Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Councilman Robert Holden talks to residents of his district at his first 'Conversations with your Councilman' meeting in his Middle Village office on May 2.

The inside of Councilman Robert Holden’s new street-side office on Dry Harbor Road in Middle Village is deceptively large. The reflections on the glass windows make it difficult to see inside from the sidewalk, but opening the front door reveals a wide-open common room with original World War I themed artwork scattered on the walls, staff members’ desks and a pair of office rooms toward the back.

On May 2, the room was also filled with chairs and roughly 40 local residents for the first installment of ‘Conversations with your Councilman.’

The town hall style meeting attracted people from all parts of Holden’s district, and the open question-and-answer format brought up topics ranging from illegal housing conversions and transportation woes to homelessness and the city budget.

According to Holden, these meetings are one of the main reasons he wanted to find an office so large, and they are another example of bringing his civic leader style to his new government position.

“That’s all I did all my life, well 30 years of my life in the civic, so I wanted to keep that,” Holden told QNS. “They can come meet with me on a monthly basis, and you heard there’s a lot of complaints and a lot of issues, and it educates people as to protecting their blocks and protecting their neighborhoods.”

The councilman opened the discussion with about 20 minutes’ worth of updates about his recent work. He spoke about the bridge deck replacement project at Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road and said the new contractors, Beaver Concrete Construction, hopes to finish the work by November.

The contaminated soil on 69th Street began to be removed on April 28, Holden said, but 45 truck loads weren’t enough to take care of it all. He estimated that another 20 truck loads are still left to remove.

He also mentioned that he would be meeting with Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on May 4 and planned to talk to her about various issues with the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service.

When the floor opened to questions from the crowd, however, the illegal conversion of two-family homes into three-family homes in Middle Village emerged as a primary concern. One local resident, who identified himself as a member of the Wynwood Gardens Homeowners Association, even claimed that one individual is responsible for buying eight homes in his neighborhood and performing self-certified work to renovate the basements to create an extra apartment.

“I think this particular individual should be stopped,” the homeowner said.

Several other members of the audience backed up the homeowner’s claims, and after the meeting the homeowner provided QNS with a list of addresses that he believes to be part of the problem. Of the addresses on the list, three have been issued stop work orders and nearly all have multiple complaints filed against them.

Another resident explained that when the Department of Buildings (DOB) sends inspectors to investigate complaints, the case will be closed if they can’t gain access to the building after two attempts. According to Holden, the best course of action for local residents is to get together an affidavit for each of the problem buildings and bring them to his office because the DOB is responsible for delivering any summons.

“If I think there’s a basement, and I get proof there’s a basement apartment, I will actually go and try to get a court order to get the DOB in there myself,” Holden said. “I will guarantee the neighborhood, because I have been a fighter against this for 30 or 40 years.”

The problem revolves around zoning regulations because most parts of Middle Village are only zoned for one- or two-family residences, Holden said. He also spoke about protecting the one-family zones from illegal conversion into two-family homes, although some two-family buildings have been grandfathered into the zoning code.

Going forward, Holden said he has planned to meet with the Department of City Planning to discuss keeping the one-family zones, but has been told that will most likely mean he has to suggest other areas that the city can up-zone as a trade off.

Since taking office in January, Holden said, illegal conversions are the biggest complaint he has received from constituents.

The Wynwood Gardens Homeowners Association member quoted in this story was previously named, but after reaching out and requesting that the name be left out, QNS agreed to retract it. The homeowner said that they received threats related to the illegal conversion issue in the past and feared future retaliation.


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Joy May 07, 2018 / 01:33PM
Wait, am I understanding correctly that the DOB simply walks away if no one answers the door two times? Geez. What a joke.

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