Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's A Story, Morning Glory?

Following is a direct quote from the Municipal Code of the Village of Mineola :

70. "Story" shall mean the portion of a building which is between one floor level and the next higher floor level or the roof. If a mezzanine floor area exceeds one third (1/3) of the floor immediately below, it shall be deemed to be a story. A basement shall be deemed to be a story when its ceiling is six (6) or more feet above the average finished grade. A cellar shall not be deemed to be a story. An attic shall not be deemed to be a story, if unfinished and not used for human occupancy.  1

SO - if you've been following the shenanigans involving 217 Horton Highway, VOM's Building Department and Jack Martins, champion of same, you know there has been some debate as to what constitutes a "story."   You see, when the owner/architect/builder of 217 Horton Highway (John Cunha) applied for his construction permit, he sought to erect a 2 story, single family residence.  At least that's what he put in writing.  He went before the Architectural Review Board (what are their qualifications exactly?) and was approved for a 2 story, single family residence.  The design approved called for a gabled roof that would provide unfinished, non-habitable space that could be used for storage - as opposed to a 2 story single family house with a pitched roof that could also provide unfinished, non-habitable space that could be used for storage - or as opposed to a 2 story single family house with a flat roof that would have no attic but might provide a crawl space that could be used for storage.  The ARB did NOT approve a two and one-half story residence at 217 Horton Highway.

Let's repeat.  Mineola's Architectural Review Board DID NOT APPROVE a 2.5 story residence at 217 Horton Highway. 

Why then, did Building Superintendent/Parking Meter Attendant Daniel B. Whalen issue a Certificate of Occupancy for a 2.5 story residence when that isn't even what the owner applied for?  Why was the owner not required to apply for a variance?  The Code stipulates that single family residences can only be 2 stories high.  That's 2 liveable stories with either a flat roof or a pitched/gabled roof with an unfinished attic.  If Mr. Cunha, the owner/designer/builder of 217 Horton wanted two and a half-stories, he should have applied for it in his original permit request.  He then would have been required to not only go before the ARB, but the Board of Zoning Appeals as well.  But that's not what happened.  Is it?

Somehow, somewhere along the way, another 1/2 story appeared on that house.  You can't see it from the outside, so that means it's somewhere on the inside.  Now where do you suppose it might be?  Well since the "attic" has 16 windows and a sprinkler system and since Mr. Cunha had previously told people he intended to establish an office up there, it is safe for any reasonably intelligent human being to put 2 + 2 together to come up with 4.  That is, Mr. Cunha has finished off at least half of the attic space to make it "habitable" and thereby "taxable."  And the tax assessor's records have been updated to reflect the same.

Now it's not uncommon for people to finish their attics to create another bedroom, a study, a playroom, a gym - whatever.  But there are laws to follow and if you are going to take an unfinished attic and finish it off, you have to apply for a permit first and you have to submit plans.  But not Mr. Cunha.  He didn't have to submit plans with his original permit application for new construction, nor did he have to submit a permit application after the fact.  He just finished the space and his pal Danny B issued a Certificate of Occupancy for 2 1/2 stories.

But it gets better because when this was brought to the attention of Mayor Jack Martins, at TWO televised public meetings, his "honor" went into spin mode (as usual when it comes to the mechinations of the Building Department).  He tried to explain away that magic half-story by re-writing state and local building codes off the cuff.  According to Jack, unused, non-habitable space now constitutes a half story.  I'm sure Albany will be happy to hear that.  Not to mention Dan Whalen whose ass Jack is constantly covering.

Seriously people.  You voted this guy in.  Are you happy with yourselves?  Because what you elected is someone who thinks everybody else is a fool.  He believes nobody is as smart as he is.  He repeatedly insults your intelligence by twisting facts and trying to lay blame where it doesn't belong. 

Take the most recent case of the 13th Avenue residents who have been complaining about the noise emanating from the Verizon building.  These folks, using common sense, did the most logical thing any reasonable people would do.  They called MINEOLA's Building Department to complain.  But did they receive any assistance?  Not at all.  They were brushed off and told to contact Garden City's DOB.  Then when they exercised their right to raise the matter at a public meeting in December, Jack Martins complained that they should have come to him first.  W T F ????  How about this?  How about the Building Department staff does it's job by writing down the complaints and sending someone over to assess the situation while at the same time advising the mayor?  Instead, they did nothing and when the affected residents brought the matter public, Jack put the onus back on them.  Right where it didn't belong!

So THAT'S the story Morning Glories!  Non-habitable space now constitutes taxable living space.  Certain residents, like certain members of the Building Department enjoy "favored nation status."  And you dear taxpayers, enjoy the privilege of bending down to get reamed up your derrieres while having your faces slapped at the same time.  Relish the process!

1. Title III Planning, Building and Zoning Regulations; Chapter 27 Housing Code; Article 1 Residential Premises; Part I General Provisions; §27.7 Abbreviations and Definitions; C  Definitions.