By Tom Momberg
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) rallied outside a Queens Village home with a handful of concerned homeowners from eastern Queens who have received violations from the city Department of Transportation because of sidewalks in front of their properties that have been damaged by city tree roots.
Avella is demanding the DOT establish better communication with the city Department of Parks and Recreation, which is responsible for fixing sidewalks damaged by trees along residential streets.
The homeowners said they were concerned the dangerous uneven sidewalks are a potential liability. Although the DOT violations do not issue fines nor charge them for repairs unless the problems are caused by things other than trees, the residents have complained the issues still have not been fixed more than a year after violations were imposed.
“It’s been a few years since I originally reported it,” Mary Moder, the owner of the Queens Village home, said while standing over sidewalk slabs staggering inches apart. “I can’t believe the senator has to come in and take care of this. This is a city project, and it should be taken care of by the city.”
While the sidewalk conditions remain unresolved by the city, the potential remains for somebody to hurt him or herself and sue the property owner at each site, Avella said.
“Why should homeowners bear the costly burden of rectifying what is the city’s responsibility? It is inexcusable that DOT has targeted homeowners and not the Trees and Sidewalks program specifically created for this issue. I demand that DOT cease issuing these erroneous violations and resolve the root of the problem by working in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Recreation,” Avella said.
The DOT and Parks Department said the extent of sidewalk repair required to have the violation lifted by the DOT may often be beyond the scope of what can be repaired by the city’s Trees and Sidewalks program, in which case the owner can take it upon themselves to repair the sidewalk or allow the DOT to repair the site under its program.
“If the DOT performs the repairs, (the homeowner) will be billed for the cost of the construction, but will not be assessed for those parts of the sidewalk damaged by the city tree,” the DOT and Parks Department said in a joint statement. “It’s important to note that DOT inspects the entire sidewalk while Parks is inspecting tree pits explicitly. Any overlap in sites that have been inspected by both DOT and Parks should not lengthen the process for repair.”
Free sidewalk design consultation is available from the forestry division of the Parks Department.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb