New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Frank Lovece in Board Operations
The Bradford House, at 37-27 86th Street in Queens, sits on a nondescript road that runs along railroad tracks barely hidden by scraggly trees. Yet if you score an invite from a resident of one of the 120 apartments, you can venture out back into what used to be a concrete nothing and a chain-link fence — and find yourself transported to an oasis, where a Pennsylvania Bluestone walk meanders past flower beds and exotic flora to a waterfall-fed pond where four Israeli koi and a red slider turtle make their home.
It took about $100,000, raised through refinancing that "our building does every five or six years, depending on the market," says board secretary Randolph Mifflin, an architect with the School Construction Authority of New York City. "With the financial climate in the country as it is right now, people say, 'Why are you spending money on this pond and fish?' And the answer to that is to maintain a strong position with the lending institutions," he says. "If the bank is going to loan you money, they want you make capital improvements so that their investment stays on top and on par."
Cementing the Deal
More so than money, however, it took time, patience and the kind of volunteering of professional skills that every board needs. About three years ago, says Albert Torres of ATM Real Estate, the building's manager, "We had this vacant cement block of back yard." It was unsightly, and added nothing to — if it didn't indeed detract from — the resale value of apartments.
Mifflin, then in his own third year on the board, says he "mentioned in one of our board meetings that we needed to do something with the back yard. Several residents, particularly those with small children, wanting something done." The board initially discussed having a playground. "But then we decided that wouldn't be best for the building, since we have windows directly facing the rear yard on the first floor and [the residents there] would have to interface with kids running around, playing ball, making a lot of noise. That's when focus went into a quiet sitting garden."
Getting to that point took about six months. When the board eventually decided on a garden, Mifflin conferred with the managing agent. Recalls Torres, "He asked me, 'What do you think of this?' I said, yeah, I liked it, and then we tossed it around for a couple of years and finally decided to do it in 2009."
Mifflin volunteered his skills and drew up "some preliminary sketches of what I thought it might be. I live in the building, so it's for my benefit as well," he reasons.
Torres and Mifflin worked with the Brooklyn contractor and stonemason Skill Construction and local landscaper Queens Garden Nursery, part of Queens Garden Florist. Additionally, says Mifflin, "We had to hire a professional pond designer once we decided we wanted to having living things in the pond. He worked hand in hand with the landscaper."
Built to Last
The board wanted to keep costs to $80,000, but eventually went higher since that initial figure "was unrealistic if you want to use the best materials, which we had to do: We can't afford to do a job like this twice, and so we had to do something that would last 40 to 50 years."
The very antithesis of penny wise, pound foolish, the board's decision has resulted in a thing of beauty that, if it enhances he sale price of each apartment by just $1,000, has more than paid for itself — and that's not counting the intangible but very real benefits of having a lush, private garden with the calming sounds of burbling water and the occasional flip-splash of a koi breaking the surface.
"Fortunately and unfortunately, we're the best building on the block," Mifflin says. "One or two of the other buildings are trying to keep up, and at least," he hopes, "we're inspiring some of them."
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