By Bob Harris
A few weeks ago at a meeting of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, a group of homeowners came to protest a house being turned into a large house of worship. They didn’t feel that a house on land zoned R 2 for a one-family house, should be turned into a building which might have perhaps 100 people coming in to meet and be served food. They are concerned about auto traffic.
One homeowner tried to track down the plans filed when the building permit was issued for this house. It wasn’t in the Queens Buildings Department on Queens Boulevard and wasn’t found on microfilm in the Buildings Department in Manhattan.
Werner Seelig, one of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association board members, related that someone goes into the Buildings Department and asks to see the plans. The person gives in a fake or stolen drivers license and then just walks out with the plans. The owner and builder can now build what they want because there is no record of the original plans. I am not sure how they destroy the microfilm which is supposed to be in Manhattan.
The adamant homeowner then went to Assemblyman Mark Weprin’s (D-Bayside) office which finally had a Building Inspector visit the large house being built. A citation was issued because there were no plans available at the building site. The problem hasn’t been solved yet. The Holliswood Civic Association and the Jamaica Estates Civic Associations have dedicated members who try to keep tabs on new construction, but they are finding the same things happening in their areas.
This column has described the dysfunction of the Building Department in the past. I thought Buildings has solved this problem. An owner of a house being reconstructed near me told me that the plans on his house had disappeared also. The Mayor had wanted to have the Fire Department to inspect buildings for violations but if Buildings can’t put its own house in order and keep plans then no one knows what is supposed to be built in any location.
Why can’t the Buildings Department take fingerprints of all who want to look at plans? Why can’t two or three forms of identification be required? Why can’t photos be taken of people who ask to look at plans with a number ID to indicate which plans the people are looking at?
A scaffold in Manhattan fell because it was put up improperly. Five men died and several others were injured. How many buildings will fall because they were improperly put up due to missing plans or unlicensed workers? How many builders give donations to public officials? How much more should elected officials do for tall the “little people” who don’t give them big political donations?
Another sign that Buildings needs help is the number of “expediters” who are hired by builders to stand in line so the necessary papers can be approved by the Buildings Department. The city realized that it could not examine all construction, so they authorized licensed engineers to certify the work they had completed. This may be a solution to the inability of city inspectors to check all work, but there does not seem to be any punishment when it is found that the engineer has lied. There must have been things done wrong in the past year but I have not read of any perpetrator being severely punished.
One hope was a comment by Councilman-elect David Weprin. He stressed that term limits law results in many new elected officials, including the mayor, and consequently all new agency heads
GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK
I am nervous at the extent of the disclosures of the national news media about how we are fighting our War Against Terrorism. The continuous news broadcasts tell us as we are taking action in Afghanistan or acting against terrorists at home. While we should obtain news it is foolish to broadcast it as it is happening.
During the Gulf War the leaders of Iraq were watching CNN to see what was happening to their cities. A guerrilla leader in Palestine recently said that he just watches TV to see what actions are being taken against him by the Israeli soldiers. I am now looking at a hall-page color diagram in the New York Times describing how the Rangers would land, attack and then be removed from a raid against Taliban guerrillas. Of course, there must be freedom of the of the press, but we must not make it easy for the terrorists to see exactly what we are doing at the minute. Can’t the news be release one or two days later, or after other raids have taken place? With e-mail and cell phones a collaborator can notify terrorists what we are doing in real time.
I agree that we do need to know quickly about activists, but I am fearful of endangering our fighters, especially when experts constantly evaluate every event, giving the terrorists free expert advice.
Sometimes too much too soon is bad.