2004-06-18 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk

A number of people at the Community Board 14 meeting last week were incensed by Hank Iori's comment about those who opposed the "No Parking Any Time" signs on Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

That includes board members as well as those who were there to oppose the signs.

Iori praised the new malls that caused the restricted parking and pointed out that the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association were paying out about $10,000 a year to keep the malls mowed and watered.

"These malls increase my property value," Iori said. "The opposition to the signs is smoke and mirrors from people who don't belong in Belle Harbor."

There it is in a nutshell. "The people who don't belong in Belle Harbor."

Iori did not say who "the people who do not belong in Belle Harbor" are, but we all know who he was talking about. He was talking about people who (gasp) can't even afford to buy their own homes. I met Iori in Brown's Hardware on Sunday and he told me that he did not mean to say what he admittedly did say. Hank is a nice guy, with lots of roots in the community and I have no reason to doubt that he believes that what he said does not reflect what he really believes. The problem is, Iori is not alone. There are lothers in the Belle Harbor community who would have said the same thing and would have really meant it.

When I asked a person connected to Community Board 14 about the fact that those who rent apartments in the community did not have a voice at the board, he said, "Most of them are there illegally anyway."

That is not close to being the truth and it is also an indication that those who rent do not matter to many of those who own one-family homes with driveways and do not care as much for local renters as they do for their pets at home.

I did not speak at the community board meeting because this column is my forum for discussing issues that are important to the community. Just as this is my forum as the editor of The Wave, every reader has a forum as well in the Letters To The Editor section of the paper.

In any case, there are two issues that come from the No Parking issue, one of them more important to me than the other.

The more important issue is that people who rent apartments in Belle Harbor are disenfranchised in the community board and local government process just as surely as women were prior to the 1920's.

Follow the bouncing ball.

People who rent apartments cannot belong to the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association because they do not own homes.

At one time, I rented an apartment on Beach 134 Street. I joined the association and was never questioned on whether or not I owned property until I wrote something negative about the organization's president, Jack King (the same Jack King who will soon decide on the parking signs). I then received an envelope that contained both a check for my two years of dues and a letter stating that I could not be a member of the association because I merely rented an apartment.

I was not crushed by the move, but it bothered me that I could no longer have a voice in what impacted the community. I was told by a number of officials of the organization that only homeowners had the right to decide what was good for the community because they had a financial stake.

Had our Founding Fathers felt that way, only a few of us would be voting for President this year.

In any case, when it comes to local issues such as the parking ban, the community board, the semi-official government agency whose members are chosen by the Borough President and the City Council members, listen only to the community organization impacted by the issue.

And, only homeowners have a right to belong to those community organizations.

Sorry, sir, but you have no voice because you don't own a home. That is what it amounts to.

Not exactly democracy in action.

When I asked Dolores Orr, the president of both the community board and the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, what the renters are to do, she suggested that they form their own organization. That wouldn't matter, however, because the community board would still choose to listen to the homeowners as the "legitimate" voice of the community.

Of course, Iori and many others apparently believe that the renters do not deserve a voice.

If I am wrong, Hank, write me a letter and let me know.

The other issue, of course, is the parking ban itself. Though I believe that it is less important as an issue than the disenfranchisement of the renters in the community, it has a major impact on both renters and homeowners who must rent their spare apartments in order to pay their mortgages.

Over the past week, The Wave has received at least three calls from homeowners in that position. All three are attempting to rent an apartment in their home and need that rent money to pay their mortgages.

Their problem is that the first question asked of prospective renters is "where can I park my car?"

Before the new signs went up just before Easter Sunday, those without driveways who lived on the beach blocks could count on Rockaway Beach Boulevard for parking, at least in the winter and fall.

People who wanted to rent an apartment knew that they had to make accommodations during the summer months, often playing musical cars to keep renters happy.

Now, however, musical cars has moved from a seasonal to a year-round event. To a very real extent, those who cannot provide a parking spot for a renter will not rent their apartment.

And, that often means they will not be able to pay their mortgage.

All so Hank Iori and his friends can increase their property values by a few bucks, and that is if they are right about the malls increasing property values. I am not sure that the malls have increased the property value of homes in Belle Harbor. Neighborhoods such as Broad Channel and Bayswater have rapidly-increasing property values, for example, without any malls or other unnecessary construction. In fact, home prices are up in every community on the peninsula. For Belle Harbor residents to point at the malls as the reason for the rise in their property values is disingenuous at best.

What can be done? There is a simple solution to both problems. First, the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association has to become the Belle Harbor Residents Association and begin to take in renters as members. If not, then the community board must, as a matter of democracy, discount anything Barbara Larkin and her association says.

Then, the Department of Transportation needs to hold a public hearing in the community at which all voices can be heard. Then, they need to take down the stupid signs if not the equally-stupid malls.

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