A Houseboat Skipper’s Battle in Queens

November 15, 2008 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment

Inside his gently bobbing houseboat in the World’s Fair Marina in Queens, George Anton builds other boats: an array of historical ships that includes a 15th-century Spanish galleon, a 12th-century Chinese war junk, and various clipper ships, racing ships and viking ships.

Mr. Anton, 61, spends many months building each model boat, fashioning the tiny ribbing and planking from mahogany. He makes the sails from silk.

But city officials say Mr. Anton has neglected his own boat, and they are now suing him in State Supreme Court in Queens to remove him and his family from the marina.

Mr. Anton lives on the houseboat with his wife, Elena, and their son, Edward, 19, in a 34-foot, two-room houseboat. The city says the Antons are the only year-round people living aboard at this series of docks in Flushing Bay near La Guardia Airport and the Grand Central Parkway and Shea Stadium.
When the Antons moved in 18 years ago, shortly after immigrating from Romania, the marina was privately operated. But in recent years the city has taken over the marina, and it has been citing the Antons for violations, including the lack of proper registration and insurance documentation, and the lack of an engine in his boat, a marina requirement. The boat presents possible safety and environmental concerns, said Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department.

City lawyers say the Antons have failed to address their violations and are in violation of the much more basic rule: that year-round boat living is prohibited at the marina. (The 79th Street Boat Basin, on Manhattan’s West Side, is the only city marina where it is permitted, officials say.)

Mr. Anton says that year-round living was permitted when he moved in and that he should be grandfathered in and permitted to remain among the mostly recreational, seasonal boats that share the pier. Both sides are bracing for a fight, but unlike the city, Mr. Anton does not have taxpayers to finance his legal fees. So he is looking to sell his beloved fleet of model ships, including the sleek racing sailboats and 18th-century sloops.

Elena Anton, 55, works as a bookkeeper in Midtown, and Edward works as a mechanic in College Point. Mr. Anton worked repairing X-ray-machines until becoming disabled with broken vertebrae 10 years ago.

Mr. Anton says he pays about $5,000 a year, including rent and electricity. He warms the place with small electric heaters. He and Elena sleep in a small compartment that has a small bathroom. Edward Anton sleeps in the main upper room, which has a small kitchen area and which George Anton uses during the day as a floating workshop making these intricate mahogany ships, as he sips red wine and listens to recordings by his middle son, Mihail Anton, a professional violinist back in Romania. He has grown accustomed to the soundtrack of low flying jets and seagulls and creaking rigging.

“This ship took me a year and a half to build,” he said, gently setting up a clipper ship with intricate rigging, sails of silk, and sides dusted with silver flake.

The city claims Mr. Anton has dumped waste from his toilets into the bay. Mr. Anton says he is careful to dispose of his waste tanks in the marina toilets. He dismissed the city’s accusations, pointing to a large sewer outflow nearby, which he said spews thousands of gallons of sewage into the bay during rainfalls. He showed snapshots to back up his claim.

“They complain about my toilets, and they’re emptying the whole city’s toilets into this water,” he said. He said he has been an excellent tenant, and he likes to compare the city’s actions to repressive Communist regimes he lived under in Romania.

“Will somebody please tell me where is the freedom in this country?” he said as the evening sun glistened across Flushing Bay.

By Corey Kilgannon
New York Times 

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Entry filed under: Get Wet, Queens. Tags: , , , , .

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