Urban Renewal Area a mobile home park, but community opposition killed the idea.
In 1990, the city finally sold the land to private developers.
Finally, this summer, Beechwood-Benjamin broke ground for Arverne-by-the-Sea on a parcel that had sat untouched since 1968.
Today, scores of residential developments are sprouting up throughout the neighborhood of about 40,000 people.
Edgemere-Arvene Projects between Beach 51st and Beach 58th Sts. house more than 5,000 people in 35 buildings.
Still, there are few retailers in Arverne. The area lacks social and physical amenities, and there are even fewer options in terms of public transportation, which includes the Q-22 bus and the A train.
"We need shopping, we need a laundromat, we need the suburban life. There's people with money here," Dicano said.
What Arverne does have is the Addabbo Family Health Center on Rockaway Beach Blvd. It provides a wide range of affordable medical treatment for peninsula residents, 40% of whom are uninsured for health care.
Other community issues include noise from low-flying jets from nearby Kennedy Airport and area flooding, which leaves standing water that attracts mosquitoes. A massive road project is now underway to improve drainage.
"I think it's going to be nice out here when they fix it up," said Tommy Crawford, 57, a Beach Channel Drive resident who has lived in Arverne for six years.
"A lot of people talk about it, but I like it a lot and a lot of people want to move back."
This next article was sent in
by Erik Hendrickson and got misplaced in my email boxes.
Sorry it's taken so long to get it on, Eric and thanks for sending it.
Four decades of urban renewal stagnation ended Thursday when community
leaders and elected officials in hard hats shoveled sod to kick off construction
of Arverne-by-the-Sea, a $350 million oceanfront
community in the Rockaways.
"Today is a positive step forward for the Rockaway Peninsula," City
Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Rockaways) told about 200 people who gathered
for the groundbreaking for the first phase of the
project in weather that everyone agreed was fitting for a day at the beach.
"We've seen groundbreaking before and heard of many plans, but this is the one that has heart and reality to really go forward," Addabbo said.
"It's a grand day for the Rockaways," said Councilman James Sanders Jr.
His sentiment was repeated by speakers during the ceremony at the
3-1/2-acre site less than a block from the Atlantic Ocean between Beach
73rd and Beach 74th streets where 32 single- and two-family
homes will be built.
"It took us almost 40 years to get here," said Jerilyn Perine, commissioner
of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, noting
that plans for the 117-acre Arverne Urban Renewal
Area were passed in 1964.
The agency, former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, Community
Board 14 and residents developed the concept for the plan after a proposed
$1 billion Technodome sports and recreation complex
Arverne-by-the-Sea will include 2,300 residential units in a mix
of one- and two-family homes and mid-rise condominiums; retail stores;
a school; a day care center, a community center; and 10 acres of
The developer is Benjamin-Beechwood LLC - a joint venture of Benjamin Development, of Garden City, and the Beechwood Organization of Jericho - which will obtain private financing for the project.
Alvin Benjamin, president of Benjamin Development, said a "city within a city" was being built "that will indicate to everybody that New York is not only on its way back."
Benjamin said about 50 workers would be employed in the first phase. Union members and local contractors voiced concern about who will get the jobs in a community with about 40 percent unemployment.
With a huge rubber rat symbolizing non-union labor, and waving a
U.S. flag, about 60 members of Local 45 of the Carpenters Union demonstrated
outside the site, chanting: "Union, union. What do we
John Early, one of the organizers, said, "The community is effectively locked out of this for the most part," he said.
Benjamin and Les Lerner, president of the Beechwood Organization, said the unions and local contractors would get jobs over the five years the entire project will take to complete.
Maryann Tomitz was among prospective home buyers. She plans to sell her home in Middle Village.
Tomitz said, "I love the beach."