Homeowners who fear that new Tappan Zee Bridge construction will decrease their property values say they are pinning their hopes for help on private meetings Wednesday evening with Larry Schwartz, a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The sit-downs are a follow-up to the initial airing of their concerns during the June 29 Town Hall Meeting sponsored by Newsday and News12 on the $5.2 billion project. Schwartz, who is secretary to the governor, was a panelist at the event, where he promised "a dialogue with the local community."
"This is part of our efforts to enhance community engagement and to ensure that residents know that we take their concerns seriously," said Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing.
But efforts to schedule the meetings have been frustrating and confusing, the homeowners say.
On Wednesday, Schwartz is planning to talk with the six South Nyack owners of single- and two-family houses which the state was originally planning to buy and demolish to make room for bridge-related construction areas. After officials announced on May 25 that they had changed their minds, most of the affected homeowners have been seeking redress.
John Cameron, one of the affected residents, says the group is trying to find a meeting space because the discussion has been expanded to include more property owners. While the state didn't want to take their homes, they were told that parts of their properties might be purchased.
With these additional concerns and homeowners involved, Cameron questioned how effective the meeting will be. "Anyone who is affected is being looped in," he said. "At some point, it went from a focus on us and now it's a focus on everybody from South Nyack who is affected."
For Thursday, meetings are being set up with two more groups. Salisbury Point Cooperative board secretary Judy Hirschhorn said Schwartz is coming to her 120-unit South Nyack riverfront development at 10:30 a.m., with Aimee Vargas, mid-Hudson regional director for the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development arm.
But Hirschhorn said organizing the meeting was "extremely difficult" and the experience has her worried about what the future holds. "They keep talking about transparency, cooperation and collaboration," she said. But it's like they're saying, 'We have an open-door policy but we're never in our office. Here's my cellphone number, but the mailbox is full.'"
Meanwhile, on the Westchester County side of the bridge, The Quay's president, Alice Goldberg, said Vargas told her there would be a Thursday meeting -- but no time has been set. Goldberg also wonders how many state officials will be attending. Still, she is optimistic about Schwartz's visit because "he's who we wanted to talk to for a long time. I want this to be productive," Goldberg said.
The state has already rejected the requests by all homeowners for financial compensation -- which is only legally possible if the state buys their homes. Residents at The Quay and Salisbury are also fighting for mitigation related to construction noise, pollution and the obliteration of scenic views.
The state Thruway Authority and Gov. Cuomo's office did not respond to requests for comments and attempts to leave a message for Vargas were unsuccessful because her voice mail mailbox was full.
The homeowners who are meeting with Schwartz are those living closest to the aging, 57-year-old bridge, which is to be replaced with a new twin span, one of the largest construction projects in the country.
Gov. Cuomo's fast-tracked bridge project is speeding ahead and may break ground by the end of 2012 with hopes of completing construction in five years.
Read more about the issues facing each of the homeowner communities living closest to the bridge: