Friday, June 27, 2008

Tudor Stands Out

Long Beach Family keeps upgrading home after 35 years

By Joseph Kellard

Last Thursday afternoon, 77-year-old Sam Arnone could be found lounging in shorts and a T-shirt on the newly renovated front porch of his home at 310 W. Olive St., at the corner of Laurelton Boulevard.

The Tudor, built in 1952, sports the exposed wood framing, white plaster walls, front and side gables with slate roofing, and dark-brick chimney with decorative gray stone typical of its architectural style. Yet Arnone’s home strikes a neat, high-maintenance look that makes it a standout in a neighborhood that includes other Tudors and a landmark Spanish-styled house next door.

Rising from a well-manicured, elevated lawn, the Tudor is surrounded by lush bushes of varying sizes and bordered by a thigh-high concrete wall that cleanly demarcates the treeless, sun-soaked property from the Laurelton sidewalk. That all the exterior features appear new on this classic-styled home is a testament to the many hours of sweat Arnone has invested in renovations since he and his wife, Carol, bought the three-bedroom, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot home in 1973.

“Every year I do something new,” said Arnone, a retired electrical engineer with Sperry Gyroscope, a company that developed navigation systems for the U.S. Navy. The brick and concrete front porch, with its granite steps and new awning, was his latest project.

Although Arnone now hires contractors to do such major work, over the years he and his son, Chris, renovated the kitchen, bathrooms and basement so many times, he’s unsure of the exact count. “Two or three times,” Arnone said about redoing the kitchen that now has a modern mica countertop and cream-colored cabinets.

He said he renovated often because the rooms got outdated, but Carol said the former rooms were just as functional. She claims her husband just has to keep working.

“He can’t stay still,” she said. “He’s very handy and he made this whole house all over. And when he retired, he didn’t know what to do with himself.”

When the Arnones had five cars, he widened the driveway. They also installed central air, and, five years ago, had the concrete wall along Laurelton set back three feet and replaced a nearby stretch of grass — between the sidewalk and curb — with red brick.

“I put brick there because I was tired of mowing the lawn,” Arnone said with a chuckle.

Inside, one of the few original features is an ornamental marble fireplace in the living room, along with cornices around the windows.

“The only reason we didn’t do anything with the fireplace is because it’s a beautiful piece,” he said. All the original windows were stained glass, and some 20 years ago he replaced them — except for the three that remain in the trio of bathrooms — with weather-proofed panes.

The Tudor’s original owner, whose name escapes the Arnones, held a prominent position at House Beautiful magazine, and they attribute to him the home’s fancier features that remain.

Carol, a Manhattan native, spent summers with her parents in a bungalow on Wisconsin Avenue in the West End. This is where she met Sam, who had lived in Long Beach since he was four. They bought their Tudor from the Brown family, and they rented it for a year before they moved in from Queens after their son graduated from elementary school. Carol recalled that she put a down payment on the home while her husband was on a business trip. “Boy, he flipped when he came back,” she said.

She remembered the asking price was $52,000, but she got the real estate agent to sell the home for $40,000 after it was on the market for an extended time and the Browns were also away.

“When I bought it, I told the realtor I wanted something distinct,” Carol said. “And when we passed this house, I took one look at it and said, ‘If you can get me inside this house, you have a sale.’”

Today, Carol said she believes she and her husband can get — in a healthy real estate market — up to $900,000 for their Tudor. But the Arnones have no intention of selling. “I love Long Beach,” Arnone said.

“What’s great about it is the beach and the boardwalk. You can’t beat the boardwalk, and the beach’s white sand is beautiful.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Property Owners Battle City

Council holds hearing on West End eminent domain case

By Joseph Kellard

At age 93, East Atlantic Beach resident Hildegard Miller finds herself fighting City Hall's attempt to seize a parcel of West End commercial property that she has owned for more than 60 years.

With cane in hand, Miller came to Tuesday's Long Beach City Council hearing, at which City Manager Charles Theofan listened to testimony on the 5,400-square-foot parcel, at 1055 West Beech St. Theofan was trying to determine whether the city's plan to take over the property is justified under eminent domain, a government's power to seize private property for public use with monetary compensation. The city hopes to divide the property into 21 parking spaces for the parking-deprived West End neighborhood.

"We have a way to make things better, and that's what we are trying to do," Theofan said.

Under eminent domain proceedings, the government typically condemns the property, usually on grounds that it is "blighted" - dilapidated, contaminated or otherwise unfit for human use. In 2004, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) gave the city a $250,000 state grant to buy Miller's property, which once housed the West End Service Station, an auto garage that she and her late husband, George Miller, and their daughter, Wendy Hope, ran for decades. Miller discovered that the city was taking eminent domain-related steps only when she saw a photo in the Herald of Skelos and city officials posing with the check on her property, according to Hope.

Miller and her daughter had been trying to sell the property since 1999, and after learning of the city's intentions, Hope, the parcel's co-owner, said she was willing to sell it to the city, and she allowed city officials to perform an environmental study of the lot. They concluded that there had been a spill that contained high levels of volatile gasoline-related contaminants that seeped into the groundwater in and around the site.

Hope then had the property tested by LKB, a consulting engineering firm, which determined that the spill was likely a result of a leak from a gas line that was replaced 40 years ago, and that the contaminant and its spread posed no significant threat to public health. In a June 2007 letter to Miller's attorney, the state Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed LKB's conclusion, stating that no further environmental cleanup was needed.

Meanwhile, Miller, Hope and their broker, Joe Sinnona, of the Joe Sinnona Group/ReMax Shores in Long Beach, were still entertaining potential buyers, whose plans for the property ranged from convenience stores to a seafood restaurant. Sinnona said he had offers ranging from $800,000 to $1.2 million. But those offers have gone by the wayside, Sinnona and Hope claim, because the city is characterizing the property as contaminated so that it can afford to buy it.

"And rumors of contamination and condemnation effectively discouraged buyers," said Hope, who traveled from San Diego to attend the June 17 hearing. "We have verbal statements from people to confirm this. It looks like the goal is to bully my mother into accepting a fire sale price."

Theofan said he has thoroughly investigated those charges. "The accusation that the city building department purposely steered potential buyers away from this property is not true," he said.

Theofan also noted that the DEC's 2007 letter was only recently provided to the building department. He asked Hope why, if, under eminent domain law, she and her mother would be paid "fair market value," they did not welcome the offer. "When somebody has been trying to sell a property for nine years without success, then maybe - just maybe - they're asking too much for that property," he said.

Hope responded that she did not think a parking lot was the best plan for a property that could be used to create jobs and generate city taxes, and she objected to the city's "bullying" her mother to take over her property rather than allowing her to sell it on her own. "At this point," Hope said, "we have no faith in the City Council because my experiences have been that you are not to be trusted."

Hope asked why the council hadn't made her mother an offer, as it had with Temple Zion in the West End. At a June 3 hearing, the council voted unanimously to lease a parking lot from the temple, which is expected to provide spaces at no charge to residents, but will cost the city $30,000 to lease. "Why are you taking my property," Miller said to the council, "rather than making me an offer when I know the city buys and leases property all the time."

Theofan explained that he was following eminent domain law, which, at this point in the process, doesn't give him the authority to make an offer. "But I can assure Mrs. Miller that if the City Council does decide to go forward with this process, that offer will come sooner rather than later," he added.

Rick Hoffman, president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association, said that parking is the worst problem in the West End, and that the city is trying to do what is best for his neighborhood. "They are taking a legal route, which they can do," Hoffman said. "These folks have had ample opportunity, nine years, [to sell the property]. It's not like they're going to be robbed."

Hope said that the traffic congestion in the West End is due to crowded, illegal multifamily rentals, which the city should focus on instead.

“Eminent domain is a very, very powerful act by a municipality or other state agency to take property away from an individual," said Mrs. Miller's attorney, Jerome Reisman. "It should not be abused. [Mrs. Miller] should be able to continue to keep it on the open market free of any attempts by the city to take it by eminent domain."

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Media Preps For McCain-Obama Debate at Hofstra

University holds walking tour for press

By Joseph Kellard

There was talk of cable feeds and satellite truck parking, telephone and computer capacity, television camera positioning and space requirements — not to mention the Secret Service — at Hofstra University last week.

Joani Wardwell and Marty Slutzsky of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan organization that has sponsored and produced all of the presidential and vice-presidential debates since 1988, took press personnel on a site tour of Hofstra June 5, detailing plans for the third debate between presumptive presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama in October. Some 20 representatives of various media organizations, including ABC and NBC, learned about the commission’s logistics, production and rules for the debate. They toured the site, the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on the north campus, and the adjacent Physical Fitness Center, which will serve as the media center and where hundreds of journalists from around the world will gather.

With their voices echoing inside the empty 5,000-plus sports arena, Wardwell and Slutzsky told the media that sections of the upper-level seats will go unused in order to keep the audience close to the candidates and create a more intimate atmosphere at the Oct. 15 debate.

One journalist asked how members of the audience, who will be let into the arena 90 minutes before the debate, will be selected. Slutzsky said this issue is still being bounced around. “There is never, ever enough seating at the debates,” he said, “and it becomes a somewhat contentious issue.” He explained, “A certain percentage of the seats go to each candidate’s party. A certain percentage goes to the commission, and the commission’s segments of the seats are shared with the school.”

The arena doors will be open to local media in the days leading up to the debate, on Oct. 13 and 14, but as the hours tick down that access will become more restricted, and the only media allowed inside for the debate will be the White House press pool and six networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and C-SPAN. “There will be no cabling — it will have to be done with hand held-cameras,” Wardwell said, listing one of several Secret Service rules.

“We’re all going to want to have our anchors out here from our morning shows — this is a huge thing for everyone,” said a representative of WCBS-TV. “We just went though the pope’s visit and the Secret Service was telling us all about where we couldn’t stand or shoot our cameras.”

Wardwell assured the local media, such as News 12, that they would still have opportunities at multiple locations around the debate hall, including the media center and surrounding parking lots. “So you should not think there will be a lack of space, but it’s going to be a challenge,” she said. Since the final debate traditionally gets the most media coverage, and because it will be held in New York, Wardwell noted, “We expect to draw a lot of attention, so the ‘local’ definition has been expanded.”

Both she and Slutzsky reiterated that in order to earn a spot on the Hofstra grounds during the three days of coverage, press outlets must file for and get credentials through the commission’s Web site. “Get your credentials in by August 15,” Slutzsky stressed, “which might be problematic for some people, but these are the rules laid down to us by the Secret Service, and we have to go with that. Anyone who needs to be at the debate site has to be in the system.”

In the parking lots outside the debate hall, Wardwell and Slutzsky provided the media with a host of other information: selections for exterior stations will be made by lottery; different lights and banners will be used on the arena’s fa├žade to give it a particular “feel”; trees will be uprooted and temporarily relocated; frequent shuttles will be available to transport media personnel to and from the site; and news organizations must complete their cabling by 4 p.m. the day of the debate or risk being shut out entirely.

For about two hours after the debate, the media center at the Physical Fitness Center will be open for press to conduct interviews, Slutzsky said.

Arrate Reich, a senior producer for WNJU Telemundo, a Spanish- language NBC affiliate based in Fort Lee, N.J., said she was glad the walk-through was conducted early in the process. “Because it takes a long time to set up for an event of this magnitude,” she said. “So I think it’s helpful to know from the get-go exactly where we need to be.”

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. in April, Reich planned the events for her station, including the pontiff’s visit to Washington D.C., ground zero, a seminary in Yonkers and Yankee Stadium. “Of course, there were a lot of issues to cover with security for those events,” she said.

Last November, Hofstra was selected to host the 90-minute presidential debate, whose topic is foreign policy. Wardwell said the commission surveyed 19 sites, and reacted positively to Hofstra since it showed “an attitude of enthusiasm that we were particularly excited about,” she said.

Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz, who accompanied Wardwell and Slutzsky on the tour, welcomed the responsibility of hosting the debate, primarily to get students more involved in the political process, and, secondarily, to bring attention to the university and the surrounding suburbs, he said.

This spring, Hofstra began hosting a year-long series of programs, lectures, conferences and exhibitions, dubbed Election ’08, offering its students, as well as some area high school students, lessons in the major issues of the debate, presidential politics and history. The programs included talks by political consultants Mary Matalin, James Carville and David Gergen and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. This fall, John Edwards, “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert and former White House press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Ari Fleisher are scheduled to speak.

“We believe that our university has an ethical obligation to try to encourage our students to engage in the democratic process,” Rabinowitz said. “They need to pay attention to it, they need to vote, they need to know that they can be active participants in the democratic process ... It’s for them that we decided to host the debate.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.Please post comments about this article.

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