By Eric Jankiewicz
The government wants their living rooms.
The city is taking more than 20,000 square feet from Ozone Park residents under the eminent domain law. The private property grab is meant to alleviate flooding and replace the underground sewage system in the area. For many residents, the project is a long overdue relief. But for some residents, especially those on Bristol Avenue, the changes require them to give up 14 feet deep into their property to make room for widened streets and to install sewer lines in their homes.
The city estimates the cost of the project, called HWQ411B, at more than $41 million. The repairs will include the installation of about 200 catch basins, 15 manholes and thousands of square feet of new sidewalks. According to the Department of Design and Construction, everything will be done by 2018.
“They’re basically uprooting this area. It’s been neglected all these years,” said Howard Kamph, president of the Ozone Park Civic Association.
He said that the city has promised to make changes over the last 35 years, leaving the neighborhood in limbo.
According to Kamph, most of the residents that will be affected welcome the construction because it will fix problems like potholes. But some residents resist the construction because they don’t use the sewer system, relying instead on underground cesspools. Unlike most of the city, Bristol Avenue doesn’t have a sewer system so most residents rely on septic tanks that are periodically emptied.
“They want to buy the first 14 feet of my house, that puts them in my living room,” Carlos Reitez said. “I have a problem with them forcing me to sell my land to them.”
Reitez recently paid $10,000 for a new holding tank for his household’s waste. While the city will pay “market value” for the land they take from homeowners, they won’t pay Reitez for the costs to install a sewer system.
Reitez said that a city agent told them that the city would only remove the first five feet of his property, which would eat up just his stoop, to make room for a sidewalk. “But then why do they need to buy 14 feet from me?,” he said.
The Ozone Park Civic Association is holding a meeting June 16 at 97-14 135th Drive to discuss the project and update the community.
“When I first moved to Ozone Park and heard about this problem it was the 80s and I was in my 20s,” Kamph said. “Now my son is in his 30s and we’re still waiting. But it looks like the wait is finally over.”