It’s been five years since Valley Stream’s master plan was created to guide the village’s physical evolution, and the next phase of its implementation is approaching.
The plan’s two main thrusts are the construction of high-density housing near the village’s commercial areas, and building façade and streetscape improvements to reverse years of aesthetic decay on Rockaway Avenue and along other thoroughfares. A new set of guidelines for the appearance of businesses opening in the village has been drafted and will be presented to the board of trustees in the next two months, according to Vinny Ang, a consultant for the village.
“This really sets the tone for the future,” said Ang, who served as village clerk for 25 years, until 2010. “This locks it in.”
The guidelines for new businesses include exterior signs made of wood, with old-fashioned gold carved lettering, illuminated by subtle lighting; more planters and landscaping; and facades that accentuate buildings’ original architecture instead of plastic or aluminum siding. The guidelines would not affect existing businesses.
The goal, Ang said, is to create a more uniform and attractive look — more like downtown Rockville Centre than a commercial street in Queens, with the flashing or brightly colored plastic signs of varying sizes that are ubiquitous in many neighborhoods in the boroughs. The village also wants to prevent alterations to existing structures that lend themselves to the charming atmosphere the village wants to foster.
An example in the master plan is Larry’s Pub on Rockaway Avenue. Its critique: “The original corner entrance to the retail space in this interesting mixed-use building was removed and the store windows flanking the entrance enclosed using materials and brick that do not match or complement the original design and building materials. Even the tiny windows provided are covered with advertising. The architectural unity and importance of the original design is lost and interest for pedestrians diminished. The other storefront in the building utilizes a different palette of materials and awning style, further eroding the visual character of the building. The upper-story entrance is located on the less important façade around the corner.”
The master plan’s prescription is to recreate the façade’s original look, using original or complementary building materials, wrap a uniform awning from one end of the building to the other and accentuate the redesigned corner entrance with planters, thereby regaining the building’s “integrity of its original design and the ability to provide importance to the corner where it is located.”
Landscaping and planters would not be required under the guidelines, but would be encouraged for new businesses during their permitting process, Ang said.
The proposed guidelines were initially intended only for the Rockaway Avenue corridor, but as they were considered by the Building Department, the Zoning Board and the Architectural Review Board, the recommendation was made that they apply to all commercial areas in the village. Coupled with nearby high-density housing that would feed these areas with customers, Ang said, a transformed downtown would attract people looking to open restaurants and boutique shops.
Responding to a survey conducted by the plan’s author, Frederick P. Clark Associates, a planning and development firm based in Fairfield, Conn., more than 60 percent of residents said that the village’s downtown businesses met their daily needs. Less than 15 percent, however, were satisfied with the variety of stores, with many lamenting the absence of a bookstore, a movie theater, a hardware store, a card shop, more coffee shops and a grocery store. Asked what they wanted to see less of, there was a common answer: nail salons.
Those businesses, as well as the insurance agencies and other storefronts offering services rather than products, could be replaced by the kinds of shops that make a downtown thrive in a few years’ time, according to village officials.
It’s a vision shared by some restaurant owners on Rockaway Avenue. Pamela Grandt, owner of P.J. Harper’s, said she welcomed the village’s decision in May to allow sidewalk restaurant seating. “It’ll make this area a destination,” she said. “As people drive by and they see the places — cute places — it makes this strip attractive to diners and gives it a different type of identity.”
Liviu Cireasa, who owns Mia’s, said he was excited about the new seating option. “I think we could bring another crowd to this village,” he said, adding that he would be more motivated to decorate his stretch of Rockaway as the streetscape improved.
Ang recalled a conversation he had with a Panera Bread executive several years ago. Ang asked if the company would open a store in Valley Stream’s business district, and the executive told him the area would be great, but not enough people lived within walking distance, in contrast to a place like Rockville Centre. When Ang visited the Panera Bread on Merrick Road in Rockville Centre soon afterward, he noted the apartment buildings and condominiums lining the street.
“We’ve watched Rockaway Avenue go from a once-bustling downtown — it changed completely,” Ang said. “We’ve watched this metamorphosis over the years.”
With the addition of buildings like the Hawthorne and Sun Valley Towers — which have been derided by residents for their size and appearance and the implication of further development — Ang claimed that the bustle is on its way back to the village’s downtown.
“That’s what Valley Stream needs,” he said, “and that’s what we’re striving for.”