Sue Treiman in Bricks & Bucks on May 24, 2017
Growing pains are nothing new at Glen Oaks Village. Built as affordable rental housing for veterans returning from World War II, this sprawling complex in northeast Queens, with nearly 3,000 apartments sprinkled across 110 acres, became the largest garden apartment co-op in the state when it converted in 1981.
Through the years, the co-op’s boards have fostered what are now known as “shareholder-initiated, value-added improvements” – renovations and expansions of apartments designed to keep shareholders with growing families from leaving for larger living spaces. Many have added patios, decks, gardens, porches, and fences to the complex’s 134 two-story buildings. In the past dozen years, 29 residents have added dormers to their second-story units. Some 40 ground-floor dwellers have turned basements into usable living space. And about a year ago, shareholders started pushing for what is, arguably, the most ingenious modification of them all: sun rooms.
“We encourage people to make these types of improvements,” says long-time board president Bob Friedrich, a retired accountant. “It’s about offering options. It improves the property, creates value for the property as a whole. It adds curb appeal – without the co-op itself having to spend any money.”
So far, 17 shareholders have added sun rooms to their apartments, some at ground level, some perched on pillars at the second story. Seven more are in the works. One of the early adopters is Linda Galicki, who first secured approval from a concerned neighbor, then made sure her addition matched the 70-year-old building’s brick and mortar exterior. “For about $50,000, I now have a 15-by-15-foot room that I absolutely love,” Galicki says.
Her inspiration was her neighbor across the street, Judy Young, whose rear-facing sun room had to be rejiggered to keep from blocking the adjacent apartment. “I now have the beautiful, serene dining room I’ve always wanted,” says Young.
Additional shares are allocated to residents who expand their living space, and alterations cause monthly maintenance to rise: by 25 percent for people who add dormers; by 15 percent for people who renovate basements; and by a smaller amount for those who add sun rooms, which usually cost between $45,000 and $60,000 to build. Friedrich is confident that the $10 million worth of “shareholder-initiated, value-added” improvements have boosted the co-op’s total property value.
The co-op’s “no McMansion” alterations policy requires renovators to gain permission from the board, guarantee limited impact on the complex, and ensure that the renovations are consistent with the look and characteristics of the complex.
“You can drive through here,” boasts Friedrich, “and not tell what’s original and what’s added.”
Fellow board member Justin Conklin, who married and had children after buying at Glen Oaks, sees a larger virtue in the co-op’s approach. By enabling shareholders to grow into their units, the complex battles what he calls the “decimation” of the middle class.
“This is the new starter home for Norman Rockwell-style America,” Conklin says, citing his expansive family room, bathroom and laundry room, with a door leading to abundant green space. Without these improvements, Conklin says, he would have had to move away from a paradise that features six revamped playgrounds, two dog parks, manicured grounds, and abundant family and community events. “I’d like to poke other complexes and say, ‘Hey, here’s a place that isn’t afraid to take a chance.’”
Sadly, most boards are reluctant to take such chances. Local appraiser Mike Mullahey, of GC Appraisals in Garden City, calls the Glen Oaks board’s flexibility “very rare,” adding, “I’ve never heard of anything like this in my 18 years in the field.”
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