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No More Fear of Flooding

Bill Morris in Building Operations on January 3, 2017


Flood Control

The Brooklands co-op in Yonkers, back in the bad old days of repeated floods (photo courtesy of Brooklands)

Jan. 3, 2017

The Brooklands complex opened in 1927 on the wedge of land formed by the confluence of the Sprain Brook and the Bronx River in the Bronxville section of Yonkers, just north of the New York City line. All that nearby water has shaped the destiny of these three handsome brick-and-stucco, neo-Georgian buildings, which converted to a 137-unit co-op in 1954 and have been repeatedly bedeviled by floods and near-floods. The two most recent, in 2007 and 2011, inflicted $8 million in damages and finally pushed the board to address a chronic problem that’s tied to geography, history, politics, and the vagaries of ever more unpredictable weather.

First, a bit of history. A few years after Brooklands became a co-op, master builder Robert Moses laid down the Sprain Brook Parkway. To avert flooding, Moses erected a 12-foot-tall, 400-foot-long concrete wall between the brook and Brooklands. As with so many of Moses’s visions, this one proved myopic. The wall was destined to be breached by repeated floods, with disastrous consequences for Brooklands.

Kerry Smith, a Brooklands shareholder since 2006, joined the board shortly after the flood of 2007. As he oversaw the job of rebuilding the ravaged property, he preached to his fellow board members that the time had come to take steps to prevent future flooding, rather than continuing to react after the fact. The board responded by hiring the hydrologic engineer Leonard Jackson, who concluded that the best solution would be to build a new retaining wall, adjacent to and four feet taller than Moses’s inadequate wall.

After a battle with neighboring communities and a torturous approval process with assorted bureaucracies, the new wall and related projects were completed in the summer of 2015, at a total cost of more than $2 million, which was covered by loans and an assessment. The board also refinanced its mortgage, saving $200,000 in interest per year, and converted one of its two boilers from oil to natural gas. (The other was decommissioned.)

“We’re elated because we’re physically protected and there’s no way we’ll ever be flooded again,” says Smith, who retired from the board as president in May of this year. “The rest was formalities – repaving driveways and parking areas, replacing the entire internal storm water runoff system, which had been neglected. We also had to install new pumps so we could eject storm water from the property.

”But the saga of Brooklands is not finished yet. The co-op has sued Westchester County and the state Department of Transportation, claiming they were aware that the original retaining wall was inadequate and did nothing to improve it. The board is also working to parlay the new wall into major savings on insurance premiums.

“We’re technically in a flood zone,” says Kevin Murphy, a consultant who succeeded Smith as president of the Brooklands board. “We’re in the final stages of getting the city of Yonkers to sign off on engineering paperwork so that we can apply to get out of the flood zone – which will reduce our insurance bill dramatically. We’re going to get that done.”

Regardless of how the lawsuits and insurance costs play out, the big news is that Brooklands’ shareholders no longer dread the next flood. “That fear is gone,” says Murphy. “Our two goals were the safety and security of the shareholders, and the financial security of the co-op. We’ve exceeded those expectations.”

What was the key to their success? “The support of terrific professionals,” Murphy says. “And [our board] didn’t give up.”

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