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Amityville residents, officials at odds about trailers housing Maria storm victims

The board of trustees is to decide Aug. 13 whether the trailers must go, but a building inspector and code enforcement officer drew different conclusions about their safety.

Carmen Powell of Amityville said she needs to

Carmen Powell of Amityville said she needs to keep trailers on her property to house her mother and other relatives who evacuated from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Photo Credit: Raychel Brightman

The Village of Amityville is contemplating whether to allow a resident to keep two trailers on her property to house family members displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Earlier this summer a resident alerted the village that Carmen Powell had two camper trailers in a yard next to her house on Lake Street. On June 15, Powell applied for permission from the village board of trustees to keep the trailers, which she stated in her application total 432 square feet, for one year.

Village code enforcement officer John Lauria inspected the property on June 28 and recommended that permission be denied, stating in his report that he had “severe concerns about whether or not” the trailers are “properly hooked up to electric, water and sewer.”

The village board of trustees weighed the application at a meeting on July 23.

Powell told the board that she evacuated family members, including her 84-year-old mother, from devastating conditions in Puerto Rico in October. She said her family was “totally traumatized” by the hurricane, which left their house in Rincón with no water or electricity. She said there are four relatives in her house and that she and three others are using the trailers until the house in Puerto Rico can be made habitable.

As of last week, officials in Puerto Rico said about 500 homes and businesses remained without power since the Sept. 20 storm. 

“I’m helping my family survive,” Powell said.

Board members expressed concerns about the electricity connection and other possible hazards.

“We just want to make sure it’s safe,” Mayor Dennis Siry said, adding that he understands “the whole situation, it’s heartbreaking.”

Some residents, speaking in opposition, said notice of the application should have gone out to neighbors to allow them to weigh in on the matter.

“This is unsafe, unsightly and I don’t want to look at it,” said Janet Colletti, who lives on a nearby block. “It’s just wrong. They need to rent an apartment somewhere.”

Powell said that because it was an emergency evacuation she hadn’t immediately sought an apartment but added that she has “looked at all options” and is “trying my best not to make this a long-term thing.”

But residents said they were concerned the trailers might be more than temporary.

“I understand that the Puerto Rico situation was devastating and it’s still ongoing,” said Bay Village Civic Association president Joan Donnison. “However, you’re setting a precedent for people who have whatever personal emergencies they may describe to allow them to have campers on their property and an indeterminate amount of people for an indeterminate amount of time.”

The board requested another inspection of the property, which was done on Thursday by building inspector Bryan Donato. He said he found the trailers, which are equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, were only used as sleeping quarters. The trailers are powered primarily by a battery, he said, but are charged with an extension cord that is connected to a designated outlet on its own breaker in the electrical panel.

Donato said that based on his inspection, there do “not appear to be any major violations” of the state’s property maintenance code “which would create concern for life safety.”

The board of trustees is expected to make a decision at its next board meeting on Aug. 13.

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