Tag Archives: sidewalk

Stranger pays for elderly Queens couple’s sidewalk repairs

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A good Samaritan — and complete stranger — has stepped up to aid an embattled, elderly Whitestone couple burdened with the charge of sidewalk repairs they say should not have been on their hands to begin with.

Judith Smith, 68, and her husband Everett, 71, were told by the city’s Department of Transportation in June to fix two concrete slabs, totaling 70 square feet of sidewalk, deemed broken and improperly sloped, according to a notice of violation issued by the agency.

But the furious pair said the defective squares are not their legal responsibility, pointing to their house deed as proof. The slabs, instead, are connected to an adjacent community driveway, jointly owned by the 22 homeowners on the street, they said.

The 14-foot driveway — or “right of way,” as described in the couple’s mortgage — leads up to a parking area filled with 22 separate garages and belongs to each of the homeowners along 147-23 Willets Point Boulevard.

The total cost of repair should be split between each of the homeowners, the Smiths said, but since their home is planted directly next to the easement — located in the middle of the residential street — the charge for repairs and role of the lot’s sole caretaker involuntarily had come barreling down on them.

According to the city’s repair guideline prices, the landowners of 30 years, who rely on retirement income, could have found themselves shelling out close to $700.

But after The Courier first reported the couple’s grievance in a detailed August 30 cover story, the Smiths were then reached out to by a major television network. Their troubles were broadcast at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, September 4, and within 30 minutes, the Smiths said they received a phone call from a private cement company contractor who wanted to help them out for free.

“I’m thrilled. I couldn’t be happier. I’m really indebted to them,” Judith said. “He’s taken the liberty to dip into his own pockets to repair two flags that I should really sue the neighbors for. I’m forever grateful to him.”

The couple’s hero, who they have yet to meet, wanted to remain anonymous.

Whitestone couple faces walkway woes

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

An infuriated Whitestone couple has a bone to pick with the city after they were pinned for violations on 70 square feet of sidewalk outside their property line.

The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) told Judith and Everett Smith this June to fix two broken and improperly sloped concrete slabs of sidewalk, according to a notice of violation issued by the agency. But the furious pair said the defective squares are not their legal responsibility — pointing to their deed as proof — and instead are connected to an adjacent community driveway, jointly owned by the 22 homeowners on the street.

The 14-foot driveway — or “right of way,” as described in the couple’s mortgage — leads up to a parking area filled with 22 separate garages and belongs to each of the homeowners along 147-23 Willets Point Boulevard.

But since the Smiths’ home is planted directly next to the easement — located in the middle of the residential street — the charge for repairs and role of the lot’s sole caretaker involuntarily came barreling down on the embattled landowners.

“I feel dejected,” said Judith, 68. “We shouldn’t be held accountable for fixing it.”

The Smiths, Whitestone residents for 30 years, had recently made repairs to two other defective sidewalk slabs outside their home, shelling out close to $600 to do so, they said. But costs to maintain the two slabs connected to the driveway, they said, should be split between the 22 homeowners who share the garage area.

“Every house should be forced to pay for it,” said Everett, 71. “It’s disappointing. I wouldn’t live in the city if I had to do it all over. They’re chasing people out. Why should I pay for everybody here and they get the benefit?”

The total cost of repairs was unknown as of press time, but according to the DOT’s guideline prices, the Smiths, who rely on retirement income, could find themselves out of pocket close to another $700.

A spokesperson for the DOT said the owners of the two properties adjacent to the driveway entrance are responsible for making the sidewalk corrections.

“This responsibility remains regardless of any separate arrangement the property owners may have made with other parties for use of the parking area,” the spokesperson said.

The homeowner living on the other side of the driveway declined to comment when approached by The Courier. But neighbor John Holmes, who lives in one of the 22 houses along the easement, said he would not mind relieving some of the Smiths’ burden.

“It seems to make sense for all of us to foot the money. It’s a common driveway,” Holmes said. “The city has to assign it to somebody, but everybody uses it. It’s everybody’s problem.”


Homeowners get free tree help

| chudson@queenscourier.com

Tree Sidewalks Photow

Thanks to a $1.1 million grant from Councilmember Eric Ulrich, 317 people are going to get brand new sidewalks for free.

The Trees and Sidewalks program, started in 2005 by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, repairs sidewalks throughout the city that have been damaged by overgrown tree roots. The Parks Department will be focusing its repair efforts on 317 sites throughout Ulrich’s district, thanks to the grant he provided.

Owners of one-, two- and three-family dwellings are eligible for repair assistance under the program. Homeowners can call 3-1-1 to request an inspection of sidewalk damage by a Parks Department forester.

In 2009 testimony before the city council, N.Y.C. Assistant Commissioner for Forestry and Horticulture Fiona Watts explained how sidewalk damage is assessed.

“Inspectors quantify the damage to the sidewalk at each site by rating the site according to a number of criteria. These criteria include vertical lift, number of damaged flagstones, the volume of pedestrian usage, passable sidewalk width, and the condition of the tree.”

Damage is graded from 1 to 100, with repairs slated for areas scoring over 60, “based on available funding.” Unfortunately, once funds are exhausted, homeowners can be left with sidewalks in a state that is equal parts headache and hazard.

“[Homeowners have] been waiting on a list for a number of years to get their sidewalks fixed through the program,” Ulrich explained. “In the meantime, it’s been a tripping hazard, it’s a liability for them and if they have to pay for it on their own, it could be $1,000 or more to repair.”

Thanks to the funding from Ulrich’s office, work has already begun at designated locations, which were all scored at 65 or higher or the Parks Department damage scale. Ulrich estimates that all repairs could be completed within eight weeks.


Homeowner says he was bilked by city

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A dog lounges leisurely in the backyard of John Biagi’s Utopia Parkway home, which rests on a quiet corner, overlooking the neighborhood park.

But in place of this Fresh Meadows man’s white picket fence is a white handcrafted billboard sign that reads “Another Homeowner Screwed by NYC” in bold, red-painted lettering.

“This is the American Dream to buy a house, and I love it. But how can I afford to keep it? The city just comes and does whatever it wants. I feel violated,” said Biagi, who has lived in his home for over 20 years.

Biagi, a 62-year-old retired mechanic, told The Courier he was warned in 2004 by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to replace approximately 68-square-feet of sidewalk on his property — defective from two trees that the city recently removed, he said. Although Biagi said he had every plan to cooperate with the agency, he first requested for more information about the broken slabs. He said he did not hear back from them.

Then, city workers came out of the woodwork in 2009, he said, replacing nearly the entire sidewalk surrounding Biagi’s corner home — including close to 800-square-feet of pavement instead of the originally estimated 68.

The total cost the city billed to Biagi: $2,240.69.

“If the sidewalk is bad in front of your house, I understand it’s your responsibility to get it fixed. If you came and told me I have to fix three broken slabs, show me where and I’ll pay you. But they never notified me. I came home one afternoon, and every piece of concrete around my house was totally gone,” Biagi said.

According to the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC), the revised estimate was “based on additional sidewalk flags which were observed to be broken or were identified as trip hazards.”

However, the agency said the total bill sent to Biagi only represented 30 percent of the total sidewalk replacement work. The other 70 percent of the construction, officials said, were done to “provide uniformity in grade” and were not charged to Biagi’s account.

Out of frustration, Biagi said he called 3-1-1, filed three complaints and then contacted the city’s comptroller John Liu, the DOT, the DDC and Councilmember Dan Halloran — who he said was the only helpful one.

Still, four years later, Biagi said he keeps getting the runaround from the city’s agencies.

“Each year, I get letters from these people saying they are going to investigate, but they said, ‘It may take a year.’ It’s been four years since they redid the cement. It’s been four years now that I’ve been waiting,” Biagi said.

According to the DDC, investigations and requests for more information can take four months up to a few years.

Biagi said what angers him most is the fact that the DDC allegedly attached the expenses to his mortgage and took the remaining balance out of his real estate taxes.

“They said, ‘Once you pay it, we can’t refund your money.’ But, I didn’t pay them. It’s like everywhere you turn, when you walk down the street, you have to hold on to your wallet because you fear somebody’s going to rob you. You come to your house, and you feel you’re safe. But with this city, with this administration, I’m not safe with the doors locked with a 130-pound dog,” Biagi said. “They go into my bank account and take money. They’re charging you for what’s not yours. They get away with it a thousand times. But I’m making noise. I’m not taking this anymore.”

Pol, residents demand DOT repair broken curbs

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


Queens residents have had their hopes for safe sidewalks curbed by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Senator Tony Avella recently united with perturbed residents from northern and eastern Queens – who have suffered with broken curbs in front of their homes for years – to demand the DOT “accelerate” their sidewalk repair program.

“DOT is failing in their responsibility to fix and install these curbs,” said Avella, who believes sidewalk repair is a borough-wide problem. “Unfortunately, it’s the homeowner who suffers in the form of sidewalks and streets that quickly wear away and flooding from the street into their homes. DOT needs to stop ignoring its infrastructure and start doing simple things like curb repair rather than taking on pet projects like adding bike lanes.”

According to the senator, DOT informs residents who report a broken curb that their request has been entered into the curb database for repairs.

Due to a “multiyear backlog,” however, the DOT states they may be unable to perform the reported curb repairs during the calendar year – a delay Avella calls “horrendous and unacceptable.”

A DOT spokesperson said the postponement has been caused by a high volume of repair requests, which greatly outnumber the department’s existing resources.

“Through our active program, DOT allocates $20 million annually to make repairs to sidewalks and curbs,” said the spokesperson. “While requests to address curb conditions outpace available resources, DOT’s contractor works to make curb repairs as efficiently as it can by rotating through community boards citywide.”

With reports of a 23-year backlog, the wait for curb repairs has gone from months to multiple years or decades for some residents.

“We pay some of the highest property taxes in the country to live in this city, and it’s a shame that I have had this broken curb for what seems like forever,” said Catherine Andreucci, a Flushing homeowner who has been on the curb repair list for over seven years. “What makes it worse is the city broke it years ago when they were repairing the street. Ever since then, DOT periodically inspects the curb, but it seems they have no intentions of fixing it anytime soon. We have to park our cars carefully to keep from damaging our tires on the broken pieces.”

Along with the daily safety hazard of living with a defective sidewalk, Avella says residents who report the damage risk receiving violations from the DOT.

“DOT has created the perfect catch 22, where homeowners are required to repair their sidewalks before a curb replacement can be completed,” said the senator. “However, with the extended and uncertain timetable for curb repairs, a homeowner may have to repair their sidewalk several times before the curb is ever marked for repair. The city is forcing homeowners to repair their sidewalks on an immediate timetable while leaving them with no idea of when DOT will repair the curb.”