Mayoral contenders Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota both visited Queens this weekend, with de Blasio speaking at length about the inequalities in the Far Rockaways both before and after Sandy. The NY Daily News reports that de Blasio said “he’d use federal storm aid to create living-wage jobs for people in storm-hit neighborhoods, and build affordable housing cheap enough for those displaced by the storm to afford.” Lhota, who visited Howard Beach, stressed the need for better infrastructure. According to Newsday, Lhota’s camp accused de Blasio of “blatant political maneuvering” by visiting the neighborhood now and doing little to help residents before running for office. De Blasio, however, does have a record of mobilizing workers after the storm, as well as helping New Yorkers with city, state and federal disaster assistance.
The City Council just passed a resolution asking Congress to make co-op and condos eligible for federal storm recovery grants, reports Queens Courier. Citywide, co-op and condo owners have been denied FEMA grants for property damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The word “co-op” isn’t included in the law, despite no statute banning co-op owners from being eligible for grants. According to the Courier, “Co-op and condos are also categorized as ‘business associations,’ which makes them eligible for federal loans but not grants. It also means they cannot get funds to fix shared spaces like lobbies and roofs.” The measure to amend the law went through Congress in two weeks, and now it’s at a subcommittee on the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Wave reports that work is starting on a collaborative Sandy memorial sculpture in the Rockaways called “Sea Song.” The 16-foot-tall sculpture, planned for the community garden at Beach 59th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, is inspired by “prayer trees” found around the world. The tree-like structure, built from salvaged material left in Sandy’s wake, will be a place for visitors to leave messages and mementos. It’s a collaborative project started by two individuals with the help of local groups and initiatives. They are now hosting public build sessions at 23-04 Cornaga Avenue every Saturday, weather permitting, from 12 to 6 pm. Participants must be at least 16 years but there will be activities for younger kids. They hope to hold an unveiling ceremony in the garden sometime around the one year anniversary of Sandy.
Although the city just released plans to restore and improve the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, damaged by Sandy, there is no timetable and and no plans to build up a protective seawall. DNAinfo attended a community board meeting last night, in which the city presented plans for the $200 million restoration project. FEMA previously recommended constructing a seawall — which would lower the new home-elevation requirements, as well as the cost of flood insurance — but it was not included in preliminary designs. Instead, the city proposed baffle walls and TrapBags along the beach. They also proposed to elevate the boardwalk and place rocks, fill, grasses and vegetation underneath to protect it against a storm surge. Residents expressed anger that the city couldn’t offer an actual timeline for these improvements, and felt a vulnerability to any future storms. The city hopes to begin working on the boardwalk by the end of the year.
Yesterday the City Planning Commission changed zoning laws to allow homeowners to elevate properties in storm areas without violating height restrictions. The Daily News reports that homeowners faced higher insurance bills if they didn’t elevate their properties, but to elevate, some would have to eliminate the top floor of the home to comply with zoning. The new resolution says that storm-related elevation does not count against any neighborhood height restrictions. Now property owners can build as high as 10 feet, although they cannot create any extra living space. They are allowed to use the space underneath their house as a car port or patio. The city also addressed ways to protect commercial properties against future storms, like moving generators and mechanical systems, while keeping the storefronts looking attractive.
Just one hour ago Long Island City residents and local pols celebrated the reopening of Shady Park, which officially opened to the public last week. Shady Park shuttered due to Hurricane Sandy ten months ago; the hurricane took down many of the park’s large trees. Since then, the Parks Department fixed up the swings and both sets of play equipment. Council Member Van Bramer also stated that he will work to bring back the lost trees. See more pictures of the newly-opened park over at LIC Spot and the Friends of Shady Park Facebook. The above photo of today’s ceremony comes from Council Member Van Bramer’s Twitter.
DNAinfo reports that the city will begin demolishing homes in Queens and Staten Island damaged by Sandy, although the city has not yet disclosed addresses for the homes in question. These are structures–a few dozen in total–that the Department of Buildings deemed a safety hazard and in danger of collapse. The city has started talking with building owners and in certain cases they are already making preparations for demo. According to DNAinfo, “Homeowners would still be eligible for assistance in rebuilding or relocating with the NYC Build it Back program if the city demolished their homes.”
New construction is rising in Breezy Point, the Rockaway beach community totally devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The storm left around 350 of 2,800 homes completely destroyed and the rest badly damaged. But the New York Daily News reports that construction’s started on about half a dozen new homes, with The Breezy Point Cooperative currently looking through 70 building plans from residents. (This is in contrast to the New York Times’ assertion just last week that reconstruction has started on only one home thus far.) The News profiles a family who replaced their destroyed house with a modular build on top of an eight-foot high concrete base. The modular homes take five days to build and two weeks to assemble. So far about 60 percent of the community has returned — turns out many Breezy residents faced holdups securing building permits because their houses were not on city-mapped streets.
The New York Times profiles the epic cleanup, still ongoing, required to restore Rockaway Beach after Hurricane Sandy. The City Parks Commissioner, Veronica M. White, took on the challenge only two months after she was appointed the job — “I’ve braved the beach more in a year than I did in my whole life, 54 years, before then,” she told the Times. Just this month a dredge ship, followed by steamboats, brought giants pipes to the beach. These pipes were assembled into a three-mile straw, then “sand and water were sucked from a silted-up channel and blown onto the beaches.” The beach lost a total of 1.5 million cubic yards of sand after Sandy; the Parks Department will add 3.5 million cubic yards of sand to the tune of $37,000,000 by Memorial Day. The city is also constructing an artificial dune, a 4.7 mile long stretch of sand bags from Beach 149th Street to Beach 55th Street. And they expect to fully rebuild the boardwalk by Memorial Day.
There are still triumphs post-Sandy for the Rockaways: the Beach 30th Street playground is open, the concession stands returned, and landscaped plazas popped up. Concrete flecked with blue glass replaced some of the old boardwalk. As a resident said, “It’s normal. It’s beautiful. Because it’s normal.”
When Hurricane Sandy hit last year, water and fire damage destroyed approximately 350 out of the 2,800 homes in Breezy Point, a cooperative community on the Queens waterfront. As of today, reports the Wall Street Journal, only one house–a wooden affair at 10 Gotham Lane–has risen from the wreckage. Residents point the finger at a maze of governmental red tape as the reason so little progress has been made. “It’s at times very frustrating when you meet a roadblock, a wheel of bureaucracy. You’re put through a drawn-out process of facing a bunch of objections to what you’ve submitted,” said Arthur Lighthall, general manager of the private community’s cooperative. “They have rules and regulations, they have codes, they have zoning. The system makes it very difficult for anyone to maneuver around it.” One big problem: City maps on file didn’t even correctly reflect the street grid. Another snag: Many residents lost their records in the storm. On top of that, it took FEMA many months to release new flood zone information. Residents just want to get back to the way things were. “This community will always consist of individual one- and two-story houses,” said Lighthall. “That’s what we want to see. We are not interested in new development and major changes. Recovery Is Choppy in Breezy Point [WSJ]