Worried homeowners living near the Tappan Zee Bridge say they're feeling much better after meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top aide in a flurry of meetings that has left them hopeful of getting answers to their questions related to the $5.2 billion construction project for a new twin span.
Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz followed up last night's private meeting with owners of houses in South Nyack with two Thursday morning meetings at residential developments on each end of the bridge. In all the meetings, he was accompanied by Tom Madison, executive director of the Thruway Authority, and Aimee Vargas, mid-Hudson regional director for the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development arm.
"I think it went well, they actively listened," said Alice Goldberg, board president for The Quay, who hosted the hourlong meeting today in her home with two other board members at the 89-unit Tarrytown condominium development.
Schwartz said the sessions are the beginning of a "very robust community outreach" that will lead to 50 to 100 meetings over the next month with the goal of doing "everything we can to make this project and process have minimum impact and be efficient in speed."
Goldberg said that Schwartz promised to get back to them for a follow-up session in August or September with "visualizations" that would show exactly how close the new bridge will be to their property. Four design-builders are submitting their detailed proposals for a new bridge on July 27.
A call to Schwartz for comment Thursday was not immediately returned.
In South Nyack, Salisbury Point co-op board president Cathy McCue had a similar reaction to a meeting this morning in her home which she described as a "cordial" discussions of her concerns related to environmental, financial, security and traffic issues at the 120-unit development. As in all the meetings, Schwartz asked the homeowners for documents to get himself up to speed.
"He will really win our respect when he follows through on the things he's willing to commit to," McCue said.
On Wednesday night, Schwartz kicked off his private homeowner meetings at the Piermont Library with seven South Nyack homeowners whose homes were originally slated to be purchased by the state -- before the state's bridge construction officials changed their minds on May 25.
In all the meetings, Schwartz promised to meet again after doing more "due diligence" and holding some internal meetings of his own.
In January, five of the homeowners received letters from the bridge project officials informing them that the state would pay market value for their single- and two-family houses near the New York State Thruway entrance to the bridge. The properties would be torn down to make room for construction sites.
At the same time, three additional homeowners -- one in a house and two owners of town house condominiums -- received letters saying that the state would buy parts of their property with the option to buy them out completely if necessary.
"I've made a promise that when I get back to them, with an answer, that answer will not change," Schwartz said after Wednesday's meeting. "That answer will be ironclad. That's the way Gov. Cuomo works. When he makes a commitment and he gives his word, he keeps his word."
Afterward, the homeowners said they were hopeful. "It was very positive," Jacqueline Peralta said.
Said Schwartz: "We have to be sensitive to the quality of life for the residents that not only live next to the bridge but all of the residents who live in Westchester, Rockland and the Hudson Valley region."
The sit-downs are a follow-up to the initial airing of the homeowners' concerns during the June 29 Town Hall Meeting sponsored by Newsday and News 12 on the $5.2 billion project. Schwartz was a panelist at the event, where he promised "a dialogue with the local community."
On Tuesday, the governor announced a new series of public meetings to air issues related to the new bridge construction's impact on the community. The first two sessions will be hosted by local business groups on both sides of the Tappan Zee. The Business Council of Westchester will host an 8 a.m. meeting on Wednesday at Berkeley College in White Plains. It will be followed July 26 at 8:30 a.m., with the Rockland Business Association holding a similar session at Dominican College in Orangeburg. No other meetings have been announced.