BY JAMES FARRELL
For nearly two decades, the Waterside Estates community, overlooking Whitestone’s northern waterfront where the Cresthaven Country Club was once located, has taken care of itself.
When the Mattone Group developed the 105-house community between 1998 and 2001, the homeowners’ association took charge of maintaining the area’s utilities, including a newly developed, privately owned sewer system.
But after having a private plumber service the system’s two pumping stations grew too expensive, a group of five homeowners volunteered to do it themselves and took on the task for 10 years. But one moved away, another retired and a third is in poor health. For the past two to three years, two homeowners—Anthony Coglitore, 84, and Thomas Doherty, 74—have done it all.
Now, they’re ready to pass the torch and hope that the city will take over.
“It’s just [Doherty] and I—and he’s in his 70s and I’m in my 80s,” said Coglitore, president of the Waterside Estates Homeowners Association. “It’s getting harder and harder.”
Coglitore and Doherty believe that they have a solid case for the city. The pumping station’s installation allowed the community to be developed faster than if the developers had waited for the city to create its own system, they argue. The result has been more than $1 million per year in real estate taxes from the community for more than 15 years at no expense to the city, since the homeowners’ association covers all other utilities. Maintaining the pumping station would be the city’s only expenditure, and the station was already built and approved to city standards.
“We could go out and hire contractors to come in,” said Doherty, who is the head of the community’s maintenance committee.
But that would be more expensive to homeowners, who are already paying a water and sewer fee, he added.
Additionally, the men are wary about recruiting new volunteer homeowners, arguing that people who purchase homes aren’t expecting to be involved in sewer maintenance. There’s also a steep learning curve.
“We did it the hard way,” Coglitore said. “We made mistakes. You learn, you know. Trial and error.”
The pair also had some technical experience—Coglitore was previously a machinist for the Daily News and Doherty spent 52 years in commercial construction.
To access the pumping station, they climb down a metal ladder into the below-ground control room—which is more difficult for Coglitore now than it used to be, due to sciatica.
“Sometimes it’s nothing more than, on a weekly basis, going in and looking at the control panels and seeing that everything is reported as being accurate and properly working,” said Doherty. “And other times we have a notification system, if there are alarms that are triggered by the control panels sensing something wrong in the tanks.”
The men receive notifications on their phones and must be on call to manually turn on a pump or clear a check-valve to prevent a backup.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) recently stepped in and tried to pass legislation to get the city to take over the station.
But while it passed the state Senate, it didn’t get approved by the Assembly. Avella blamed the situation on the city’s “lack of foresight” in allowing developers to build complexes with private utilities without considering how it could burden homeowners in the long run.
The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but Coglitore and Doherty said that the city stopped by at the end of March to look at the station.
“We need somebody to help us because we’re getting old,” Coglitore said.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, email@example.com or @farrellj329.