The status quo in North Lawrence and Inwood in the Five Towns is unsustainable. As crime continues to spiral out of control in New York so it goes in areas that are attached to what is still considered suburbia on this sliver of Long Island.
The fact that a village like Lawrence is contiguous to high-crime-rate communities is at least one of the reasons to support changes in those areas. Whether it is Pearsall Avenue in Cedarhurst, Lawrence Avenue in Lawrence, or Bayview Avenue in Inwood, there are issues, and something needs to change.
The Five Towns has evolved into a pristine frum area of New York with a bursting yeshiva population, featuring shuls that cost more than $10 million to buy or build. Are we supposed to stand aside and just let whatever happens to occur and encroach on the areas our families call home?
But there is the matter of our roadways that already are way too limited to handle the thousands of cars and other vehicles that take to the poor streets daily. Our roads and highways have been a problem long before these building ideas landed on the drawing table. We have just about the same roads and thoroughfares we have had for at least a half-century, with probably millions of more people and perhaps an equal number of cars added to our roads.
It’s no wonder that it takes hours to get to locations we should be able to reach in about an hour or less. But that is not only the matter of a separate essay; it is also a problem that deserves to be dealt with independently. The point is that while it is a growing problem, it is not necessarily attached to the need to clean up areas surrounding the Five Towns that are an absolute blight.
On top of this reality is the fact that our children and grandchildren are at the stage of life where they want to set up their own homes, and there is simply nothing decent available to buy or rent. This is forcing young people to reluctantly consider other areas, in some cases quite distant from family members that they are otherwise close to.
The flip side of this social reality is that older people who live in places like Brooklyn or Queens and whose children moved to the Five Towns have sold their homes in those areas and would prefer to downsize while also moving closer to children and grandchildren.
And it is these situations that the proposed building on Pearsall Ave in Cedarhurst and in Inwood is directly addressing. These projects will not add what is known as affordable housing.
I met with the builders and reviewed the architectural plans and in fact see these projects differently and in a positive light in contrast with how the construction might negatively impact life as we know it in the Five Towns. Traffic is a big problem here. But that has to be addressed even if no nail is ever knocked into a wall on any of these projects.
In terms of the Village of Lawrence, there are three separate building ventures on the drawing board that can impact residents in this renowned community. If you are familiar with the area, then you will recognize the locations where the construction will eventually take place.
The first is in an area that is known as North Lawrence. It is a formerly mostly rundown area that is slowly but surely being revived, with young frum couples purchasing homes and restoring the look of an area that was once considered too far gone.
The second area is Inwood, which has a burgeoning frum community with hundreds of families, a beautiful shul under the direction of Rav Pinchus Weinberger, a mikveh, and a yeshiva that is currently under construction.
The plan for both projects calls for about 300 apartments, each on a total of ten acres. At some of the meetings on this subject, information was dispensed that massive building was going to take place over a 73-acre area. There are 73 acres that are up for rezoning in these areas. But the two projects we are referencing here occupy a total of ten acres. So, the massive building over such a large area is just disinformation.
The people most displeased with these plans are those who border these properties. No one really wants construction taking place too close to them, whether a next-door neighbor is redoing a home or a multi-family development like the ones we are describing here is going up.
The developers have told us that the two projects will feature one- and two-bedroom rental apartments, and there will be an application process and an income requirement to be accepted to move in. Rent will be $3–$4,000 per month. Each building will have security and valet service around the clock, and all cars will be parked in underground garages.
But the fact is that potentially this will add to the already snarled traffic on Five Towns roads that are currently at a breaking point. As we said at the beginning of this essay, there is a need for new housing opportunities in the Five Towns and surrounding areas. From the time that the first construction vehicle shows up to these sites it will be 3–5 years before the first person would be able to move in.
It is during that period that the local government officials and the traffic people can put their heads together and figure out a way to deal with the current congestion. The building and the traffic are two separate matters, but it is impossible to ignore the connection between the two.
I was at a press conference a decade ago with Senator Chuck Schumer that took place in a corner of the Costco parking lot in what is part of Lawrence. At that time, the state assemblymen were also Democrats, Phil Goldfeder and Harvey Weisenberg. The news conference took place to announce the construction of an elevated roadway that will bring cars to the Atlantic Beach Bridge. That road would reroute drivers who are on their way elsewhere and do not need to be in our busy area.
That was a decade ago, and nothing was done. The plan might still be on the books somewhere, but someone has to get behind it if it’s ever going to happen. And while that plan might help Rockaway Turnpike and Route 878, what about Central Avenue and Broadway?
Something needs to be done, but I’m not a traffic engineer and have no suggestions about how to handle this matter. People who have studied traffic patterns need to step forward with ideas, as the status quo is untenable. If the decision to build is to go forward, a means to alleviate traffic has to be part of the deal. n
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