‘They Want A Fight,They’re Going To Get One!'
'They Want A Fight,
They're Going To Get One!'
Arverne Homeowners Outraged
Over City's Encroachment Plan
By Gary G. Toms
This week, the Wave office received phone calls and Email from Arverne residents who were upset over recent action taken by the city. According to the residents, certified letters were sent to many homeowners indicating the city's intent to remove sections of property in and around their homes. The targeted boundary for the project extends from several homes on the corner of Beach 69 Street and Beach Channel Drive to Thursby Avenue.
One resident recently told the Wave, "Many have lived at their addresses for the last 15 to 32 years. The fences that currently border the property were there at the time of purchase and replaced in the same spot. The sidewalks have been pitched the same way for over thirty years. Now, the city has cleverly come in and surveyed the block and determined that all of the front yards, which have been landscaped and manicured by the homeowners, are theirs. Some of us will lose our entire front yard, part of our stairs, and will have to create a new entrance to our homes."
The angry homeowner also claims that the city has informed residents that the "removal of encroachments" is being done to raise the street by two feet in order to widen it and put in new drains, which will correct sewer and flooding problems. Many residents view the move as an effort by the city to accommodate the Arverne-By-The-Sea developers and their large-scale project as a whole.
"We are outraged! The homes of the 300-block area have been maintained by many of the residents for years. They paid their own money to keep it up, while the city did next to nothing to maintain it. If the city does in fact have the 'right of way' in taking such action, they have had a minimum of over 33 years to act on it. Moreover, the city had the opportunity to eliminate the hundreds of thousands of dollars that homeowners have paid in upgrading and maintaining city property, and at least 30 years to identify the encroachment and provide an easement or reclaim the property. Where is the reparation?" said the resident.
Shelia Gillings, a native of Jamaica, has spent many years creating what she describes as a "happy home" since coming to the United States. Gillings gave The Wave a tour of her home, which was nothing short of magnificent. The true beauty, however, was illustrated in the lovely front yard garden she has spent years cultivating.
"It has taken me so long to build my home and get it to the point where I am very happy with it. My garden is my pride and joy, said Gillings
"Now the city wants to come and destroy it. I feel in my heart that this definitely has something to do with Arverne-By-The-Sea. I am going to fight the city. I will not let them take from me what God has seen fit for me to have. I won't let them do it."
A number of the residents along the 300-block, who declined to have their names published, felt just as strongly about the situation as Gillings.
"If the city is allowed to get away with this, I'm going to lose my driveway and a section of my steps. I won't be the only one, and it makes no sense. My grandmother also lives here. How is she supposed to get into the house if half the damn steps are ripped away?" said one man who has lived in his home for the last 27 years.
The homeowners contend that while the city may indeed own a section of the property, it does not give them the right to just come in, rip up sidewalks, walkways and driveways, and destroy their homes.
"They want to proceed with tearing up part of my home, which my husband and I have spent thousands to reconstruct, and there is nothing in these letters from the city that discusses compensation. I plan to fight with my neighbors on this one," stated another resident.
The Wave contacted Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska for comment regarding the complaints.
"We are aware of the situation, and I totally understand the position taken by the homeowners. However, the city does in fact own the property, and they have the right to take this action," said Gaska.
"It's all part of a $50 million renovation project that will improve many of the roads and sewers lines in the area. It will also help to improve on the flooding conditions in that area by raising the streets and installing storm sewers."
Gaska made mention of the fact that correcting the sewer and flooding problem has been a priority of the community board for the last 20 years.
"The Arverne community asked for the project back in 1981," Gaska stated.
The District Manager went on to say that although he understands the anger felt by many Arverne residents, he, along with Community Board 14 and the Arverne Civic Association, has worked diligently to inform the residents of the city's plans.
"I have brought this topic up at many community board meetings for discussion. I've even attended meetings of the Arverne Civic Association, in an attempt to explain this situation. The problem is that many people did not attend the meetings to get the information. I plan to schedule special meetings in the coming weeks to discuss this matter with the Arverne residents."
The Wave questioned Gaska about residents claiming they had no knowledge or information denoting that the property attached to the homes (sidewalks and fences) belonged to the City of New York.
"Before you purchase a home, surveyors come out to look at it. In the survey it indicates that the land is on the city line."
The community board member told the Wave that he is taking measures to address the concerns of the Arverne community.
"We will work with the residents, our elected officials, and the city to lessen the impact of this project. The project is slated to begin in late fall or early winter. We can delay the project for a few weeks if necessary until all the parties involved are satisfied. No matter what, we will work this out," said Gaska.
Evan D. Gray, Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Michele Titus, informed the Wave that Titus has toured the area and met with Arverne residents to hear their complaints. Also, as part of a joint effort between City Councilman James Sanders, Jr. and other elected officials, she is currently working on bringing the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to Rockaway to address the matter.
City Councilman James Sanders, Jr. contacted the Wave and expressed concern over the encroachment issue.
"In response to the outcry by Arverne residents, we will be conducting a town hall meeting on October 3, 7 p.m., at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church (348 Beach 71 Street). We will bring together all the agencies involved to discuss this situation. That will include the DDC, the Department of Environmental Conservation, elected officials, the community board, and the Arverne residents."
The current action taken by the city is only the first phase of a three-phase project, which Gaska estimates will be completed in three to four years.