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Peninsula Hospital developer hopes to transform Rockaways, but community isn't so sure

The redevelopment plans call for 2,220 affordable housing units as well as space for retail and community facilities.

A developer is looking to construct 2,220 housing

A developer is looking to construct 2,220 housing units and retail space on the former Peninsula Hospital site.  Photo Credit: Aufgang Architects

An ambitious proposal to transform the old Peninsula Hospital site into an 11-building, mixed-use development could help transform the struggling Rockaway neighborhood.

But some community members worry the plan, which has recently started the city’s review process, might be too ambitious and cause congestion and overcrowding in Edgemere.

Property owner Peninsula Rockaway LP wants to construct 2,220 housing units and 72,000 square feet of retail, including a supermarket, and 77,000 square foot of space for community facilities on the site bounded roughly by Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 50th and Beach 53rd streets. The buildings, which will include below market-rate housing and units for seniors, range in height from eight to 19 stories.

“We have been spending a lot of time planning, and really being thoughtful about how to create a viable, long-term neighborhood,” said Daniel Moritz, principal of Arker Companies, which owns the site through Peninsula Rockaway LP, and which specializes in constructing mixed-income housing and commercial development. “We listened to a lot of people in the community … we listened to anyone who was willing to talk to us.”

Moritz said Western Beef is interested in operating the supermarket space. The plans also include a community space and public plazas. He said the density is needed to keep the retail space viable, pointing to the shuttered shops that currently line Beach Channel Drive.

“We wanted to create a neighborhood plan that provided enough housing to support businesses,” Moritz said. “Up until now, businesses have not been able to sustain themselves in this neighborhood.”

An economic analyst hired by the developers estimated the completed project will result in over 600 permanent jobs.

The city’s review process requires advisory votes from the local community board, borough president and City Planning Commission. The final decision rests with the City Council.

Community Board 14’s Land Use Committee was scheduled to review the plan on Wednesday night. A vote from the full board is expected by the end of June. Before the Land Use Committee's meeting, two of its members, Felicia Johnson and Al Moore, told amNewYork they were concerned about the size of the project and how many jobs will go to local residents.

“They said they need the density to make the retail work. But you have a ready-made audience waiting for a restaurant, a movie theater,” said Moore, referring to the current local population.

“The infrastructure is not in place,” Johnson said in an email. “We are still a transportation desert and you’re adding more to the peninsula than we think we can handle in case of an evacuation situation.”

City Councilman Donovan Richards said he wants to see mixed-use at the site — especially a supermarket — but wants to see some changes before he agrees to support the plan.

“When you talk about the economy, lack of jobs, lack of services, lack of open space — Rockaway is the poster child for that,” said Richards. “There are still residents in that part of the community who don’t have access to a supermarket.”

Residents have long complained that Rockaway shoulders a disproportionately large number of homeless shelters, drug rehab programs, public housing and single-room occupancy facilities, while getting shortchanged on city services.

A recent rezoning is paving the way for the construction of housing and retail on several empty and decrepit plots in Far Rockaway.

“This is an exciting time for the Rockaway Peninsula,” Richards said. “This area really needs more infrastructure. This project gives us a chance to look at that.”

A spokeswoman for Peninsula Rockaway LP said the firm scaled back its original plan for 17 buildings to 11. The tallest buildings are clustered in the middle of the development. The number of housing units, however, has not changed.

The company also cut its initial vision of 151,800 square-feet of commercial space down to 72,000 square-feet, its spokeswoman said. 

Still the scale has some on edge. Local resident Glenn DiResto created the Facebook group “Coalition Against Peninsula Hospital Overdevelopment,” which has almost 800 members.

“There are zero units for middle income families,” said DiResto, a real estate broker who grew up in Rockaway. “What benefit is this to current residents, other than a supermarket? To build a vibrant community you need a true balance of income in the community.”

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