Hundreds of homeowners along the Hudson River are dreading their new neighbors. They are the ones living closest to the aging Tappan Zee Bridge, which is to be replaced with a new $5.2 billion twin span, one of the largest construction projects in the country.
"We're trapped, it's a nightmare," said Faith Elliott of South Nyack, whose three-story colonial abuts the bridge's New York State Thruway entrance.
In despair about their evaporating property values, homeowners say they are locked in a David vs. Goliath battle to protect their properties from construction noise, pollution and the obliteration of scenic views.
These political novices are learning to lobby their elected officials, pester state transportation representatives and attend public hearings in force. They also have spent thousands of dollars on consultants and attorneys, to represent them during the long haul.
"We totally don't want to get in the way of the bridge being built," said Alice Goldberg, president of the condominium board at The Quay of Tarrytown. "But we don't want to be taken advantage of either."
Meanwhile, Gov. Cuomo's fast-tracked bridge project is speeding ahead with hopes of breaking ground by the end of 2012 and wrapping up construction in five years.
Many area residents are expected to turn out for a Newsday/News 12-sponsored town hall meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, where state and local officials, environmentalists and others will ask and answer questions about the new Tappan Zee span.
The Quay of Tarrytown
About 145 residents live in the 89 units at this Westchester County riverfront complex. Since March, they have hired an attorney and engineer, sat down three times with state bridge project staffers and have been endlessly calling on local elected officials.
"I'm exhausted and we're not getting anywhere on our key issues," said Goldberg, the board president. "But as long as we're talking, it's a good thing."
Quay owners want the state to pay them for their declining home values. Bridge project representatives have said that the only way to provide compensation is to buy the homes, which they refuse to do. The state also has rejected The Quay's requests for sound buffering windows, wall insulation and the relocation of their pool and clubhouse.
Four units have been languishing on the market for $489,000 to $599,00. "This is our major life investment and we're watching the value of our homes sink," Goldberg said.
While both sides agree in principle on the value of having a point person to field community complaints, they want details on how their concerns will be addressed. They also are anticipating noise issues because crews are scheduled to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week.
In March, the 170 residents at this 120-unit co-op development in Rockland County hired The Quay's engineer as well as a second engineer. In May, they hired a lawyer and had one private meeting.
Like The Quay, bridge project officials denied Salisbury residents' requests related to their property values, noise, dirt and obstructed views. They too, want the state to set clear guidelines, in writing, for hiring a point person to deal with their problems.
Unlike The Quay, Salisbury owners were shut out of state discussions for designing noise barriers on both ends of the bridge -- until Tuesday night. Following Newsday's inquiries about the Salisbury situation, residents will now be included in the next vote.
Salisbury board president Cathy McCue said that she is "delighted" and is learning that in this process, "you just have to keep at it and dialogue with people, even when you're frustrated."
This is the way to go, agreed state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Greenburgh), who is helping both homeowner groups: "They have to keep going and insisting that they be heard."
Meanwhile, several apartments are on the market. Real estate broker Terry Graves said she just sold a one-bedroom with a new bathroom for $159,000, close to the 2001 price for a unit this size.
The South Nyack houses
In January, five village homeowners were relieved when the state offered to buy their single- and two-family houses with plans to tear them down to make room for construction sites. (A family in a sixth house was told that their house might be purchased.)
Then on May 25, state officials changed their minds after talks with South Nyack Mayor Patricia DuBow. Like many locals, she remembers the 1950s, when constructing the 57-year-old bridge led to the state buying and razing more than 100 houses, along with the entire downtown. "We wanted to do as much as we could to preserve our historic village," DuBow said.
Only one of the six homeowners is pleased about this turn of events. Bill Truss, an engineer and former head of the South Nyack planning board, said that he attended some meetings with the mayor and views the surprising new situation as "the best deal for the village."
Four of his neighbors, however, feel betrayed and are demanding that the state stick to its original plan because their homes have been "stigmatized," said John Cameron, who owns a three-story Victorian that was slated to be purchased by the state. "We put our lives on hold, changed plans, made financial decisions, life decisions -- all based on the state's promise that they needed our house. You just don't do that to people."
State officials respond to homeowners
Called for comment, State Thruway Authority spokesman Shane Mahar said in a statement that "we will continue to engage the community and respond to their concerns.
"As a result of their input already, six homes were saved from demolition in South Nyack, a second vote on noise barriers that will include Salisbury Point residents will be offered, and we will work with the design-build contractor to ensure that stringent air quality and noise mitigation measures are met. Once construction begins, a community liaison representative will be appointed to facilitate future neighborhood concerns."