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Just Too Close to Be Neighborly: Board Opposes Home Extension Again

A local community group has reiterated its opposition to a home enlargement that leaves only half an inch between the structure and its neighbor.

At Community Board 14’s December meeting, held at Public School 249, Caton Avenue and Marlborough Road, board members voted resoundingly to oppose renewing a permit to allow the owners of 1704 Avenue N to complete construction on their house’s extension, as two years ago they had voted against allowing the extension to be continued.

The issue came up initially because of the 2007 Midwood rezoning. The extension was begun under the old zoning, and was halted by the Department of Buildings (DOB) upon the rezoning’s completion, which rendered it illegal.

Despite CB 14’s opposition, which is advisory only, and despite the opposition of the adjacent homeowner and other nearby residents, the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) had decided in favor of the owners of 1704 Avenue N in April, 2008, based on their determination that enough money had been expended, and enough construction had been done, to vest the project in the old zoning.

But, the permission to complete the project was of 18 months duration; the 18 months were up in August, and construction has not been completed because, said attorney Stuart Klein during a public hearing at the board office, 810 East 16th Street, much of the time there has been a stop work order in effect.

DOB, Klein said, had put a stay on construction while they audited the plans. “They were ultimately approved,” he recounted, “and a permit was issued in May, 2009. However, we got stopped on the expiration of the 18-month period in August.”

Nonetheless, CB 14 declined to lendits backing to theapplication. Local opposition was clearly a factor in their decision, which is advisory only. Board Chair Alvin Berk recalled that during the 2007 hearing, there had been eight speakers, seven of whom were opposed. And, one speaker renewed her opposition during the recent hearing.

Ellen Messing, who lives at 1710 Avenue N, went over a laundry list of complaints. While Klein contended he had served notice to nearby residents, she said that she and another neighbor had not received notification of the hearing from Klein, even though CB 14 requires the applicant’s attorney to provide notice to nearby neighbors.

This is not the first time, Messingstressed. “I will take this up with the district attorney,” Messing told Klein. “You didn’t do it (provide notice) last time, and you didn’t do it now. This is a pattern of behavior, and it’s done to get whatever he wants, slide by whatever he wants.”

Beyond notification, though, the construction is problematic from Messing’s perspective. “I live there,” she noted, asking, “What are my rights? There is half an inch currently between the back of their house and my side property. Their wall and the eave of my house are less than 18 inches apart. And the final finishes are not yet on that property. With the addition of stucco, it’s going to be closer.”

The impact has extended to her business, Messing added. “I am a sole proprietor,” she stressed, explaining that because she was required to allow her neighbors’ workers onto her property to do some work, “I was told I had to have scaffolding up to my windows, I could not have access to my side yard, and if they are allowed to continue, I will not be allowed to work. I don’t think that’s fair. The house can stay the way it is. It’s perfectly safe. I don’t want my rights infringed upon any more.”

In addition, Messing contended that the owners of 1704, “Have continuously lied” to DOB. “When I called to complain that there was a stop work order and they were installing concrete slabs for air conditioning units, they told the Buildings Department, Oh, no, we’re fixing our lawn.

“I can no longer use my back yard,” Messing went on. And, she said, she feared that the owners of 1704 -- who had initially carved window openings out of the wall closest to her home, then closed them up when told they could not have them -- might someday reopen them and put in windows. “I don’t want a window looking into my son’s bedroom,” Messing told board members.

In response, Klein noted that his clients were “working completely within their rights within the Zoning Resolution and the building code. It’s sadly what you buy into when you buy property in New York.”

Nonetheless, after saying that the homeowners were using window air conditioners, because they could not complete the central air conditioning without DOB lifting the SWO, Klein did not contradict Messing’s statement that, in fact, the central air conditioning units were in use and that there were no window units in the home.

“I understand that it may be the law,” rejoined Zvi Plotsker. “But, when you have neighbors, you have to have some type of consideration.”

Ed Powell concurred. “While everything described here may be legal,” he remarked, “we are talking about community and the character of community and neighbors. I feel very uncomfortable simply accepting something because it’s legal.”

Board members previously opposed the extension, recalled Nat Silverman, “Because they didn’t like it, because it’s not fair, because it doesn’t fit.”

The issue will be decided ultimately by BSA.

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