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Hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach's net-zero community (it's a model for new green development)

The oceanfront landscape of the Rockaways is about to become a development hotspot for climate sustainable affordable housing. The 116 acres of vacant land has begun development on a $1 billion project across the Rockaway peninsula in Queens.

Currently, the complex has the potential to be New York’s first and most ambitious community to reach net-zero. The site, known as Arverne East, plans to have 1,650 total units of housing. 1,320 of these units will be designated as affordable for low and middle-income households.

The project is believed to be a turning point for the Arverne and Edgemere neighborhoods as the community offers newfound climate and economic policies. Development plans to use a wide range of strategies to help create a sustainable housing complex. The project intends to utilize geothermal energy to tap into the heat stored in the Earth’s core to heat and cool the buildings.

Usually, installing geothermal technology is a costly and disruptive process as extracting heat from the Earth is no easy task. Construction will have to drill 450 feet into the Earth’s crust to install a pipe system that connects ambient loop bores to heat pumps which tenants will have control over above the ground.

This process is often particularly challenging in dense urban settings. Dr. Teresa Jordan, a geologist and professor in the college of engineering at Cornell University, told Bloomberg, “You’re making holes where probably, in a populated city, there are already lots of other facilities using the area under the ground.”

Geothermal is often a difficult obstacle for buildings that have already been constructed but are best suited for brand new projects such as Arverne East.

The project also plans to implement a passive house design, which involves installing airtight installation for optimal energy efficiency. Controlling heat through passive and active shading helps minimize energy demand instead of using a traditional HVAC system.

A passive house design can deliver up to a 90% reduction of heating and cooling demand compared to other buildings. These systems play a crucial role in maintaining a cool, comfortable, and affordable indoor environment.

As Hurricane Sandy once ravaged the Rockaways, these housing units will come prepared for any future climate catastrophes. As development continues, the buildings also have extensive storm and weather contingencies. Depending on the location, the developers plan to elevate the land to raise the ground floor by at least 16 feet. Making the property higher than Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge of 14 feet.

It wouldn’t be a modern apartment complex with an array of comfortable amenities, and Arverne East plans to deliver. The buildings will offer rooftop solar gardens, a 35-acre nature preserve, and an urban farm.

The project is currently slated to complete construction in eight to ten years.

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