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The Civic Scene: Homeowners need more time to challenge building plans

The Queens Civic Congress is an umbrella group of about 100 Queens civic associations to give a unified and strong voice for members. The major issue concerning Queens homeowners is their quality of life.

Since the building boom started in the 1950s, the civics have worked to enhance the enforcement of the zoning resolution because if builders do not follow the rules, the quality of life decreases.

The city has promulgated a new set of zoning rules, which will start July 1. The city says the new rules will make it easier for builders to build. This is a desire of any municipal government because more buildings means more economic development and taxes.

If architects and builders self-certify, then build out-of-context to the surrounding community, the quality of life in the community deteriorates. To address the concerns of civic and block association leaders and builders, the city Department of Buildings has proposed a new DOB Zoning Challenge Process.

Concerned citizens were going to be given 30 days to examine any new proposed building or changes to old buildings and challenge the self-certified plans of architects. The DOB has changed the deadline to 45 days. The civics are still not happy.

The DOB keeps refining its online capabilities so civic leaders can see what is being done. The public can access permit information online via the “My Community” link at nyc.gov/buildings. Plans and stop-work orders can be viewed and permits examined.

Civic leaders such as Patricia Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, wrote to DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri about the QCC’s concerns. He wrote back telling of the extending of the challenge period to 45 days. One concern is the 45 days start when the architect files the plans, which now must include a zoning diagram of the building and its location on the lot.

The problem is that often bad things about a building are not noticed until the building is started and takes shape, which can be months or years after the plans are filed. The commissioner says they can open a case any time, but this leads to another concern.

Some builders, architects and engineers do wrong things and get caught. The law says they should be punished if the act was done on purpose. Are they? We rarely see articles or news broadcasts of punishment. If we could see stories of the actual punishment having been carried out, we would trust these plans and the DOB.

At the last QCC meeting, this topic was discussed. Words of praise were said about LiMandri. It was said he has done a lot.

QCC President Corey Bearak wrote that City Hall has created a pilot development coordinator initiative program in Brooklyn “to resolve specific interagency conflicts that may be slowing down development.” It is called a new resource specifically for developers, contractors and licensed professionals. Who do homeowners have to help them preserve their communities? Help can come from community boards, which City Hall wants to cut funding for. Bearak proposes a “preservation coordinator” who can address zoning, building and landmarking issues. People can also call 311 to file complaints.

The QCC passed a resolution asking the City Council to nullify the 45-day rule. It is unhappy and believes nothing will change.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: President Barack Obama is proposing health care reform. His proposals are worthy of consideration. I recently read that nearly half of all U.S. bankruptcies were filed by working families in the aftermath of a major illness or injury. Then there are the 45 million or so Americans who do not have health care.

These people go to a hospital emergency room if they become ill. This is why some hospitals go bankrupt. The problem is ill people cannot work. Ill children cannot learn in school and do not obtain the necessary skills needed to obtain a well-paying job or learn a profession. Health care is needed.

My concern is the federal government will add more departments or agencies and unnecessary expenses to serve the health care of those who need it. I would hope wasteful programs serving the ill or needy can be eliminated or consolidated to save money as new ones are created. I wish Obama had the political clout to consolidate many overlapping or unnecessary departments or agencies in the federal government the way we closed many military bases years ago.

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