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Catching on up 2013's issues: Part two

Antoinette Glacken with copies of letters she sent

Antoinette Glacken with copies of letters she sent to several local officials about the notice she received imposing a fine and a fee for her alarm system. Credit: handout

This is the second of two parts.

The end of the year gives us the opportunity to revisit some Watchdog topics that, since they were first featured on these pages, remained unresolved.

Today's installment starts with one that Tamar Sherman has pursued for more than a decade: her request for new sidewalk ramps at an intersection in Northport Village. She brought the issue to our attention in the fall of 2009:

SIDEWALK RAMPS. It turns out there's nothing simple about changing the streets and sidewalks of a historic village to meet today's standards.

Tamar Sherman told Newsday's Gwen Young four years ago that the steep curb cuts at pedestrian crossings on Northport's Main Street were impossible to navigate in a wheelchair.

The village already had received a $70,000 grant to adapt the curbs to standards under the Americans With Disabilities Act. When Young followed up in September 2011, the village told her that the work was awaiting state Department of Transportation approval.

But the department said no such plans had been submitted. Mayor George Doll then told Young he was "signing a new set of plans and sending them off today."

UPDATE: The work has not been done. Plans are under review.

"The basic cause of why it's been so hard to move this along is that a lot of the locations in Northport are rather unique to Northport and are difficult to gibe with standard DOT and ADA regulations," Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin told us. Constructing a sidewalk ramp at a corner, such as the one next to Skipper's restaurant, involves issues including sidewalk width -- Northport's are narrower than in many downtowns, Village Administrator Gene Guido said -- as well as the location of manholes, storm sewer drains and a loading zone.

The village, with its engineering firm, "came up with a design that we thought would work," Tobin said, "but it didn't quite make sense to the DOT."

Village and transportation department representatives huddled over the plan early this month at Village Hall. Tobin said the transportation department "had reviewed the latest plans and had a number of design issues."

Changes were necessary to "assure compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act," Transportation Department spokeswoman Eileen Peters said in an email, as well as to "indicate all proposed work is being performed within the Village's property right of way."

The village's next step will be submitting revisions to the department, which Guido said should occur by March. Once those meet approval, work could get underway after the village advertises for bids and awards a contract, Guido said. The most optimistic scenario? Work could start by the beginning of June, he said.

The Main Street sidewalk ramps, at the corners of Woodbine and Bayview Avenues, are one element of a project to make several crosswalks in the village accessible. "This is something we've been trying to get done for quite a while," Tobin said. "It's an obligation, almost a moral duty, to make sure everyone has access."

As for why the process has taken so long: "We didn't realize that Northport has a number of unique or unusual conditions that have to be addressed in creative, not off-the-shelf ways," he said.

Next summer will be the fifth since Sherman told us about the obstacles the intersections pose to her mobility and independence. We'll check in then.

ALARM PERMIT FEE. Antoinette Glacken of Uniondale has been pressing for an exemption from the alarm permit fee, which Nassau County collects from residents with alarm systems, since the fall of 2011.

That's when she received a notice warning that police would no longer respond to alarm signals from her home if she didn't pay for a permit. She was unaware of the requirement: Her alarm system was installed in 1994, and the county began to require such permits in 2007.

The cost has reached $100 every two years, a fee the county describes as necessary to cover the cost of police response to so many false alarms.

Glacken asked the county to exempt "financially choked" senior citizens from the fee, and County Executive Edward Mangano called it "a good suggestion" and said he would forward it to the county's Hardship Review Board for consideration.

Early this year, the county told us that legislation authorizing a hardship exemption would be ready by February. It wasn't.

UPDATE. The county has taken a step toward making such a hardship exemption possible.

County spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles said in mid-December legislation was being prepared that would give the police department authority "to implement rules and regulations to alleviate permit fees for those facing economic hardships." Such a measure was filed with the clerk of the legislature on Dec. 20, she said.

We'll let you know when it's scheduled for a vote. For now, Glacken continues to wait. In the two years since she received the notice, the county has raised the penalties for each of the first two false alarms at a home without a permit to $150. The penalty rises with subsequent false alarms, reaching $500 for the eighth. For homes with permits, the first two false alarms get only a warning; after that, the fines set in.

OUT-OF-SERVICE ELEVATOR. An elevator in a Sandy-damaged office building in Amityville remained unrepaired when the building reopened for business, depriving some patients of access to the second floor.

Gina Barbara, a Wantagh resident who has cerebral palsy, brought the matter to our attention when the lack of repair made it impossible for her to get to a second-floor office where she had received medical care for years.

The village issued a notice of violation to the building owner, the 2550 Corp., and in late June a judge ordered elevator repairs.

When Barbara tried to attend that court session, she encountered another obstacle: The front door of Village Hall had no automatic opener. Barbara was accompanied by her father, who opened the door so she could maneuver her wheelchair into the building.

UPDATE: Barbara told us the elevator returned to service in September.

And Mayor James Wandell said the village is in the process of "seeking a grant to update the entire building to ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] specs including the front door."

Though Village Hall was built only five years ago, he said, at least 20 updates are needed to bring it into ADA compliance. "We retained a consultant for this purpose; the report was completed in October with construction estimates," he wrote in an email. "We are cautiously confident of receiving the grant."

BRIGHT LIGHTS. In October we showed you the impact an expanded car dealership was having on its Rockville Centre neighbors: New lights shined high over a surrounding fence, visible not only in nearby yards but also in kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms.

UPDATE. Neighbors tell us the lights are still shining.

The planning board discussed the lights last month during a review of the Mercedes-Benz dealership's application for approval of a modified site plan, necessary before a permanent certificate of occupancy can be issued. According to Village Code, the standards for the planning board's review include this: "Exterior lighting, to minimize the impact upon public and adjacent properties."

The board ended discussion at a Nov. 19 work session with a vote listing several conditions to be met within six months. When we asked the board secretary for a list of the conditions, we got a callback from the village's public relations representative, Julie Grilli. Though a vote was taken -- Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, told us that such votes count because "there's no distinction between a work session and a meeting" -- Grilli told us the decision "hasn't been made public yet and they're still working out some of the details."

Admittedly, we were confused.

While we wait for the official list of conditions, and whether they will require another planning board vote, here are some that received a favorable vote at the work session:

* Shades must be installed on the upper-level windows on the sides and rear of the building; they must be closed at dusk.

* Lights on the building's exterior must be shut off at 10 p.m.

* Parking lot lights must have shields; after 10 p.m. those lights must be turned off.

* Interior lights must be reduced by 50 percent at night.

There's one thing that's not open to confusion: Neighbors hope it won't take six more months before they see results.

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