Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on May 1, 2019
Three consecutive boards of the Spring Meadows cooperative, a 167-unit townhouse community in Hauppauge, Long Island, learned that capital projects can drag on. And on. In this case, the board spent 18 years tiptoeing around the demands of town and county bureaucrats.
The 11-building complex was built in 1972 with its own sewage-treatment plant on the premises. “It was back in 2000 when the Suffolk County Health Department came to us and said the plant had reached its maturity date,” says current board president James Cussen. “They said we needed to either rebuild, recommission, or find some other solution. That was three boards ago.”
It took three years to come up with a $1.6 million plan for a pumping station that would connect to the county’s sewer system. The board refinanced the underlying mortgage, and the pumping station was built.
“When the county health department gave us permission to hook up with their sewage treatment plant, we thought all was well,” says Cussen. “But then the town of Islip refused to give us a certificate of occupancy for the building containing the pump station that would transport the sewage up the hill to the county treatment plant. They told us that our parking lot was not built according to code. It was too narrow to give fire trucks easy access.”
Now things turned truly Kafkaesque. The co-op was forbidden to operate the new pump station until the code violation was cleared up. “It was obviously not an option to leave the sewage in the pipes,” Cussen says, “so we had to get a variance for that.” Luckily the board had enough money on hand to tackle the parking lot project. But the town rejected the board’s plans. “The town wanted a handicapped parking space in front of every single building,” Cussen says, “even though that is not in the law or in the code.”
To make matters worse, the town demanded the co-op build sidewalks in front of all buildings. “We were afraid this would end up looking like Manhattan,” Cussen says. “But we made it nice, nothing like Manhattan.”
But not nice enough for the town, which turned its attention to the deteriorating fence that surrounded the 15-acre property. Over the years, the woods had consumed the fence. “We went back to the town and told them that we would have to rip up the woods to get to the fence,” Cussen says. “That would’ve been another $1.5 million, plus the destruction of the wooded area. We had to have a special hearing before the town board and the zoning commission to get a variance so that we did not have to change the fencing.”
But the co-op board was still not out of the woods. Town officials objected to the co-op’s garbage enclosures, which are five-and-a-half feet tall and made of brick – and functioning perfectly. “There’s a new code that says garbage enclosures should be six feet tall and enclosed with a wire fence,” Cussen says. Another variance, and another delay.
“Then finally, finally the town approved our construction of the pump station,” says Cussen. “Now it’s all finished, but for us, as volunteers, it was very frustrating dealing with the town and the county for years on end. They just have this power to send plans back again and again and again. There’s nothing one can do.”
The project was also demanding for the property manager. “I’m used to getting things done more quickly,” says Daniel Broxmeyer of Fairfield Properties. “In this case, we had to take care to keep things as amicable as possible and work with the town in the best way possible. Unfortunately, this is just the way it is.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PAVING CONTRACTOR: Rayco Restoration and Construction. ENGINEER: H2M Architects + Engineers. PROPERTY MANAGER: Daniel Broxmeyer of Fairfield Properties.
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