The city is hoping to revive a village vibe in downtown Far Rockaway — and the robust business scene that once came with it.
The city wants to jump-start downtown Far Rockaway’s economy by rezoning a 22-block swath of the area and establishing a smaller urban renewal zone within it. Under the city’s vision, new development, a pedestrian plaza and a series of walkable streets would center around Mott Avenue.
Not incidentally, downtown Far Rockaway became known as the village when it was bustling with vacationers and entertainment and tourism venues, according to Nate Bliss, senior vice president at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The neighborhood enjoyed its heyday in the early 20th century.
While detailing the city’s plans at a City Planning Commission hearing Wednesday, Bliss said the area’s commercial corridors began to struggle when cars became commonplace and when lower-income populations became concentrated in the area.
Bliss said that for years, the city did little to address the economic stagnation or the 1960s-era zoning rules limiting the village.
“The result is that today, downtown Far Rockaway — once a bustling and vibrant gateway to Queens and New York City — does not service its residents like it could,” Bliss said.
Bliss said downtown Far Rockaway is already benefiting from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to invest $91 million in its revitalization in 2016. And he noted that the area could recapture its place as the peninsula’s commercial hub through the rezoning.
“With the area’s own history as our guide, we are confident that businesses will thrive in a growing downtown that meets more of the needs of the peninsula,” Bliss said.
Bliss said the rezoning should usher in construction of new, larger residential buildings, with lower levels full of retail, commercial and community gathering spaces. But if market shifts and private negotiations do not spur activity on vacant properties or in long-shuttered stores, Bliss said the city could use eminent domain to seize the property and guide it toward more productive days.
Eugene Falik, speaking on behalf of a civic association in the Bayswater neighborhood near downtown Far Rockaway, said it would be unwise to close a 70-spot parking lot. The city plans to build a pedestrian plaza and allow new housing on the lot. Falik said he and many other peninsula residents often eschew downtown Far Rockaway shops because their counterparts in Five Towns, Long Island, have ample parking.
“If you want to revitalize the shopping district, then turn down the conversion of our only parking areas into housing,” Falik said.
The city, however, estimates the parking lot is more than half empty on most days.
The Planning Commission will weigh the proposal and vote on it. If approved by the Planning Commission, the plan will go before the City Council. Traditionally, the council defers to the local lawmaker when voting on land-use decisions. In this case, Councilman Donovan Richards has supported rezoning downtown Far Rockaway, but has not yet taken a position on the city’s current proposal.