Village challenges Sandy buyback program

Story By: PEGGY SPELLMAN HOEY
4/12/2013


Mastic Beach Village officials this week challenged a state initiative — the purchase of homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy, a move aimed at preserving land near the waterfront and improving water quality — over concerns about 500 run-down county-owned properties seized from homeowners who failed to pay their property taxes.

The state is offering to buy out homeowners whose homes were damaged during Sandy under the premise they will be demolished and then restored to their natural state — environmentally sensitive wetlands. The aim of the program, which will be administered by Suffolk County, is two-fold: to help homeowners who want to sell their properties and to rebuild the natural buffer zone to protect homes along the waterfront.

Mayor Bill Biondi said he and village officials met with Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning on Monday and questioned if the program would be good for the village, not only because of the length of time it could take for the purchased properties to be cleaned up, but also because of the amount of money that could be additionally removed from the tax rolls.

“That’s what I am looking into to see if we can help these people raise their houses rather than ship them out into other areas,” he said.

Biondi said he has petitioned state Sen. Lee Zeldin and Assemb. Ed Hennessey’s office to work on the village’s behalf on a way to designate the village as the administrator of the program utilized to raise houses. If the village was allowed to administer the program, it would speed up the program and get people back into their homes, he said.

Biondi said he knows of one homeowner who is interested in the program, but he probably owes about $400,000 on his house. The house’s value has likely dropped in value and if the county bought him out for that amount, the homeowner would still owe $200,000 on the home.

“Does that make sense?” he asked.

Roughly 1,000 properties have been tapped for preservation on a master list compiled by the county’s real estate division and are being cross-referenced with storm-damaged homes. Between 100 and 200 of the properties could be purchased and preserved to build a buffer in the flood zone. The amount of taxes the village collects from property owners was not available by deadline.

Browning recognized Biondi’s concerns, but pointed out residents have property rights.

“You can’t expect people to stay in their homes; if they are interested in taking the buyout, you can’t really deny them that right,” she said.

Browning said the county does address properties that have fallen into disarray, but that the village also has to take into consideration some of the properties they are talking about might be in a redemption period in which the original owner is still responsible to clean. 

In regards to Biondi’s ideas about the village taking over as administrator of the program to raise houses, she said it has been explained that it was a state and federal decision not to make the village an administrator of the program and something that would have to be taken up with them.

In other village news:

The playground at Osprey Park will be dedicated in the name of late Brookhaven Councilman Keith Romaine on April 27. 

Romaine, who began rebuilding the park during his time on the town council, died in 2009. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m.

Village officials are expected to vote on their proposed $4.1 million spending plan at their work session next Wednesday. The meeting will be held at the Mastic Nutrition Center on Neighborhood Road. It begins at 5 p.m.

Village officials cordoned off a storm-damaged portion of Marina 1 for safety reasons this week pending repairs. Mayor Biondi said the marina, which was damaged during Superstorm Sandy, was in poor condition and in violation of the village code. The cordoned-off slips, which were located on village property, posed liability issues. The Mastic Beach Property Owners Association, which maintains the marina, needs to rebuild the dock and fix some electrical components at the dock, but they do not have a building permit. However, Biondi said the village is working with the association to make sure they will be able to have the marina up and running before the boating season kicks in full swing.

Anyone with questions about the closure can call 281-2326.

Mastic Beach officials are collecting questionnaires from residents and business owners regarding their interest in purchasing natural gas for their homes and businesses. 

In recent weeks, village officials have met with representatives from National Grid to discuss bringing natural gas into the village. The discussions evolved from a larger movement to provide safer utilities in the village. Last fall the oil tanks from many homes overturned during the surge from Superstorm Sandy, creating an oil slick over several blocks on the waterfront that required a state Department of Environmental Conservation cleanup.