New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine June 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ELMHURST

Work deemed “essential” during pandemic includes a Target store in Queens.

Robert Valdes-Clausell, who engineered a devastating bankruptcy at a Queens co-op and was also an activist for historic preservation in the borough, died in a single-car crash on Astoria Boulevard on Sunday afternoon, according to the NYPD.

Valdes-Clausell, 56, was killed when his Ford Explorer crossed three lanes of traffic and crashed into a concrete barrier, as reported by DNAinfo. He was pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital.

As a board member of the Newtown Civic Association, Valdes-Clausell fought to keep historical buildings intact and advocated reopening of the LIRR station in Elmhurst, which was shuttered in 1985 due to low ridership. Under an MTA agreement between the city and state last year, the station will reopen in 2019, at a cost of $31 million.

Valdes-Clausell was the live-in property manager at a 150-unit Elmhurst co-op, now known as The Continental Park, when he took it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. The saga of the co-op’s bankruptcy and recovery was reported last year by Habitat in an article entitled “Newly Minted.”

How did a 150-unit co-op in Queens, which still had more than half its apartments under sponsor control, go from normal to nightmare? The tale starts with a somewhat mundane transaction that hit a snag. The sponsor of 87-10 51st Avenue Owners Corp., the Birchwood Organization, decided to sell its entire portfolio of 600 unsold units to a real estate developer named Myles Horn. Included in the portfolio were 81 rent-regulated and market-rate apartments in the Elmhurst co-op. Horn recalls that he had the units under contract but was stymied by Robert Valdes-Clausell, the co-op's live-in building manager who "refused to do the ministerial act of transferring the shares of stock to [him]. Normally they cannot refuse to do so, but they did." Birchwood asked the real estate developer if it could "go ahead and sell [Horn] all of [its] other unsold units and [leave the Elmhurst apartments out of the sale]." Birchwood was worried it might end up in a lawsuit with the Elmhurst co-op. Horn agreed to the deal… wisely.

The six-story, 153-apartment co-op at 87-10 51st Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens, used to be The Continental. There the co-op board had filed for bankruptcy in 2009 amid one or more lawsuits, reported the New York Daily News at the time. But now, says DNAInfo.com, the 1962-vintage, red-brick low-rise may be low-rising from the ashes as The Continental Park. Renderings and promotional copy at the developer's website say there will be a gym, a playground and a sculpture garden among the amenities — although as DNAInfo notes, getting there may not be easy. "A partial stop-work order was issued in September for scaffolding issues, according to Department of Buildings records, and there are more than two dozen open violations, with the most recent for elevator issues." Well, you know the old saying: Elmhurst wasn't built in a day.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, half of Albany is up in arms and the other half is sticking its hand out over 421a tax abatements for luxury condominiums. Meanwhile, the attorney general slaps the wrist of a developer banned from selling any condos at all. Plus, a big change at Co-op City and a big sale in Greenwich Village, as Mary-Louise Parker (right) sells her Washington Square co-op. Plus: Advice for your co-op board admissions interview.

Budgets, believe it or not, are living, breathing things. They're not etched in stone, and sometimes you can move components and budget lines like chess pieces in which the right piece at the right time moving the right way can make a pawn a queen. Think we're being overly metaphorical? Well, just ask these two experienced and utterly practical and pragmatic property managers, as they describe how they stepped in and moved those pieces and gave condominium and co-op boards some much-needed breathing room. Because not only are budgets living, breathing things, but but so are our buildings.

How would you like to make sales dry up in your building? Or guarantee you'll lose every challenge to your authority as a board? What if you couldn't charge assessments, collect flip taxes or go after people who were in arrears? Nutty, right? Well, not so nutty if you're one of those condo or co-op boards that don't keep minutes.

Ask the Experts

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

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