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City must strictly make developers follow building laws

Most people buy homes in communities because of the neighborhood, house styles, quality of schools and nearby parks — in short, the quality of life. Homeowners join together as civic associations to maintain quality of life. Queens civic associations have come together as the Queens Civic Congress. One of their main activities is to enforce building codes.

Last month, the QCC invited the city Department of Buildings commissioner, Robert LiMandri, to be a guest speaker. He spoke nicely and said what he felt the civic leaders wanted to hear, but was nevertheless a city leader who wants developers to have an easy time building.

A problem facing homeowners is illegal construction, which leads to buildings out of character with the community and built differently from the initial plans. The civics have been fighting to correct these concerns for decades, with only some progress.

There recently was an overhaul of the DOB rules and regulations to make it faster, cheaper and easier to file plans. This is good, but the problem exists that there are never enough inspectors to police what is built. Self−certification by architects and builders of what they build is a cheap way to check plans, but there still is not enough oversight, enforcement of the zoning resolutions and punishment for illegal actions, although the fees for filing by the DOB provides money to the city to pay for more and better−qualified inspectors.

There are now plans to introduce computer filing of building plans. The city wants a 30−day period for people to object to a plan, after which people cannot complain about whatever is built. Sometimes builders do not follow the building permit concerning what is supposed to be demolished and what is supposed to be built.

Some self−certify and build what they want. Many illegal conditions will not be visible for months after plans are approved and construction starts on a building. The DOB needs citizens to bring to their attention to what is perceived as wrong.

How would the 30−day objection period affect the discovery that a builder did something illegally months after the project started or finished? Will criminals be able to change the original plans in the DOB’s computer? If something is found wrong, will civic association leaders be able to make the city correct the illegality? Will the 30−day rule make the DOB more transparent and easier to stop illegal activities, or will it cut off all complaints after 30 days?

It is sad that for decades the DOB has not followed up quickly enough on building complaints. It is sad fines for illegal activities can be $10,000, which is laughable on a $1 million building. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pro−development and pro−builders because he is a business man. This is not bad because certain types of buildings in certain zoned locations are good for the economy, but the average person wants a nice quality of life and is willing to fight for it.

Civic association leaders know the state Court of Appeals has ruled that the DOB may take actions against illegal conduct upon a citizen’s complaint. There is fear this proposal will encourage and aid more corruption in the building industry. Since the city cannot silence public complaints, the QCC is thinking of obtaining a lawyer to enjoin the city from implementing this 30−day proposal.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: At least most of us agree the city has to raise money to provide services. Parking meters are seen as a way to raise money, but are a way to make people move their vehicles so other others will come and shop in nearby stores.

The bad news is that a few months ago, the city raised the meter rate from 25 cents for 30 minutes to 25 cents for 20 minutes. There was not enough publicity.

The recent American Lung Association’s 10th annual State of the Air Report finds that Bronx, Queens and New York counties are the dirtiest counties in the state for particle pollution. This means air pollution is endangering our lives. That is why so many people have asthma. Why can’t the city better enforce pollution laws?

REMINDER: The third annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Cunningham Park will take place June 6−7. Registration will start at 3 p.m. June 6 at 73rd Avenue between Francis Lewis Boulevard and the Clearview Expressway near the comfort station.

For information, call Taliah at 718−263−2225, Ext. 5511.

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