According to the neighbors of 14 Bay Ave. — a house that has been vacant since a 2014 landslide destroyed two retaining seawalls on the property’s cliffside — the structure is in danger of falling into Hempstead Harbor.
“With the last couple of storms, there’s been significantly more slippage,” said Tom Pitegoff, who lives next door, at 24 Bay Ave. Recent storms have exacerbated the erosion of the cliff, he said, adding, “Several feet of the house’s foundation is totally exposed.”
On Jan. 21, 2015, six months after the retaining wall collapsed, Bay Avenue Commons LLC, a subdivision of Malachite Group Ltd., purchased the home from former owner Orazio Bencivenni for $500,000. Since then, Michael Griffin, a representative of Bay Avenue Commons, has met with the Sea Cliff Village Planning Board several times, seeking approval for a plan to build one or more retaining walls and maintain or modify the home’s driveway and rear yard. But nearly three years after the company purchased the property, construction has yet to begin.
Pitegoff and other neighbors raised the issue at the Board of Trustee’s public comment meeting on March 12. Trustees set up a special meeting last week with Griffin and the planning board specifically aimed at allaying their concerns. But according to Pitegoff, the meeting didn’t go as the board planned.
“The neighbors really started to get upset,” he said. “It appeared to us from Griffin’s presentation that nothing was going to happen anytime soon. We know what the plans are — they are detailed, expensive plans.”
Bay Avenue Commons sought approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to go forward with the plans — the bulkhead and the beach below the property are under state jurisdiction. The DEC approved the permit, effective Jan. 31, 2017. Last Aug. 16, the planning board unanimously approved the $1.7 million site plan and wall permit application presented by the developer.
Malachite’s president, Manny Malekan, the current owner, said that his firm has been unable to find a team to take on the project. “We have spent a lot of money on engineering,” he said, “but have found no solution economically.”
Village Attorney Brian Stolar, who also attended the meeting, said, “Griffin provided the [planning] board with an update, and indicated that the plans that had been previously approved are not likely to be pursued. Rather, they are seeking alternative options through their professional planner, and at an appropriate time they’ll make their determination.” Stolar added that Griffin was open to taking neighbors’ suggestions on how to remedy the problem efficiently and inexpensively.
Sebastian Lee, who lives at 26 Bay Ave., said he considered the presentation a slap in the face. “They’re floundering,” he said of the developer. “The initial plan was approved, but now they’re scrapping it because it’s too expensive. What do they expect?”
Lee said he believed that in the spring rains, the sliding cliffside will become an even greater force to be reckoned with. “It’s only a matter of time before [the house] gets undermined and slides down, and then the street could collapse,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation.”
Both Lee and Pitegoff are intent on getting the village to take action. “We’re asking the village to push the owner by issuing fines or violations, because they’ve got to do something soon,” Pitegoff said. “It’s just going to continue to get worse, and actually start to affect our properties.”
“The village has been far too passive, and they need to start fining the owner,” Lee said. “This poses a major safety issue to anyone walking along the beach. It’s only a matter of time before something falls from the top of the hill and kills somebody.”