Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Hempstead Town Official Busted For Home Renovations Without Permits

What's good for the goose is supposed to be good for the gander. Apparently, this isn't the case in ye olde Town of Hempstead.

In fact, it was discovered that none other than the Commissioner of the Town's Building Department, John Loeffel -- a fixture of Hempstead Town Hall for some 38 years -- failed to apply for and obtain the necessary permits, making extensive renovations to his Levittown house, thus evading not only the law and required permit fees, but avoiding thousands of dollars in property taxes.

Loeffel -- who, coincidently, resides on the same Levittown Street as Town Supervisor Kate Murray (who, apparently, never noticed the conversion of a Levittown cape to a 3-story colonial) -- headed up a department charged with enforcing the Town's building codes.

Instead of going by the book, it would seem that Loeffel was intentionally sidestepping the rules, at the literal expense of his neighbors, who now pick up Loeffel's property tax tab.

Is it any wonder that there are so many illegal basement apartments in the Town of Hempstead -- let alone obvious building code violations that go unabated and unpunished -- when those charged with watching the hen house are themselves the wolves beating down the hen house door?

Power corrupts. And absolute power at Hempstead Town hall, as it has existed under cover of darkness in the hands of a single political party for more than 100 years, corrupts absolutely.

An aberration at the top of the Town's monolith, or a crack in the very foundation that threatens to undermine the integrity of the entire structure?

If not for the inquisitve nature of an investigative reporter, soon to be ex-Commissioner Loeffel's playing loose with the law would most certainly have gone unnoticed -- by those outside the confines of Hempstead Town hall, anyway.

"Levittown votes yes," exclaimed Town Councilman Gary Hudes when the Republican majority on the Hempstead Town board rubber-stamped Loeffel's appointment as Buildings Commish last December (Democrat Dorothy Goosby casting the lone vote in opposition). Now, Town of Hempstead residents are left to ask, "Why?"

The cleansing light of day is beginning to seep through the windows of the house Mondello built. The secret codes -- or at least the building code violations -- are being exposed. And the self-dealing, no-one-is-looking, get-away-with-everything-you-can attitudes that all too frequently corrupt a government too long in office and too short on oversight, is finally catching up to Hempstead Town.

Keep on digging, folks. Just remember to get those permits!
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Failure to file his own renovations
Hempstead's building chief expands home without permits and avoids paying full taxes, officials say.

By Eden Laikin

Hempstead Town's buildings commissioner added a second floor to his Levittown cape without the necessary permits and has been paying taxes based on an assessment for a smaller, one-story residence, according to town and county records.

John Loeffel, who rose from deputy commissioner to the town's $112,398-a-year commissioner in December, should have paid about $2,200 more in property taxes this past year for his Knoll Lane home, said County Assessor Harvey Levinson. He said an exact figure will be determined today.

After a reporter's inquiry Monday, Supervisor Kate Murray, who also lives on Knoll Lane, confirmed the town had no record of permits for the renovations or alterations and sent inspectors to the property. "Now that we know ... ," Murray's spokesman, Mike Deery, said, "the building department has issued violations."

By afternoon, Murray, who had supported Loeffel's appointment as commissioner, asked the 38-year town employee to resign. A spokesman said Loeffel had indicated he will resign.

Loeffel, who was a code enforcement officer for 10 years before eventually taking over the building department, did not return calls to his home and office seeking comment. The department is charged with ensuring all town residences and businesses are up to code.

Monday, building inspectors served Loeffel, 58, at his home with two notices of violations. One was for "construction/alterations without a permit" and the other was for plumbing work in the new upper floor without a permit, town officials said.

It's unclear when Loeffel turned the one-story cape into a two-story Colonial. However, a February 2001 picture of the former structure is still shown on the county assessor's Web site.

Yet an aerial view of the property shows the renovated home has three stories. A source said the top floor was an attic, used for storage.

"This is really awful," Levinson said. "I presumed ... there was a logical explanation for this, that a building commissioner would never take this chance. But I think we should learn from this example and impose a penalty for people who make significant improvements to homes where the value increases substantially in market value without getting permits."

Anecdotally, Levinson added, unpermitted renovations in Levittown and East Meadow are widespread. He estimated that as much 15 percent of the homes in Levittown that require permits do not have them.

In 2006-2007, there were 1,114 permits issued in Levittown for both commercial and residential alterations or improvements, assessor's records show.

"Every time you build without a permit, it results in a higher tax rate," Levinson said. "He is paying less property taxes than he should and everybody in Levittown is paying more in school taxes."

Loeffel's house is taxed on an assessed value of $346,000. Loeffel pays $7,496.54 in property taxes a year, including $4,964.72 in school taxes and $2,531.82 in town taxes.A Republican town committeeman, Loeffel began working for the town in 1969 in the public safety department before moving to the building department in 1988, records show.

When he was appointed to head the department, Murray praised Loeffel, calling him a "dedicated member of the building department."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

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