Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
Another in the occasional report on neighborhood eyesores:
THE EYESORE. Abandoned house on Westbury Boulevard in Hempstead
THE HISTORY. The house has been vacant for several years and neighbors have been concerned that squatters have moved in. One neighbor, Josephine Williams, said she has seen a light on at the back of the house and heard sounds of a dog barking.
WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE ON A RECENT VISIT. The front door and first-floor windows were boarded up, but a second-floor window was open, its curtains hanging over the sill. Overgrown vegetation spilled into adjacent yards.
THE STATUS. Mayor Wayne J. Hall said if the house has squatters, he will order village police to evict them.
The village initially boarded up the house and will repeat the work as needed, he said. Williams reported a few days later that all doors and windows had been covered.
The village charges such work to the bank that took ownership of the property after foreclosure. The charges typically wind up as liens on the property tax bill.
The bank, Bank of America, sent this statement in response to a Watchdog inquiry: "We're committed to maintain properties to neighborhood standards. We work with service providers to inspect and maintain more than one million properties each month. When we learn that a property is not being maintained, we take action to remedy the situation."
Asked about the Westbury Boulevard property, the spokesman, T.J. Crawford, said: "We've escalated the property issue and will be addressing it shortly, and apologize to the community for the oversight." He said residents aware of an unmaintained property owned by the bank can report it at https://fieldservices.bankofamerica.com or 866-515-9759.
Before Watchdog had a chance to tell Williams that a cleanup would occur, she called to report it already had. Though the yard had been cleared, vegetation still spilled over onto neighbors' yards.
WHAT'S THE OUTLOOK?
Cautious optimism for better maintenance. But only new ownership could make the site a good neighbor. A sale would require clearing the title of liens, so the process could be lengthy.
The village has been taking action to improve the outlook for such properties. A summons can now be issued when a violation is found instead of weeks after a notice of violation is issued, Village Attorney Debra DiSalvo said.
"There's no reason to give them notice," DiSalvo said, especially with what she termed "recidivist properties."
"If you run a stop sign, you get a ticket on the spot," she said. "There shouldn't be any difference" with obvious property violations.
The village also is considering a measure to require banks to report when a site enters foreclosure, a move intended to put at-risk properties on village radar, DiSalvo said. Now officials may not learn of such a property until it's sold, when the transfer records show it was owned by a bank.
By then, a property may have been vacant for years.
"We're . . . [going to put] the onus on the bank so we're the first to know" about a foreclosed site, she said, "not the last."
Pedestrian signal fixed
Watchdog wasn't about to cross such a busy highway on foot, but Schwartz insisted his jaunt to the Mayfair Shopping Center, on the south side of the highway, had been a safe one until several months ago.
That's when the pedestrian signal stopped doing its job. Schwartz called the Town of Smithtown to report the malfunction and said he was told that the signal would be repaired. After months of waiting, he called Watchdog.
Jericho Turnpike is a state road, so we contacted the state Department of Transportation, which responded quickly.
The traffic signal staff discovered that "a short circuit in the pedestrian push button cable was the cause of the malfunction," department spokeswoman Eileen Peters said in an email.
On a recent visit, the crossing signal worked smoothly, complete with an 18-second countdown clock.
Peters said reports of similar malfunctioning signals can be called in to the department's 24-hour hotline, 631-724-4040. An identification number is painted on the side of the signal cabinet, she said.
So Schwartz can count on a safer road crossing. But on his way there, he'll need to watch out for the carpet of poison ivy along the sidewalk.