STORY AND PHOTOS BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Eighteen months after Hurricane Sandy tore a swath of destruction through the Stony Point waterfront, the Town Board is finally on track to remove the last of the irreparably damaged buildings by the start of summer. Currently, the deadline for homeowners to repair or remove the structures before the town takes action is June 6.
Both property owners and their neighbors have been dealing with the damaged home situation from the moment the storm waters receded. Many homeowners continue to experience difficulty in applying for and receiving insurance money and FEMA reimbursements in order to make repairs or remove the buildings.
Those fortunate enough to have received their funds, or who have been able to afford to pay out of pocket, have proceeded to repair or replace their homes. The town also aided in the process by passing legislation late last year that permitted Sandy affected property owners who wished to rebuild in the footprint of their previous homes to do so without having to go through the arduous zoning permit process.
However, for those who do not yet have the means, or who for other reasons have not yet commenced demolition, their damaged houses remain empty, subject to rot, mold, vermin and daily exposure to the elements. With each passing day they become greater public health and safety hazards, as well as continuing eyesores. According to Supervisor Geoff Finn, concerned feedback from the community about the unsafe properties was what prompted the town to start the process of removing them in the first place.
The Town Board first addressed the issue publicly at its February 25, 2014 meeting. At that time Town Counsel Brian Nugent described the legally required process for town removal of the buildings. First, the building inspector must identify and inspect the remaining structures and issue his opinion to the Town Board as to whether they are salvageable or not. He is to make his determination based on FEMA guidelines that if a structure is more than 50 percent damaged it is deemed irreparable and must be removed; if replaced, it must be in alignment with the latest FEMA standards.
Then, the town must pass a resolution for each individual building to send a remediation notice to the property owners, and set a date for a public hearing on the matter. Thereafter, unless something comes up at the public hearing to halt or forestall the process, the town would have authority to proceed with the demolitions if the owner does not, and place a lien on the property to offset the costs.
So far, Building Inspector Bill Sheehan has completed the process of identifying, inspecting and determining the nine structures that require demolition. Three are located on Beach Road, two on River Road, two on Fourth Street and one each on Fifth Street and Grassy Point Road. He has presented his findings to the Town Board and at the April 22 meeting, the board approved notification letters to be sent to the property owners. Sheehan has been in touch, however, with several owners who are currently taking steps toward remediation, and those structures might ultimately come off the list and reduce the town’s workload. The public hearing is set for May 13.
Finn has reiterated numerous times at board meetings that the last thing the town wants is to be in the business of removing people’s homes. “We feel bad sending the letters,” he told the Rockland County Times, “but we have to ensure the health and safety of everyone. Those buildings are a public nuisance, and especially as the summer approaches, we have to make sure that no one can get inside and get hurt.”
Finn also pointed out that the town will continue to pursue reimbursement of the demolition costs from FEMA, in which case it will not have to charge the owners. Moreover, if by the June 6 deadline the owners have taken any steps towards remediation themselves, the town will hold off on those properties.
For neighbors interviewed by the Rockland County Times, the news that the remaining unstable buildings will be coming down was most welcome.
“We’re very excited to hear that the town is finally going to do something,” Mary Ellen Brosnan told the Rockland County Times. She and her husband, Bill, own and live in 14 River Road. They were pleased to point out all the demolition and new construction already going on. However, they have had to live across the street for more than a year from 7 and 12 Fourth Street, both of which have been damaged and empty since the storm.
Dominick Posillipo, who also lives at 14 River Road and is on Stony Point’s NY Rising Community Reconstruction Committee, was equally concerned about the continuing condition of the empty houses and is glad they are coming down. Through his work on the CRC he has become acutely aware of just how much still needs to be done to fortify Stony Point against future catastrophes and he knows that so many property owners still need help recuperating from the storm. He hopes to see the community come back stronger than ever.