Rockaway Rezoning Clears Another Hurdle

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises approved a revised version of the Downtown Far Rockaway Rezoning and Revitalization plan. Submitted by the Economic Development Corporation, the new plan includes $126 million in investments, a $35 million increase from earlier versions of the plan. While the funding details are not yet available, Councilmember Donovan Richards’ office said the specifics will be made public soon.

In addition to more funds, the new plan double downs on the original commitment to affordable housing. In a document released on Monday, the city announced, “While there are several scenarios under which development in the URA [Urban Renewal Area] may proceed, it is the City’s goal to facilitate a compelling mixed-use, mixed-income, phased 100% affordable development.” Even though the city is publicly striving for 100% percent affordability, it cannot commit to that number because ownership of the housing site is currently under negotiation. The owner of the site, the estate of the late Rita Stark, is working with private developers to sell the land. If the properties are purchased by Phipps Houses, a non-profit affordable housing developer, it is likely the land will be developed with 100% affordable housing. If not Phipps Houses, the city will also use its allotted $91 million to purchase the parcel and develop the affordable housing. If another buyer purchases the land, it’s likely they would use a city subsidy program and would still develop affordable housing in the space.

The modified plan also includes a shuttle service to take downtown Far Rockaway residents to and from the ferry landing, creation of a business incubator space, and $10 million earmarked for capital work in neighborhood schools. Economic Development Corporation Chief James Patchett discussed the renewal in a statement. “Through this plan, Downtown Far Rockaway is finally getting the investment it deserves, with new jobs and mixed-income housing, open space and community facilities. We are proud to have collaborated with Council Member Richards and community leaders to develop a vision for a more vibrant and equitable Downtown Far Rockaway, and to now make that vision a reality.”

While many residents are excited about the revitalization, some critics fear the impact of increased population density. Residents are particularly concerned the increased population will put strain on local schools. However, the Department of Education says that schools in the area are operating under capacity. While there’s no plan to build a new school, Councilmember Richards and the de Blasio administration came to a compromise, in which the city would reserve space in the redeveloped area for a new school if the DOE finds a need for one within the next decade.

Though increased density will impact the community, Councilmember Richards focused on the positive impact the a larger population will have on supporting the economic and commercial growth of the city.  After the approval, he said, “The lack of city investment for nearly 40 years created cynicism in government and a life of hopelessness for the young men and women I grew up with, whose limited options to educational programming and jobs created a conduit straight into the prison industrial complex. Today’s agreement to rezone Downtown Far Rockaway is much bigger than just about the words ‘density,’ ‘bulk’ and ‘height.’ This rezoning gauges and rectifies the compounding issues that have plagued this community for decades.”

After this vote, the proposal will go to the Land Use Committee and the full City Council for a final vote, after which, it will cross Mayor de Blasio’s desk. Given the proposal’s commitment to providing an extensive amount of affordable housing and the support of the Mayor, it is likely that the project will come to fruition.