A WAR ON EYESORES
Civic Fed Up With Community Neglect
Frustrated that building code violations and unsightly conditions at a litany of local homes have gone uncorrected, members of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) called on the Department of Buildings (DOB) at their meeting last Thursday, May 3 in Middle Village to turn up the heat on neglectful property owners.
Donald Ranshte, the DOB’s director of community affairs, got an earful from JPCA President Robert Holden and others at Our Lady of Hope School about the agency’s perceived inaction over various problems reported by the civic group and local residents related to homes in Maspeth, Middle Village and Rego Park.
To illustrate the kind of violations reported by the community, Holden and other JPCA members displayed large photos of properties where alleged building code violations were found and reported to the DOB through the city’s 311 hotline. In many instances, the civic president charged, the blighted conditions have not been corrected—even months after being reported and the DOB levied fines.
One example Holden cited is a home located on 84th Street near 58th Avenue in Middle Village which has reportedly racked up over $25,000 in fines from the DOB over the last decade for a host of violations including having graffiti-covered commercial vehicles illegally parked in the driveway.
“There are so many violations, and this is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “He’s got drain pipes going through the sidewalk. ... The building is falling apart. This is the tip of the iceberg, but that’s not the only property.”
Though DOB officials had assured Holden earlier this year that they would take action to padlock the residence over the unresolved fines, the civic president noted, no such action has taken place.
Holden added that the same trucks parked at the 84th Street property are also parked at another house owned by the same individual on 75th Street near 58th Avenue in Middle Village.
Other dilapidated properties which require the DOB’s attention, the civic president noted, include a lot at the corner of Mazeau Street and Queens Midtown Expressway, adjacent to a construction site along 57th Drive, which is being used to store equipment for the last nine years. Holden stated that it has been difficult for residents to file reports to 311 about the site since the lot’s address and building permits are not displayed.
He also mentioned a rundown home along Wetherole Street in Rego Park where a vehicle is parked illegally on the front lawn; a home on 69th Place near Eliot Avenue in Rego Park where a portable storage unit has been placed in the driveway since last August; and a home on the Long Island Expressway service road in Maspeth where a car, a boat and a truck have been parked in the driveway and the adjacent sidewalk for months.
“All of Maspeth and Middle village suffers because of this,” Holden said. “We’re seeing a pattern of ‘Do what you want.’ And these are the kinds of things that we see in other neighborhoods around us.”
“But the only thing we can do as a civic association—and you can do—is to call it in to 311 and cross your fingers,” he added. “So we need the Department of Buildings to get tough. ... What we want is to get rid of the violations or the truck or the graffiti on the property. That’s all we’re asking, but we can’t do it on certain properties.”
The blighted properties, he claimed, are becoming a sign of a decline in the area’s quality of life. If unaddressed and more properties are allowed to fall into disrepair or neglect, he claimed, the area’s property values will drop and criminal elements will eventually find their way into the neighborhood.
“We don’t want to see our neighborhood turning into like many of the other neighborhoods around the city of New York, where you see, unfortunately, a drop in the quality of life,” Holden added. “When you start seeing these kinds of things all over the neighborhood, ... it looks like the neighborhood doesn’t care, and it looks like anybody coming in can get away with it. That’s when you start to see the crime” come in.
Ranshte stated that the problems being experienced are not “unique” to the city, adding that while the agency isn’t looking to “make excuses,” it is willing to work with communities “to maximize our efforts” to compel property owners into compliance with the law.
In response to complaints lodged by JPCA members in recent months, he stated, the DOB’s Emergency Response Team has issued additional violations to locations where commercial vehicles were found illegally parked in driveways, including the 84th Street location.
However, Ranshte noted that every violation issued by the DOB must go through “due process” conducted by the Environmental Control Board (ECB), which judicates Buildings Department summonses. If the fines are upheld but unpaid by property owners, he stated, the DOB has a right to issue additional violations to the property owners.
“What we’ve been trying to do, in working with our partners in the state legislatures, is to make those violations lienable,” he added. “It takes a while to get that rolling.”
In the interim, Ranshte stated, the additional fines also serve as a “precursor” to other forms of enforcement, including an arrest warrant for the property owner or an access warrant to seek additional violations.
“But, unfortunately, with all these things ... the wheels of justice grinds very slowly,” he added. “There is a process to solving these types of problems.”
Holden, on the other hand, that the DOB needs to get more aggressive to resolve the problems rather than let the current system continue.
“Why do we have to do the work here? I’m paying my taxes, I have a family and I have a job. I’m volunteering. Why do I have to do that constantly for 10 years on a particular property?” he retorted. “Keep fining them every month until he complies with the law. That’s all we’re asking. Is that too much to ask?”
Ranshte reiterated that the major problem is the “due process” in which each complaint and violation must go through, which takes sometimes months to resolve. Nevertheless, he indicated that he would pass along the civic group’s complaints to Buildings Commissioner Robert Li- Mandri for further review.
Candidates make pitches
City Council Member Eric Ulrich of Ozone Park, the Republican candidate challenging State Sen. Joseph Addabbo for the 15th Senatorial District seat, stopped by to introduce himself to Maspeth and Middle Village voters.
“The people I represent in Howard Beach and Belle Harbor are just like you,” Ulrich said, noting that if elected, he would work in Albany to fight against overdevelopment and bring in more resources to the neighborhood.
“New York City pays 45 percent of the state tax revenue, and we get 40 cents on the dollar back,” he added. “That’s not right. So I’m going to Albany to fight for you.””
Another Republican candidate for public office, City Council Member Daniel Halloran, also stumped for votes in his quest to win the new Sixth Congressional District seat. The Bayside-based legislator stated that Washington needs “people who can think out of the box” to create jobs, resolve energy problems and support Israel in its effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Halloran also stated that he would work, if elected, to bring additional resources to the district as part of a potential Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
“I intend to be here for you regardless of party. I understand what it’s like in the real world,” he added. “The middle class needs to be protected. Nobody is representing us.”
Senator takes questions
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo answered questions from the audience regarding policies and legislative matters in Albany.
One resident inquired about the senator’s stance on hydrofracking, the controversial gas drilling method which the state is considering permitting in upstate areas. Addabbo stated that he is not opposed to drilling, but charged that the method of hydrofracking potentially puts the city’s water supply at risk.
“I’m all for jobs, but what good are these temporary jobs when they’re going to jeopardize our drinking water?” he said. “I’m not against drilling. Any way we can become less dependent on foreign oil, I’m all for it. But there are environmentally friendly ways of drilling. The unfortunate thing is that these gas companies, who make billions of dollars, don’t want to spend the extra dollar on a more expensive process.”
Asked by a resident about freight rail traffic and the upcoming opening of the new waste transfer rail station on Review Avenue in Long Island City, Addabbo replied that he is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on conducting a new air quality study near homes located in the vicinity of Juniper Boulevard South and 69th Place, near the CSX rail line.
Though he expressed favor of installing sound barriers along the rail line, as requested by nearby residents, Addabbo indicated that the state’s economic position would likely need to improve before funding could be allocated for the project.
Another resident asked Addabbo about the potential passage of legislation requiring all voters to show identification upon visiting their polling places on election dates. The senator stated that the bill is unlikely to come for a vote before the current session concludes in June.
The chief-of-staff to City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Lydon Sleeper, noted that the legislator opposes the planned closure of 20 Fire Department companies in the executive budget outlined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier last Thursday.
Len Santoro, coordinator of the Juniper Juniors, the youth organization run by the JPCA, stated that the $1,000 grant the civic group received from the Citizens Committee for New York City will be used to fund about five community cleanups. The first was held on May 5 at the underpass located on 74th Street near 57th Avenue.
All Faiths Cemetery President Dan Austin invited residents to take part in the annual Slocum memorial ceremony on Saturday, June 9, at the monument located in the Middle Village burial grounds. The consul general of Germany is expected to take part in the tribute to those who lost their lives in the tragic steamship accident on the East River in 1904 which claimed the lives of over 1,000 passengers.
Holden also announced that the JPCA will once again be sponsoring the Juniper Valley Park Concert Series, which will take place over five consecutive Tuesdays in July and August. The dates and programs have yet to be announced.
The next Juniper Park Civic Association meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday night, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Hope School, located at the corner of Eliot Avenue and 71st Street in Middle Village. For more information, visit www.junipercivic.com or call 1-718-651-5865.
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