Among items on the agenda for last Thursday night’s meeting of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance at the Chabad of Northeast Queens, smoke-free housing surpassed all as the most important.
“Mostly this is about protecting our children from secondhand smoke,” said Queens Smoke-Free Partnership borough organizer Martha Ayon. In her presentation on the impact of secondhand smoke, she outlined the advantages of adopting voluntary smoke-free policies in multi-unit dwellings such as co-ops and condominiums and the means by which property owners and tenants can organize such procedures.
The Bay Terrace civic group was the first to call for the city to ban smoking at beaches and parks, which was recently enacted.
Ayon explained that tobacco smoke travels through air ducts and cracks into neighbors’ apartments; even brief levels of exposure are harmful and can lead to more frequent asthma attacks in children.
Smoke-free housing decreases building and maintenance costs because it reduces damage to lobbies and hallways, eliminates the necessity of replacing furniture burned by cigarettes and decreases the costs of rehabilitating a residential unit by at least two thirds, which, as Ayon reminded the BTCA, “affects everyone’s property values.” Smoke-free policies also protect lives and property, because, in 2005, smoking caused 26 percent of deaths by fire in multi-family buildings, and in 2006, smoking-material fires caused $496 million in home property damage.
“Popular demand is asking for more houses that are smoke-free,” Ayon said, citing the results of a 2009 poll that suggests 66 percent of New Yorkers support living in apartment buildings prohibiting all smoking.As to a resident’s privilege to smoke in his own apartment, BTCA President Warren Schreiber argued that non-smoking policies cannot be said to infringe upon smokers’ rights because “neighbors have the right to breathe fresh air.”
Schreiber also reminded members that, technically, the “Better Business [Bureau] says you can target a shareholder.” State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), who arrived at the meeting halfway through, agreed: Smoking “is not a protected privilege … a child does not have the ability to give consent,” she said.
Ayon and Queens Smoke-Free Partnership Borough Manager Yvette Jackson, offered to aid the amendment of community housing group bylaws by drafting private attorneys to the table. They failed to convince Michael Kurtz, president of the Clearview Gardens Corp., that a consensus among residents could be so simply attained: “It’s not that easy to change a bylaw,” Kurtz said.
In addition to smoke-free housing, the civic group discussed the three property classification bills now under consideration in Albany, the possible closing of Bayside’s Engine Co. 306, the suggested reassignment of Bay Terrace from the jurisdiction of Community Board 7 to 11, the reorganization of the neighborhood’s Graffiti Busters and the upcoming arrival of the Bay Terrace Shopping Center’s new Tasti D-Lite, a store that sells frozen desserts.
On the issue of property classification, Schreiber said he believes State Sen. Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) bill, which would create a new class 1A for neighborhoods that contain both residential and income-producing properties, and implement a cap of 6 percent on property hikes, “probably has the best chance of passing.” said BTCA Second Vice President Matt Silverstein, urging members to write state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Nassau), chairman of the Committee on Local Government, on behalf of Avella’s bill, because it will need a Republican co-sponsor to pass both houses.
Addressing Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to close Engine 306, Silverstein encouraged those who could not attend Wednesday morning’s rally in front of the firehouse to send letters to its organizer, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), and the mayor, and to sign Halloran’s online petition against the shutdown plan.
Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece expressed his frustration with the mayor’s downsizing: “We are being shortchanged constantly. … We are entitled to our fair share of resources,” he said to applause.
Schreiber is pushing for the Bay Terrace area, which includes Fort Totten, to be part of CB 11. He believes that one stumbling block may be CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty.
Schreiber thinks that Kelty wants the Fort Totten location to remain in CB 7. “The Community Boards are supposed to represent the community,” he said. “People who do not live in this community should not be deciding what happens to the park.”
Contacted later, Kelty said there has been no official request to the city for Bay Terrace to become part of CB 11 and he didn’t want to comment until then.
BTCA First Vice President Phil Konigsberg announced that he and Schreiber have joined forces with the North Shore Anti-Graffiti League to borrow the group’s truck and to mobilize neighbors against vandalistic scrawling after the Graffiti Busters’ year-long hiatus. In Bay Terrace, “We’re known for being 100 percent graffiti-intolerant,” Konigsberg said.
On a less confident note, Schreiber expressed concern that if the city does not install a concrete bus pad on 213th Place, as per the request of Cord Meyer Development, which runs the shopping center, the company will ban buses from the private street for fear that uneven concrete could lead to injuries and lawsuits.
“We have someone who has been trying to be a good neighbor, and the city won’t pay the $30,000,” Schreiber said.