City gives residents relief on sidewalks - Queens Chronicle: Queenswide

City gives residents relief on sidewalks

by Ryan Brady, Editor | Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2019 10:30 am

The city’s finally getting to the root of the problem.

Mayor de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) announced Tuesday that homeowners will no longer be issued violations for sidewalk damage created by city trees.

Many in Queens — the borough with the most trees — have been among the critics of the policy, which made residents pay thousands of dollars to pay for the repairs.

“This never was the way things should have been, this burden should never have been put on homeowners to begin with,” the mayor said at a press conference in Heastie’s northeast Bronx district. The Assembly speaker, who represents a large homeowner constituency, had long pressed de Blasio to change the policy.

Now, liens will no longer be imposed on one-to-three-family properties with sidewalk damage caused exclusively by city trees. Any liens on properties filed because of a violation issued over damage from trees will be canceled.

And the 50,000 existing notices of violation will be reviewed to determine if the damage in each case was caused only by street trees. Reviews will be expedited if the owner of the home in question is selling it or refinancing.

Civic associations in Queens, along with former state Sen. Tony Avella, had long called for the policy change.

“We’re pleased with that,” Queens Civic Congress President Kevin Forrestal said in an interview. “It’s long overdue.”

Fresh Meadows resident John Amato, a retired teacher who recently earned a degree in horticulture, has often been critical of the de Blasio administration’s treatment of trees. He also took Tuesday’s news well.

“I think it’s about time that the city took responsibility,” he said. “It should not be on the shoulders of homeowners to bear that burden. ... Property owners have enough stress.”

De Blasio also announced Tuesday that the Parks Department’s Trees and Sidewalks program would speed up repairs, so that about 5,500 high-priority sites can be addressed over the next three years.

In April, city Comptroller Scott Stringer released the results of an audit of the program, which found that it took an average of 419 days between filing a complaint about sidewalk damage from trees and work on the repair to actually start.

Bayside Hills Civic Association President Michael Feiner told the Chronicle that it took three years for the Parks Department to agree to fix a sidewalk damaged by a tree by his house.

“We just waited and waited and waited,” he said, adding that it took another two and a half years for the site to be fixed after the agency did agree to do the work.

Feiner said he’s pleased that the agency now seeks to clear the backlog. “It’s a good thing that they’re doing ... I’m happy with it.”

Many of the damaged spots on sidewalks pose dangers for pedestrians, the Bayside Hills activist added. According to Stringer’s office, the city spent $1.3 million in 2017 on trip-and-fall lawsuits filed on behalf of people who fell on sidewalks.