Common Sense: Neighborhood Preservation

The frustrations of the Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge communities over the issue of illegal home conversions came out loud and clear at the town hall held recently at the John Hughes Council of the Knights of Columbus.

The overflowing crowd of 300-plus residents wanted answers to what is becoming a growing health, safety and quality-of-life issue.  Illegal conversions in which two and three-family homes are essentially converted illegally into single room occupancy (SROs) residences housing as many as a dozen families can be found on many blocks and avenues.

These conversions become a strain on all city services and in their own right are dangerous and by definition in violation of their certificate of occupancy.

The city Buildings Department, Housing Preservation and Development Department and Fire Department were represented at the meeting.  Buildings and Housing had more excuses then answers to questions posed by event Chairperson Fran Vella-Marrone, which brought the crowd several times to a boil.

Fran, in fact, did an excellent job in keeping control which I feel was in no small part due to the crowd appreciating her depth of knowledge and probing questions.

Local elected officials including State Senator Marty Golden proposed legislation that would increase criminal penalties for the developers and owners of illegal conversions under certain circumstances. The senator also proposed a local task force which is being put in place that would keep pressure on city agencies.

The bottom line seems to be that, up until now, the city has not made every effort to gain entry to likely illegal conversions in order to issue violations and vacate orders. The city seems to do a better job in Queens — which has similar problems — than it does in Brooklyn.  No explanation was given for this disparity.

Bob Cassara, a Dyker Heights resident who has put many volunteer hours into addressing this issue, and Fran deserve a great deal of credit for organizing this town hall and preparing a format that in a professional manner explained to the city agencies the problem as it affects Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, and followed up with thoughtful questions. Their efforts will undoubtedly result in the city finally taking meaningful action.


Vinnie Gentile is certainly singing a different tune these days on right to life than the one he had when he was interviewed back in the 1990s for State Senate by the Conservative Party. Back then, when seeking the Conservative Party endorsement for State Senate, Gentile told the party’s Brooklyn executive committee that he was pro-life. In fact, it was one of his strongest selling points in his effort to secure the endorsement.

Fast forward to the other night on cable television’s “Inside City Hall” political show, during which he led off by pushing his pro-choice position. I guess, from a political perspective, Gentile’s flip-flopping on abortion over the years makes him a real pro.


I recently had an opportunity to attend the final two days of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. The event was absolutely packed – 11,000 people I am told attended. Among them were several thousand college students from around the country who were quite animated in their support for conservative philosophical and political goals.

There were many great speakers and countless important points made during the conference.  It was clear that in 2016, for the first time in many presidential election cycles, foreign policy and national security were going to be the major themes.

Also former Congressmember and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who is toying with a possible presidential run, showed in a keynote speech at the conference’s Reagan dinner that he could easily go toe to toe with the current presidential field.

The conference had a number of individuals from the Conservative Party in attendance including Mike Long, Liam McCabe, Christine Sisto, Maureen Daly and her sister Marie Daly.

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