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Queens Chronicle

The curb catastrophe of Jamaica Estates

Man sues city to pay for repairs after DOT makes road, sidewalk nearly level

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2017 10:30 am

When Michael Hannibal and his wife paid for the reconstruction of their driveway along with the curb and sidewalk in front of their house to stop rain from getting into their basement, they didn’t expect a bureaucratic nightmare to follow.

“When [the city Department of Transportation] did the remilling, it was almost like we didn’t do any work,” he told the Chronicle. “The thousands of dollars that we put into it ... all of that was gone.”

According to the homeowner, the DOT raised the height of Eton Street in Jamaica Estates, where their house is, as part of a citywide resurfacing and milling initiative in July 2015, the year after the reconstruction. With the street in places above the curb, the agency effectively undid the fix. Their work also created a parking problem: Without the curb high enough above the road, a car parking on the street in front of Hannibal’s home will easily go onto the curb.

Hannibal and his wife filed a formal complaint with the agency that month “with the understanding that the Queens Borough Commissioner and Operational Unit would provide recommendations by August 20,” according to the homeowner.

“We also requested a quote to repair the curb and sidewalk to seek reimbursement for the damage to our property,” Hannibal said in an emailed statement, referring to the flooding damage at his house. He is a member of Community Board 8, and he worked with the board and the office of Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) to communicate with the DOT, emails show.

DOT official Richard Gippetti visited the site and said that it would be resolved, but did not follow up with the homeowner, Hannibal said.

In August 2015, the Queens Street Maintenance team found that no damage was done to the curb by city work; Hannibal was informed of their inspection last September.

After the office of City Comptroller Scott Stringer disallowed Hannibal’s claim and said that the city was not responsible, he filed a civil lawsuit against the city.

The homeowner is suing for $5,750 — an estimate given to him by a contractor — to have the sidewalk redone.

Queens residents who find themselves in the Hannibals’ situation with curb height issues will be helped if legislation introduced by Lancman — which he wrote in response to their issue — passes.

“[Hannibal] brought it to our precise attention,” the lawmaker said. “We’re aware of other homeowners who’ve had the same problem and have actually gotten tickets for having standing water on their property.”

The bill would require the agency to maintain curb heights when executing construction on sidewalks, curbs, pavement and gutter. “If the Department of Transportation is going to perform street work, it must adequately maintain curb heights,” Lancman said in a prepared statement. “The City is fining people for ponding conditions that are a result of its own construction — and it’s ridiculous for the City to nickel and dime someone for a situation it created.”

The city’s neglecting to appropriately adjust curb heights after related infrastructure work has plagued far more Queens residents than just the Hannibals.

“I’m happy that Rory is doing this,” Commmunity Board 8 Chairwoman Martha Taylor, another Jamaica Estates resident, said. “It needs to be done.”

Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden said that he has noticed situations where “you see that the curb heights have obviously gone to an inch or 2 or less.”

According to Auburndale Improvement Association First Vice President Henry Euler, the city not adjusting curb heights in response to street work also has been an issue in northern Queens.

“That’s happened in Auburndale and in Flushing,” he said.

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