2000-03-25 / Columnists

On The Beach

With Beverly Baxter

A few weeks ago I decided to do a piece on the Richard George story
regarding his organization, the Beachside Bungalow Preservation
Association's battle to protect their easement from the development of the Wavecrest II housing project. I received much response, from all over New York, to the piece. After meeting with Mr. George and seeing his
documentation, I've decided to continue with an update.

The Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association was established in 1984 with the intent of preserving the last remaining bungalow colony along the oceanfront and to preserve a significant part of a history that is germane to Rockaway. Built in the early 1920's one would imagine that these
bungalows would have the protection of "landmark status"; however, over the years, they have been altered and winterized and have become a unique
year-round hamlet for an eclectic community.

Their challenge is that in 1998 an application was submitted to the New
York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation, Low Income Tax Credit Program, by Margert Community Corporation to build Wavecrest II on Beach 24 street. The lot where the builder wants to build is on an easement belonging to the owners of the bungalow colony. This lot is situated between the boardwalk and a colony of one family bungalows. The easement contains community gardens and two cement walkways to access the beach.

Richard George, the director of the BBPA states, "Over the years, I have
had a very close working relationship with Margert Community Corporation director, Joseph Barden. Mr. Barden has supported our preservation efforts, and in 1994 he wrote to the Department of City Planning on the Beach Bungalow Preservation Association's behalf." In a letter to Dennis Ferris, director of Queens City Planning, Mr. Barden wrote," We feel that this uniquely planned 1920's development of one-story single family homes, with easements to the beach and right of ways to the street, is well suited for our coastline and fragile barrier reef. It's size and scale relate well to the landscape, and its open space arrangements prevent over-use and abuse of our natural coastal environment." Another letter was sent on June 28 by Mr. Barden on behalf of the BBPA to Joseph Rose, chairman of City Planning.
In it Mr Barden states, "It is our understanding that the historic nature of this area can be protected by the addition of preservation text...to prohibit high-rise, multi-family development."

A Freedom of Information request (FOIL) of the application contained
letters of support for the Wavecrest II project from Queensborough President Claire Shulman, Assembly-woman Audrey Pheffer, Pauline Cummings, as president of Deerfield Area Association, Council Member Juanita Watkins, Congressman Gregory Meeks and District Manager Jonathon Gaska of Community
Board 14 members.

In her letter, Claire Shulman states, "I am writing in support of Oceanview Associates' application to secure Low Income Housing Credit for their proposal to build 122 units of low income housing on Seagirt boulevard at Beach 24 street in the Rockaways." What is most curiously disturbing is that the residents of the BBPA on Beach 24 street were told that it is Community Board 14's policy to support market rate housing; and although our Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer told Mr. George that
she did not support subsidized housing on the waterfront; however, her
letter to the contrary supports the project and is a matter of public
record.

At a meeting in early 1998, Richard George showed to Mr. Joseph Barden
blueprints of proposed plans to build Wavecrest Gardens II on the vacant lot between the bungalows and the boardwalk. The project was presented as market rate housing for working class families. Mr. George was concerned that its six-story structure would be built next to one-family houses and on a 40-foot wide easement. The easement runs with the land and is included in all
of the Beach 24 street property owner's deeds and titles. A six-story
structure, while it would not conform to the character of the neighborhood,
is also a violation of their easement. An easement, as defined by law, is
the right that gives ease, accommodation, privilege to use land owned by
another person.

Two meetings were set up between the owners of Wavecrest Gardens, Margert Community Corporation, and the Beach Bungalow Preservation Association. The intention of the meeting was to express the Beach Bungalow Preservation Association's concern that this proposed project would violate their easement. Although meetings were scheduled with all parties, the meetings did not occur. Frustrated, BBPA residents wrote letters to Commissioner James Leonard, Queens Department of Buildings. Leonard's response, dated November 10, 1998, to Mr. George states, " the easements that you refer to must be maintained and any development will have to consider their existence. The owners of Wavecrest Gardens II development are presently being notified of the existence of these easements and will be required to answer for the alleged illegal removal of these easements as well as excluding them from their design."

A meeting was held on February 12, 1999 at Queens Borough Hall between Richard George, representing the BBPA, Jerry La Mura, of the Department of Buildings and City Planning, Richard Libbey, the developer of Wavecrest Gardens II, and Borough President Claire Schulman. Evidence was presented; and although the existence of the easement was not disputed, Claire Shulman did however advise Mr. George to consult a lawyer!

Permits were issued on May 25 by the Buildings Department to the
developer on the submission of a survey by Gerald T. O'Buckley. The permits voided part of the easement. An easement runs with the land in perpetuity. The law requires that any alteration must be notified to the homeowners and approval must be obtained from the Board of Standards and Appeals. These approvals were never obtained. A July 12 letter from Honorable Claire Shulman states, "...we discussed this issue at our February 12 meeting in my office. My staff has reviewed the proposed project, and it appears to meet all city zoning and building regulations...you may want to consider consulting an engineer to conduct a survey of the property in question, or you may want to consult an attorney." The BBPA Director, Richard George,
responded stating that the engineers and attorneys have already unanimously concluded that an easement cannot be built upon as stated in New York and federal law. However, It was also determined that the easement falls under the jurisdiction, and is enforced by, the NYC Department of Buildings! Talk about a conflict of interest!

Attorney for the BBPA, Ann Marie Barbagallo, conducted a title search of the property deeds by STG Assocs. LTD., which confirms the existence of the easement. Furthermore, there is nothing in the public record at the city's Registrars' office that indicates a portion of this easement had been voided as surveyed by Gerald T. O'Buckley. This report was hand delivered to Claire Shulman and James Leonard.

In August 1999 Richard George and attorney Ann Marie Barbagallo met with Commissioner James Leonard. Commissioner Leonard notified the BBPA attorney that an "Intent to Revoke Permits" had been sent to Goldfarb Properties, owners of Wavecrest, and a meeting would take place at the Building Department between both parties and the surveyors. This meeting never took place.

Mr. George passionately states, "This easement is part of our 1920
development. It is ours to use for free and uninterrupted access to the public beach and right of ways to the street. The construction of Wavecrest
Gardens II blocks our easement and fences off the back houses from access to the street." The fait of the project and the Beach Bungalow Preservation Association's case is currently in the hands of the court.

The intent of this writer's interest in bringing this story to you is so that readers can clearly see a record of reckless disregard for a legal easement; and so that one can also conclude that if such disregard can occur and effect the fait of one's property on the east side, it can also occur and effect the fait of one's property on the west side, and all around the town. This writer urges that it's time we begin to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. It is our right to do so with our vote, which speaks to our support; or our demand for their resignation.

 

 

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