Residents Wary Over Asbestos Charge
By THERESA JUVA
Last December, the board of directors of Bell Park Gardens Cooperative Apartments on Springfield Boulevard informed residents that there was a serious asbestos problem in the complex. They told shareholders an average of $120 would be tagged onto their monthly charges for the next five months, and the $480,000 drawn from the 800 units would fund an assessment and treatment of the asbestos.
At a meeting in January, residents inquired about the specific location of the dangerous asbestos, what company was hired to conduct the work and details of the cost, but said they received vague answers from the board of directors attorney, Michael Jay, who refused to name the expert commissioned to study the problem.
In response, residents Dave Feldman and Sidney Stark said they collected 215 signatures on a petition that would require the board of directors to hold a special meeting to discuss the situation with tenants.
But Feldman said that when the signatures were presented, Jay discredited 50 printed names because they were not signatures – making the petition fall short of the 200 needed to secure the meeting. Without those names, Feldman and Stark received support from 165 shareholders who were also concerned about the ambiguous asbestos project.
Nicole Adamonis has lived at Bell Park for three years and said the lack of project details worries shareholders.
“That’s what I feel is inappropriate,” she said in a phone interview. “We are not getting all the information. They are running it, and we’re paying them whatever. When things are hidden, it raises an eyebrow.”
The five-month payments began in February, but according to a bulletin sent to shareholders, the full inspection report was not received until around Feb. 21, the date of the notice. In January, shareholders were told they would have to fund an asbestos removal before the evaluation findings were available.
Feldman said one month’s payment from 800 units would have raised $96,000—more than enough to pay for the assessment they were told would cost $50,000. He said they were told asbestos removal could ultimately cost $2 million.
At January’s meeting, the shareholders found out there was asbestos in the complex’s laundry rooms and boiler rooms, but were not told which ones or that those areas would be restricted because of the hazardous material, Feldman said.
A licensed asbestos inspector from Flushing, Jacob Perel of Main Contracting Corp., said in most cases if asbestos is not broken or scraped, it does not pose a threat when it is left alone. He said some homeowners have it removed when applying for a mortgage or if they feel uncomfortable with it, and apartment buildings with the substance require an annual evaluation to ensure it hasn’t been disturbed.
Jay said because Bell Park’s affiliated co-op, Bell Park Manor-Terrace, had a problem with asbestos, Bell Park’s board of directors is taking precautionary measures.
“We already gave them a logical, compelling reason in terms of collection of money,” he said in a phone interview March 9. “If we wait until there is no money available, our own shareholders will get hurt.”
Residents wondered why the co-ops reserve funds—which Feldman said is more than $1 million— were not used if the problem is so severe.
Jay said with other maintenance issues on the property to consider, it is not wise to drain the savings.
“The reserves probably will be utilized; the question is to what extent,” Jay said.
On March 9, after the second payment was already received, shareholders were told Brian Rohan Civil and Environmental Engineering of Merrick was commissioned to the project. Feldman contacted Rohan who told him he could not discuss the details of his report until the shareholders’ general meeting in May.
But shareholders are not satisfied with receiving drips and drabs of information after they have already shelled out thousands of dollars for a project they know little about.
“I’m not one of those people who jumps on the bandwagon every time someone complains,” Adamonis said of the situation. “Generally I’m a quiet person, and I don’t get involved, [but] it seemed like a lot of money.”