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Navigating the journey from blight to beauty

Harvey Carter, Rhonda Silverberg and Ellen Yenoli at

Harvey Carter, Rhonda Silverberg and Ellen Yenoli at a blighted house in their Plainview neighborhood on June 3, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

When an abandoned house comes apart at the seams, it's not just an eyesore; it's a potential hazard of mold and vermin. As such homes persist, so do questions about what can be done about them.

Neighbors can file complaints with their town or village -- actions that typically lead to inspections, boarding up of doors and windows, occasional cleanups and financial penalties for the property owner.

But an actual resolution -- rehabilitation or demolition -- sometimes comes only at the end of a legal process that can last years.

Each spring, our mailbox fills with inquiries and complaints as neglected properties stand in contrast to a neighborhood's annual revitalization. Here's one we received in May about a street in Plainview where patience has worn thin.

Earlier in the year, residents were told a long-abandoned house on Linda Lane was being sold and would be demolished. When that didn't happen, Rhonda Silverberg called.

"It's a nightmare house," she said, describing scenes of "raccoons dancing on the roof every night."

For years, she and others had complained to Oyster Bay Town, steps that led to an inspection of the property and notices of violation to the owner. A blue tarp was stretched over the roof to cover gaps, and, on one occasion, an inspector found it appropriate to don a hazmat suit.

Early this month, the only remaining signs of the tarp were filmy strings of blue hanging from the eaves. The overgrown yard had undergone a recent trimming, but the cuttings were left stacked behind the house. Poison ivy was abundant.

And a new notice of violation was tacked to the front door, presumably in response to the latest complaints.

How many more steps are necessary before the unwelcome house is history?

Oyster Bay spokeswoman Marta Kane acknowledged that a previous agreement to sell -- the one that had offered neighbors hope -- was not completed because the owner died the day before it was to close.

A new deal is in the works.

"There is a new buyer," another builder who plans to demolish the structure, she said, and the town's Planning and Development Office is ready to issue a demolition permit.

On Linda Lane, optimism has worn as bare as the blue tarp. Neighbors won't be ready to celebrate until they know the sale is complete.

"Here's hoping it goes through very soon," Silverberg said.


A few weeks ago, we mentioned that state lawmakers were considering a move intended to increase safety for schoolchildren: Installation of cameras that can record vehicles passing stopped school buses.

Their consideration stopped short of a vote.

When the legislature adjourned June 20, the bill in the Assembly had not emerged from the Transportation Committee. The sponsor, William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse), said last week that a number of jurisdictional and logistical questions had been raised in committee.

Those questions came too late, said Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, which advocated for the bill.

"We learned late in the session that there were legal and procedural questions that were holding it up," he said. "Ten days before the end is not enough time" to respond to such issues as how camera programs should be financed and what role school districts have in law enforcement. Not to mention where the money from camera-generated tickets winds up.

Those questions "are answerable," he said, pointing out that several other states use such cameras.

"It's frustrating," Mannella said. "We're the state that piloted [use of] cameras in the Syracuse area," a reference to a 2007 demonstration program using one bus; it registered an average 1.6 illegal passes per day, a rate he said would translate to 80,000 statewide.

His organization consists of school district transportation directors, many of whom called legislators during the session urging them to vote the bill out of committee.

"I really thought we had a shot this year," Mannella said. "Members are disappointed. They're the ones who see the kids every day."

And he added: "It's not just about a car passing a bus, but about a car passing a bus and hitting a child."

Magnarelli said he intends to try again next session. It begins in January.

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