City Envisions Far Rockaway As Storm-Resilient Model



Courtesy of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development Aerial view of the parcel known as Arverne East in the Far Rockaways, Queens.

A competition, launched Tuesday, aims to use an 80-acre piece of oceanfront property in Queens, as a laboratory for possible storm-resistant residential development on the coast of the city.

The Bloomberg administration plans to use a massive 80-acre piece of oceanfront property in Far Rockaway, Queens, as a laboratory for possible solutions for the future of coastal development in the city.

The parcel of publicly owned land, known as Arverne East, will eventually be developed by a consortium of affordable housing companies. In the meantime, the city is launching a design competition to come up with new ideas for sustainable, affordable and, most importantly, resilient shoreline development, some of which might eventually be used at Averne East.

“We’re always looking to Holland, looking to Europe and other places, for ideas on how to build better on the water,” Ron Moelis, principal at L+M Development, said. “Here’s our opportunity to have an example that the rest of the world will point to as a model for waterfront development.”

Mr. Moelis, along with the Bluestone Organization and Triangle Equities, won the right from the city to develop the parcel spanning roughly 40 blocks in 2007. The site—more than three times the size of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side—needs not only new buildings but also basic infrastructure like roads and sewers. Planning for all that was just getting under way when the housing bubble burst, forcing the project to be put on hold.

Last year, planning work was finally moving ahead again when Superstorm Sandy hit. During discussions after the storm with officials from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is organizing the competition, both sides hit on the idea of turning the site into “a laboratory for innovative ideas about building in a coastal area,” as Gabriella Amabille, director of land-use policy at the department put it.

The competition, dubbed FAR ROC, kicks off Tuesday, with the first round of entries due by June 14. The competition is also being led by the American Institute of Architects New York chapter as well as Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing funder. They, along with the city and the developers will select four finalists in July, who will receive $30,000 to further develop their ideas. The winner will be announced in October and receive an additional $30,000 prize.

“New York will not be turning its back to our shoreline,” said Rick Bell, executive director of AIA NY. “The need for new ways of housing a growing population calls for making our communities safer and smarter than they were before the storm’s wake-up call. What we learn from the Arverne competition will be useful throughout the city, and, we hope, around the world.”

The submissions will be blind, meaning anyone from a globetrotting starchitect to an anonymous architecture student could win. While there is no guarantee the winning scheme will be built, the developers do hope to try and implement the scheme in some form.

“It all depends on what we get, but wouldn’t it be great if we could take this 80-acre site in the Rockaways and put some of these great ideas to the test?” Mr. Moelis said. “We really want these designers and planners to think as creatively as possible, to really test the waters of what can be built on the shore,” said Bea De la Torre, assistant commissioner for planning at the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Recent experience has been positive. A complex called Arverne by the Sea, which was developed nearby by the city housing agency and Benjamin-Beechwood a few years ago emerged virtually unscathed from Sandy, while many older properties surrounding it were devastated. This was thanks to modern, storm-surge-conscious building standards, including raised buildings and the location of mechanical systems on upper floors rather than in the basement.

“We’ve shown we can do this,” Ms. Amabile said, “But we want to do it even better.”

Mr. Moelis sees this not only as an important project for post-Sandy planning but development in general. In addition to storm protections, the empty site will need everything from shops to schools, libraries to rec centers—the range of public infrastructure. Not to mention thousands of units of low- and middle-income housing.

“The need for housing in New York has never been greater, and concerns about climate change have never been greater,” he said. “This could be the model for how we do smart, equitable, sustainable, affordable development in the 21st Century.”