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Avoiding Lobby Wars in a Few Easy Steps

Marion Green, board president
Cameo Plaza, Long Island

 

 

 

You never forget being a teacher, says Marion Green. What you learn doing the job can serve you well, especially if you are the president of an 80-unit self-managed condominium called Cameo Plaza in Great Neck, Long Island, and your board has decided to refurbish and upgrade the lobby and public spaces.

Have an unruly class of students? That’s nothing compared to dealing with the potential problems from unit-owners during a lobby rehab, which most experts concede is one of the most hot-button issues in cooperatives and condominiums. The old manager’s joke sums it up: if you want to get full attendance at your annual meeting, then announce you’re redoing the lobby.

Considering Age and Taste

Green, who faced her share of willful individuals during 37 years as a teacher in the public school system, knew there was a split in the residents’ view of the public areas. “We have a varied population here – different ethnicities, different age groups, single people, old people,” Green acknowledges. “To keep up with this century, it was time to redo the [public areas]. Particularly for the young people – the young families. They were feeling that the place had a dated look. We wanted something fresh and contemporary.”

 

First Step: Research

The initial step would be to set up a design committee to research the options, which generally means finding a professional to do the job. In this case, the board acted as the de facto design committee, with Green taking the lead in guiding it along. “My experience as a teacher helped me in dealing with all the people involved,” she admits.

The board interviewed five different decorators before settling on Tina Tilzer, principal in Arts & Interiors, because, Green notes, “Tina showed us a design that was the freshest and most contemporary.” Then, at the board’s first meeting with Tilzer as decorator, Green suggested that the group invite some younger residents to sit in on the next session.

 

Listening to Other Voices

Green, who is retired and is a familiar presence in the building, had heard rumblings from the younger residents about the public spaces being dated. After a building-wide gathering to announce the lobby project, Tilzer recalls, “There was some interest from three young men who have families here. They asked if they could come to a meeting and offer their opinions.” The board said, “Sure.”

“In my experience,” Tilzer says, “that’s an unusual step to take, but it was appropriate considering the concerns everyone had.”

The move showed the savvy of Green and her fellow board members. Rather than being defensive, they co-opted potential complaints by having potential dissidents sitting in on the creative process – not making the ultimate decision but having some input nonetheless.

 

The Owners Wanted a Change

The board had another meeting with all the unit-owners. “This was after we had met [with the board] a few times and worked out the materials and the design we were going to use,” says Tilzer. “We had a meeting [with the unit-owners] where we presented what we were going to do. It was not a meeting where any decisions were made but one where we explained what we were doing.”

Although Tilzer says that most of the residents expressed approval of what was planned, a number of unit-owners “strongly suggested that we do something different with the floors. It was that old brick-style floor – ceramic – and we ripped it up. They wanted a newer look. That brick flooring dated the whole building.”

Tilzer says Green was “100 percent hands-on” throughout the entire project, and adds praise for superintendent Esco Nisic, who became a kind of project manager. He supervised every installation and contacted Tilzer if anything seemed amiss.

For her part, Green notes that everyone on the board played a role, and reports that Tilzer “took care of everything. She handled the contractors and got the bids. As the decorator, she bought everything,” subject to board approval. Notes Green: “She had something for the lobby that we thought was a little bit too light in color, for instance; we changed that. Then she also wanted to spend a little more on the lobby than we thought we needed. We simplified that.”

The project, which began in November 2014 and ended in June 2015, came in on schedule and on budget at $240,000, which was drawn from the reserves.

 

A Few Biographical Details

Years ago, Green never dreamed of sitting on her condo’s board, let alone taking over as president. Her whole life had been dedicated to teaching, a calling that came to her in college. “I thought that teaching would be something I would like. It was. I had a wonderful career.” In 1991, she moved into Cameo Plaza, built about 32 years ago. She was initially attracted to board service by the lure of a garden. “I was in charge of gardening originally. Then, when the president retired, he said, ‘You would be great’ [in this role]. I said, ‘No, I don’t want it.’ But he said, ‘No, we’ll help you.’ I’ve been president now for at least 15 years.”

Green sees the lobby refurbishment as one of the board’s singular achievements. “It was quite a large project, making sure that everything got done.” As for the future, Green insists (though without much conviction in her voice) that she will soon be stepping down from her position. And even if she does, it is unlikely that she’ll be bored. She still teaches (albeit once a week) at the Great Neck Senior Center (a course on English as a second language). She is also taking classes at the adult education center four or five times a week.

And she’s always been – and will probably continue to be – active. In 2000, she was a founding member of the Historic Preservation Commission. She stepped down to become one of five trustees advising the mayor of Great Neck Plaza, one of the nine villages on the peninsula. Meeting twice a month, they offered insights on zoning and traffic issues, and also advice on applications for new stores.

Although she enjoyed the work, she recently left that job, which required her not only to attend meetings twice a month but also to attend a number of monthly civic functions. “It was a great experience,” she says. “But I was doing too much. After all, I’m supposed to be retired.”

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