Village of Valley Stream officials have been working over the past month to help rebuild Rockaway Avenue.
As part of the effort, village officials removed the 29 dying ornamental pear trees that lined the street and replaced them with planters from the Arthur J. Hendrickson pool on Sept. 27, after several business owners complained that the trees obstructed their storefronts.
“If you didn’t know the store was there, you would just drive right past it,” said T&F Pork Store owner Joey Carlino, who said that many customers did not know the address of his business.
When the planters were installed, Carlino wrote on the Valley Stream News and Views Facebook page that he thought they “look great.”
“I think the planters give the avenue an upscale look and are much easier to maintain as well as keep its colorful look throughout Rockaway Avenue,” he told the Herald.
The planters contain ornamental cabbage, evergreen trees, perennials and annuals. They are each arranged differently and contain varied plants, according to Gene Boening, the groundskeeper for the pool, who designed the planters.
“Next year, we’ll probably make them even fancier,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Vincent Grasso also announced at a town hall forum on Sept. 25 that the village was forming a Revitalization Task Force to continue upgrading the downtown. The group will comprise residents who will meet monthly to develop a plan to rebuild the downtown area and encourage more businesses to move into vacant stores.
“What we’re trying to do is expand the circle of people who have input,” Grasso said. “In the past, it was just a few people who sat in a room.”
The task force’s plan would be submitted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office for his $10 million Downtown Revitalization Grant. Under state guidelines, a community must develop a plan to rebuild its downtown area to be eligible to receive the award. A development council, made up of business executives, union leaders and educators appointed by Cuomo, evaluates the projects based on how well they meet state and local goals, project readiness, their effects on the revitalization of downtowns, their benefits to local economies and their cost-effectiveness.
The village has applied for the grant every year since its inception three years ago, without winning it. To change that, Grasso said he would like to have at least 10 village residents serve on the task force. As of last Friday, he had only four members signed up, including David Sabatino, the owner of Sip This, and Mike Belfiore, who had previously spoken against the development of more apartment buildings in the village.
Sabatino decided to join the task force, he said, because he has experience in urban planning and downtown revitalization. “I’ve been working to develop community participation around revitalizing our downtown and stemming outward from the downtown,” he said.
He said he would like to increase connections among the downtown businesses and the schools and parks. He also said that he would improve the storefronts, make people feel more comfortable shopping on Rockaway Avenue and incorporate residents’ ideas into the plan.
“I think this will be a huge starting point,” Sabatino said of the task force.
Belfiore said he decided to join because he wanted to speak to experts about what they think is best for downtown development. “I really want to know the demographics of the immediate community,” he said.
The businesses on Rockaway Avenue, Belfiore added, seem to cater to people with lower incomes, and if that is the case, the village could encourage or incentivize co-op apartments or condominiums. But, he said, “I’d like to back that up with some information and guidance.”
To join the Downtown Revitalization Task Force, email Grasso at firstname.lastname@example.org or message him on Facebook at Vincent Grasso.