How Realistic Is a Luxury Campground at Rockaway Beach?


If you are one of the curmudgeons who spurned Rockaway Beach for Coney Island shortly after the Rockabus began depositing Williamsburgians on the former’s sandy, trash-strewn shores, then you were probably none too pleased to learn of the campaign to add a campground to the already insufferably twee summer hotspot.

Known as Camp Rockaway, the proposed campground is fashioned in the image of the beach’s turn-of-the-century tent colonies, but outfitted like a Wes Anderson set, complete with campfires, hammocks, hot tubs, and aesthetically pleasing signage.

It’s the brainchild of Kent Johnson (Johnson owns a design and building company, milktrout) and in the last month, a campaign to fund the campground raised $50,000, but how realistic is it?

Looking at the Kickstarter, an official with the Department of Planning was a bit flummoxed. (Let it be duly noted: Camp Rockaway hasn’t submitted an application with the department yet, so there are a lot of unknowns, including the precise location, the status of that location and the nature of the proposed buildings, all things that impact whether or not it will ultimately be approved.)

One of the first obstacles Johnson will encounter is the fact that “campground” is not a use that is recognized by the zoning resolution (the master document that governs development in New York City). That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have a campground–he could apply for an exemption, or for various permits available through the parks department and the city for overnight camps–but it won’t be a simple process.

Another potential issue is the site’s location. Johnson has has already ruled out the Rockaway Beach-side of the peninsula (the Kickstarter notes “camping on the beach is not permitted”), but it may not be any easier to secure approvals for a campground the Jamaica Bay-side. For one thing, most of the waterfront land on the bay-side is zoned for parks, and even if one found a private parcel or got permission to use park land, there could still be waterfront zoning implications to contend with.

This is all to say: it will be an uphill battle. But Johnson knew that already. Before launching the Kickstarter, he spent the better part of a year crafting a schematic and completing a feasibility study for the project, and he was upfront telling donors that money raised through the Kickstarter campaign would only be going toward paying a team to steer the project through the approval process. (That doesn’t mean that Johnson will be hitting donors up for more money when the $50,000 runs out: He says he already has investors interested in providing the next round of funding.)

He’s taking it one step at a time. The first step? Applying for a pre-consideration with the Department of Buildings. “That’s essentially something that gets us in contact with a person who can sort of guide us to our goal,” Johnson says.

“It may not be the most straight forward path through the building department and the city powers that be,” Johnson told the Voice last week.”It is feasible, but again, it’s going to take some work to make sure we’re dotting all our i’s and crossing all our t’s.”