35-acre nature preserve opens in the Rockaways at NYC’s first net-zero community

April 26, 2024

Photo courtesy of Francine Fleischer

New York City this week opened a public nature preserve in Far Rockaway that serves as the centerpiece of a new sustainable mixed-use project. The 35-acre natural area marks the first phase of Arverne East, a development transforming a vacant 116-acre oceanfront site into a community with 1,650 homes, retail, and open space. The nearly $1 billion project will produce more energy than it consumes, through passive house construction and a district geothermal system, making it the city’s first net-zero community.

 Photo courtesy of Francine Fleischer
 Photo courtesy of Francine Fleischer

Designed by Starr Whitehouse, the Arverne East Nature Preserve stretches between Beach 44th Street and Beach 56th Place. Paths provide access from the street to the boardwalk. A winding pathway brings visitors through the landscape of five distinct ecologies: maritime forest, maritime shrubland, maritime grassland, maritime swale, and maritime dunes.

The preserve features gathering spots with explanatory signs and places to birdwatch. According to the city’s Parks Department, visitors may observe shorebirds using the swale and migrating songbirds using the forest and shrublands, with monarch butterflies expected to enjoy the seaside goldenrod during the fall.

 Photo courtesy of Francine Fleischer
Photo courtesy of NYC Parks

“As we engaged with the community early in the project, we realized that the project would be prototyping a new urban resource: an urban nature preserve,” Laura Starr, partner at Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners, said.

“Not a park which is a thoroughly human-centric space, nor yet an untouched, un-stewarded protected habitat, which ignores the realities of human behavior in the vicinity of a dense population, the urban nature preserve is a unique landscape typology that supports biodiversity and restores habitat for native species while being adapted to exist next to, and serve as a resource for, the city.”

Photos courtesy of NYC Parks

WXY designed the preserve’s 6,000-square-foot welcome center, which includes a community room, a terrace with ocean views, Urban Park Ranger offices, and public restrooms. Like the rest of the development, the welcome center is fossil fuel-free, featuring a closed-loop geothermal system for heating and cooling and a rooftop solar array to power the building, and eventually, the broader neighborhood.

The preserve will also feature a native plant nursery operated by the nonprofit RISE and an urban farm with local produce run by Campaign Against Hunger.

Rendering of Arverne East courtesy of Local Office Landscape/Bernheimer Architecture

Arverne East is being developed by L+M Development Partners, the Bluestone Organization, and Triangle Equities, in partnership with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Parks Department, and the Department of Transportation. The city acquired and cleared the property for development in the 1970s, but no work was done on the site for roughly 50 years. Construction on the nature preserve and welcome center began in 2021. The project is scheduled to be completed in eight to 10 years.

Arverne East spans from Beach 32nd Street to Beach 56th Place, within the Arverne and Edgemere neighborhoods of Queens. The mixed-use development will include 1,650 units of housing, including affordable, market-rate, and homeownership opportunities. About 80 percent of the homes will be designated as affordable to low- and middle-income families. The complex will include commercial spaces, like a brewery and restaurant operated by the Rockaway Brewing Company, and a boutique hotel.

The project incorporates resilient design throughout, with permeable surfaces, planted areas, and bioswales to mitigate floods. Buildings will be elevated three to eight feet above the existing ground level, four feet higher than the required New York City flood elevation standard.

Plus, the buildings will be highly insulated and airtight with new energy-efficient mechanical systems. By using these technologies, the property will fully eliminate the use of fossil fuels.

Upon completion, Arverne East will be the city’s first net-zero community, as well as one of the most sustainable developments in the country.

“The completion of the nature preserve and welcome center at Arverne East marks an exciting milestone in this innovative project that will support sustainability, resiliency, and health and wellness on the Rockaway Peninsula,” Sara Levenson, managing director at L+M Development Partners, said.

“In line with our commitment to protect and honor the local habitat, the nature preserve will offer visitors a new way to explore and learn about the area’s unique ecosystem while the welcome center will serve as a community anchor, providing important space for park operations and public facilities.”


Photos courtesy of Francine Fleischer and NYC Parks unless otherwise noted

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