Civic leaders unhappy with little punishment for building and zoning violators

By Bob Harris

The punishment for developers and builders who violate the zoning and building laws is miniscule so they are not discouraged from doing illegal building. An illegally built room can endanger the lives of firemen if they go in to put out a fire in such a room or basement where the zoning code has not been followed.

Illegal rooms can mean more people and more garbage and more cars parked all over and a poorly kept building which makes the neighborhood look disreputable. Owners who don’t provide the required front and side and rear yard means less grass or bushes or trees, which cuts down the amount of oxygen and pleasant greenery on a block and lowers our quality of life.

Then there are developers who buy property in a preservation district and then cut down trees or build illegal things on the property. The new owner of the Klein Farm in Fresh Meadows did this. They change the nature of the neighborhood illegally. They sometimes put down cement or bricks which do not absorb water, so water floods neighboring streets and seeps into nearby basement windows.

Some houses of worship buy property and instead of modernizing the existing building decide they want a bigger building. They don’t care about green lawns around the building, but put cement slabs or bricks around their building. They sometimes get a permit to do some modernizing, then illegally build bigger than permitted by law, although they are a community facility and have the right to be a little bigger than regular houses.

Civic leaders bring many of these illegal activities to the attention of the community boards and the Department of Buildings but even if convicted the fine is often so small that the developer just considers it a cost of doing business. Then some developers have lawyers who go and plea bargain the fine down. The fines should be many thousands of dollars so they will think twice of ignoring the law. Destroying our fine Queens neighborhoods should be punishable by large fines. How will you keep the middle class if the community deteriorates?

It is frustrating for civic leaders who volunteer their time and energy to discover that a builder is fined only a few thousand dollars and actually did this type of illegal activity in the past. Civic associations want to maintain the quality of life in their neighborhoods, want nice lawns and flowering bushes yet see some people pulling down their neighborhoods.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Statistics have been released that say Queens high school graduation rates have improved a little to 70.8 percent. This is fine, but the poorer districts are still lower than the middle class districts. The sad thing is that “they” want to use statistics like this to rate districts, close schools and rate and fire teachers.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: I thought the CityTime scandal would convince people to not cheat the city, but no, Housing Authority paid a consultant $10 million to find ways to save money yet did nothing to save the money so $700 million has been lost.

CityTime was a project to keep payroll records so city workers could not put in overtime during their last three years of work, then retire at a much higher pension than normally should have received thus cheating us all. The CityTime officials boosted their costs to $700 million and never produced a system to keep people from doing high overtime.

Now, it seems that the NYCHA has been paying plumbers overtime for weekend emergency work. Some have been getting more than $100,000 in overtime a year. This is just the thing which CityTime was supposed to prevent.

Yes, in an emergency workers should be paid extra for overtime but what has been going on for years in many city agencies is a crime. Remember, this is our tax money being used.