Paula Chin in Board Operations on March 21, 2017
Sometimes, co-op and condo boards have to be willing to fight for what’s right. That was certainly the case for Larry Kelter, who got hit with a one-two punch after becoming board president at the Hamlet at Windwatch, a 228-unit homeowners’ association (HOA) in Hauppauge, Long Island.
Just months after becoming president, the 62-year-old novelist was blindsided by the news that a construction company had illegally dumped some 50,000 tons of toxic debris – including asbestos, arsenic, and PCBs – near the property. “My reaction was nothing short of outrage,” says Kelter, who has lived at the Hamlet, where the residents are a diverse, middle-class mix of families and retirees, since 2009. “When I’m confronted with problems, I don’t let things roll off my back. My style is to hunker down, figure out a plan of attack, and marshal my resources.”
He sprang into action. Local officials had begun working with the state to clean up the waste, but there was a serious hitch: their plan was to move the debris to a dump site just several hundred feet from one of the Hamlet’s borders. “That was an untenable solution,” says Kelter, who attended lots of angry town hall meetings and had several tense talks on the phone with the town supervisor. “I wasn’t confrontational, but I was aggressive and respectfully demanding to make sure officials were aware of the dangers.”
Kelter also had to contend with short-sightedness among his neighbors in the surrounding community. “Most people were concerned about how the cleanup would affect the air quality in their own neighborhoods, but not about where the materials would be going,” he says. “We were the lone voice arguing that it should be removed not just from our area, but from Long Island altogether. I found it especially appalling that school administrators didn’t seem to care, given how many schools are in the direct vicinity of the dump.”
The town eventually revised its plans and agreed to take only the toxic debris out of Long Island. But that wasn’t enough for Kelter, who challenged the proposal by appealing to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “Unfortunately, some of that toxic waste did end up here,” he says. “Ultimately, it was too big a battle to fight on our own and win. But we had to try.”
Soon after that fight, Kelter got slammed with another problem: Suffolk County and Off-Track-Betting were planning to open a video casino in a hotel right next to the Hamlet. Kelter envisioned an increase in traffic and crime, and a decline in property values. “The alarm bells just went off in my head,” he says.
This time, Kelter pursued a legal strategy, organizing a group to oppose the casino in court and holding fundraisers, which have so far brought in tens of thousands of dollars for attorney fees. “Larry really spearheaded this grassroots effort and went to great lengths for a cause that benefits not just his HOA but the whole community,” says Virginia Manning, a managing agent at Fairfield Properties, the Hamlet’s property manager. A suit was filed last November to overturn the village’s approval of the project. It’s still pending.
“I’m optimistic about this battle,” Kelter says, “but if we don’t win, I’ll just have to get my act together, let it go, and move on, because there’s nothing to be gained otherwise. But you’ve always got to fight.”
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