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Avella pushes city to pay for College Point retaining walls

Nadine DiVirgilio (l.-r.), Greg DiVirgilio and Jackie Nicotina show where a neighbor's pool encroached onto city property. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Neighbors on 130th Street in College Point whose backyards look out over Powell’s Cove have known each other for decades.

But what they did not know was that their pools, decks, sheds and retaining walls were encroaching on city property, and that put them on a collision course with the new pipeline the city plans to build just beyond the property line.

Homeowners received a letter two years ago informing them of the city Department of Environmental Protection’s interceptor project, which will lay a large sewer line behind their properties from 11th Avenue to the nearby Tallman Island Wastewater Treatment Plant on Powell’s Cove.

The retaining wall behind Tony Stinga’s house, which was built before he purchased the home, extends beyond his property line by about 20 feet. He said he was staring at a $50,000 bill when he was informed that he would be responsible for replacing it.

“I don’t have 50 grand to throw away,” he said.

Faced with the possibility of foreclosure, Stinga gathered his neighbors and they contacted state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who set up a meeting with DEP and the city Parks Department.

“Many of these homeowners were being put in situations where they needed to take immediate action at costs that would have forced them into foreclosure,” Avella said. “From the start it was clear that the city should assume the cost of removing these structures and reinstalling them at the new property line.”

The DEP agreed to assume the costs of taking down and replacing Stinga’s and another neighbor’s retaining walls because the structures were installed before they purchased their homes.

“Thankfully, DEP did the right thing by stepping up to the plate and aiding these homeowners. Their actions will save these residents tens of thousands of dollars and keep them in their homes,” Avella said.

Stinga and his neighbors are still outraged, however, saying the city is trying to save thousands of dollars by running the pipeline behind their homes, as opposed to under the street — savings they feel they are being asked to shoulder.

Stinga said he already spent $10,000 to remove a shed from his backyard and that one neighbor had spent $2,400 on Dumpsters to remove the pool and deck from his yard.

Nadine DiVirgilio said she had just closed on purchasing the home where she was raised just one day before she got the letter from the DEP, and she had to pay $5,000 to remove her pool last August.

“This is the second year I own the home and I don’t have a pool,” said her husband, Greg. “I had no idea we were encroaching.”

The neighbors had come from a meeting at the senator’s office Monday afternoon, where the city unveiled its plans for a three-year project to clean up the cove behind their homes. The cove now is filled with discarded shopping carts and the remnants of piers and docks.

“Nobody regulates it; it’s a mess,” said Greg DiVirgilio, who added that the city agreed to maintain the area. “We’re hoping they’ll keep their words.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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