Sidewalk saga near an end

Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

The city offered a $1,500 olive branch to John Biagi to compensate him for a surprise sidewalk makeover he received in 2009, but the Flushing homeowner turned it down.

“Now, this is about principle,” he said. “I don’t want to be a victim. They expect me to say, ‘Thanks for robbing me, now let’s split the money.’”

Biagi is referring to a $2,240 bill he received in 2009 after the city replaced the entire sidewalk that runs around his corner house on Utopia Parkway without notifying him in advance.

After a protracted fight with several city agencies and letters written by elected officials, the city comptroller’s office offered Biagi $1,442 to make up for the sidewalk repair this month.

But after new evidence surfaced in response to a Freedom of Information Law request, Biagi said he will only pay for the sidewalk slabs that were actually broken.

Biagi’s saga began in 2004, when city inspectors found that 68 square feet of sidewalk needed to be replaced.

An inspector sent Biagi a notice of the offending slabs of concrete and a map indicating where they were, according to city documents.

If Biagi did not take any action to repair the slabs himself, the city would make repairs and send him a bill, the document said.

Biagi did not take any action. Neither did the city.

Then without informing Biagi, the city had revised its sidewalk assessment from 68 square feet to 1,000 square feet.

On Nov. 10, 2008, Biagi found the city had dug up about 790 square feet of concrete and slapped him with the higher price tag.

“I came home at about 3 p.m., and I couldn’t even get into my driveway,” Biagi said.

The city Department of Transportation, which handles assessments of sidewalks, said Biagi was only on the hook for one-third of the bill, since the city paid for the majority of the repairs itself.

DOT also said that Biagi never repaired the first defects identified in 2004, and that the property was still eligible for the city to make repairs in 2008.

Since more sidewalk defects had developed, DOT said, the contractor addressed the original defects as well as the new ones.

In addition, the DOT has a process for contesting sidewalk complaints that Biagi did not follow.

But through a TimesLedger Newspapers FOIL request filed in February, the city provided photos of Biagi’s sidewalk taken by the contractor just before the 2008 repairs were made.

Many of the slabs of concrete that were torn up appeared to have no defects whatsoever in the photos.

The city Department of Design and Construction, which also works with contractors to fix sidewalks, said many of the sidewalk slabs were repaired to make the grade of the sidewalk even, a claim Biagi hotly disputed.

“What grade? We’re not on a hill,” he said. “How come in 2004 they didn’t mark the grade?”

Using the photos as ammunition, Biagi called the comptroller’s office saying he only wanted to pay for the original 68 square feet of concrete.

But an employee told Biagi that since his driveway had a roughly 2-inch-long crack abutting the street and was slightly raised, he would have to pay for the work in addition to the original slabs.

This is where Biagi is holding out.

In a phone conversation last Thursday, a member of the city comptroller’s office told Biagi to get a lawyer, and that is what the homeowner is going to do.

“My biggest gripe is why are they spending our money on stuff they don’t need and then say, ‘We’re broke’?” said Biagi, who put up a sign in his front yard that says “Another homeowner screwed by NYC, thanks Mayor Bloomberg.”

Biagi filed a claim with the comptroller in January and the office responded with the $1,442 offer because Biagi had already paid for the work.

According to the city Department of Finance, Biagi paid $2,253, which was listed as a construction charge on his property tax assessment.

But the Flushing homeowner maintains he only wanted to pay his property taxes and was duped into footing the construction bill.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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