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For as long as Sue McCormack has lived in Flatlands, the triangular lot bounded by Flatlands Avenue, Troy Avenue and Avenue L has been vacant.
Overgrown with weeds, it’s also edged by a sidewalk that is, in places, extremely unlevel −− so much so that McCormack, over the past two years, had repeatedly tried to get the city to fix it.
But, she said, as often as she has called 311 to report the broken sidewalk, and the weeds, and the trash, and the rodents, she has been told that the city can do nothing but issue summonses, that the lot is privately owned, and that the city’s hands are therefore tied.
It’s an answer that McCormack is tired of hearing. Calling the lot, “disgusting,” she told this paper that the city’s response is “ridiculous.”
“My complaints fall upon deaf ears,” McCormack contended. “Everyone says to call someone else.
“I’ve fallen there twice,” McCormack added, saying that the broken up sidewalk left area residents −− many of whom are mothers with strollers −− with a difficult decision: Either “walk in the gutter and risk getting hit by a car, or walk on the sidewalk, and risk falling.”
“We pay a lot to live here,” McCormack contended. “To me, it ruins the whole neighborhood. The lot is a health hazard, especially when people throw their garbage in there.”
“It’s been a disaster for all the years I’ve been at the board,” agreed Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano, who said that she has repeatedly reported the condition of the lot to the city’s lot cleaning unit, and had put in another report based on this newspaper’s phone call.
While the lot is small, it is highly valued by the city’s Department of Finance, which assessed its current worth, earlier this year, as $737,000.
But its owner, who bought the lot at auction from the city in 1976, has not developed it, which is not surprising, noted Turano, given its shape and size. Indeed, Turano said that, years back, a sign had been posted on the lot, advertising it for sale, but that the effort had been unsuccessful.
Indeed, while McCormack says she has occasionally seen an elderly man bring a crew there to clean the lot out, and that occasionally the Department of Sanitation (DOS) has cleared it out, that is all the activity that has taken place on the lot in the past 20−plus years, since McCormack moved in to the neighborhood.
Calls to various city agencies elicited the following information on the process for dealing with vacant property that is left to go out of control. While the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) can replace damaged sidewalks and bill the property owner, that agency said it will not usually do that adjacent to a vacant lot, because of concern that future construction at the site would mean that the new sidewalk would be ripped out and replaced.
DOS does clean vacant, privately owned property that has been seriously neglected, said Kathy Dawkins, an agency spokesperson. However, Dawkins said that first a five−day letter would have to be sent to the property owner. “If he or she doesn’t respond, then Sanitation goes in,” Dawkins added, putting the property on a list of property to be cleaned.
In the case of the lot at Troy and Flatlands Avenues, if there are rodents on the property, that requires the attention of the city’s Department of Health, Dawkins also said. That agency would have to abate the rodent condition before DOS would send in its personnel, Dawkins stressed.
Specifically, Dawkins said that the lot had been cleaned numerous times since 2004. It was most recently “found clean” by DOS personnel in February, 2009, after a complaint about the lot. In determining the cleanliness of the lot, DOS looks at accumulated trash, not at weeds, Dawkins said.
However, she added, the perimeter of the lot was “scheduled to be cleaned” on June 25th. That cleaning followed the dispatch of a five−day letter to the property owner, “Because the perimeter had litter and debris.”
Each time DOS has cleaned the lot, the property owner has subsequently been billed by the city, which bases its bill, according to Dawkins, on the number of personnel, the amount of hours, and how much equipment was used.
The cleanliness of the lot would be looked at again, Dawkins said, following the inquiry about it from this newspaper.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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