Queens development hangs tough in hurricane

The new urban Arverne-by-the-Sea, one of the largest current residential developments in New York City, surprised many residents by its resilience to Hurricane Sandy. Arverne, located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens at a subway stop, is mostly complete and will eventually be home to 2,300 households. The last major section, a two-block-long mixed-use main street, is being planned now. A supermarket has recently been built, a YMCA is under construction, and a small retail development has been completed adjacent to the subway stop. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has moved its local headquarters into a storefront at this location.

ArvernebytheSea_1Arverne’s urban plan, by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects (EEK), orients the street network toward the transit stop and includes an extensive network of mid-block pedestrian passages. The project has “been much criticized, for its size, its ostentatious appearance, and the quality of its housing,” writes The New York Times. “It was the mantra of many dyed-in-the-wool Rockaway-ites that these pretty, modern homes were
really flimsy matchboxes that would blow over in the first big storm.”

Arverne’s housing reputation just took a big leap after the storm swept away many Rockaway neighborhoods and left others looking like war zones. Arverne was barely damaged and homes continued to sell after the storm. EEK associate principal Eric Fang, who worked on the site plan a decade ago, told Better! Cities & Towns that the planners took action to prevent wave damage, including incorporating a dune setback zone.

ArvernebytheSea_2Gerry Romski, the development’s project executive, told The New York Times that global warming and sea level rise were talked about from the earliest stages of design. “A heavy-duty, sophisticated drainage system, designed to handle flood surges, was instrumental in mitigating flooding,” the Times reports.
“The system – which features underground chambers, wide street mains and storm drains on each house property – connects to large sewer mains that the developer installed in public streets
that they rebuilt around the project site, as part of an agreement with the city… .

Also helpful was a natural buffer of sand and beach grass that was maintained near the boardwalk.” The houses are covered in fiber-cement siding, which is an unusual material in Queens – but it proved tough in this storm. The Arverne homes suffered little wind damage. There were a few places in the community where flooding occurred, however.

This article was reprinted with permission from bettercities.net as an example of a new urbanism development more resilient to natural disasters like those we face locally.