Peter, Not Joe (joeshlabotnik) wrote,
Peter, Not Joe

Forest Hills (Fake) Gardens

Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, September 9, 2006 - We live in what's perhaps the prettiest neighborhood in the whole city - a square mile or so of mostly Tudor and English Garden-style apartments, townhouses, and mansions, nestled amongst towering trees, all just a 15-minute train ride from Midtown. The neighborhood association has strict architectural guidelines that can be onerous at times (wooden windows, copper gutters, and clay roof tiles are rather expensive to repair and replace), but they do a good job of keeping the neighborhood attractive. The one-year-old mansions fit in so perfectly with the beautiful ninety-year-old mansions that it's hard to tell they're brand new. Considering the crap that is going up in other parts of Forest Hills and the rest of Queens, the guidelines are an added burden I can bear without too much complaining.

The association can tell you what you may and may not do in terms of the exterior of your house, but they don't dictate what you can do in the interior. And oddly, they don't have any specific rules about landscaping. You're free to plant whatever you'd like. Most residents do a decent job with it, and all the yards tend to flow together harmoniously.

One resident, however, most obviously wants to stand out. You can see that in the picture (as always, click the picture for a larger look). The first time we walked by the house (walking through the neighborhood is always such a delight), we were amazed at its profusion of flowers. It wasn't until we stopped for a closer look that we realized that all the flowers were fake! Extremely good-quality fakes, too. The owners probably spend more money and time maintaining their artificial flower hedge than most of our neighbors do with their real plants. Odd as I think it is, it's so well-done that it's barely even tacky. I say more power to them.

One of their neighbors doesn't much like the flowers, though. And this being America, of course he's suing. The ironic part is that this guy's yard is in mediocre shape at best, with its sparse hedge and patches of dead grass. The NY Times wrote about it a few months ago; I don't know what's become of the lawsuit since, but I sure hope he's in the process of losing.


Forest Hills Gardens Journal; From Plastic Blossoms, a Mighty
Resentment Grows


Published: April 20, 2006


Ten miles away from Midtown Manhattan lies Forest
Hills Gardens, one of America's oldest planned communities and one of
New York's more elegant enclaves.

Just out of reach of the roar of Queens Boulevard, this
century-old garden community oozes with civilized serenity. To invoke
Yeats, it is a place where peace comes dropping slow. Chestnut trees
line the privately owned streets and sunlight trickles over the
brickwork. The off-white stucco houses are buttressed with oak timbers
and sprout stately chimneys from their steep, terra-cotta-tiled roofs.

It remains virtually how it was designed a century ago by the
architects Grosvenor Atterbury and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.: an
orderly, precisely planned example of the British ''garden city''

Well, maybe not 93 Puritan Avenue. Atterbury and Olmsted may
not have envisioned this one. It taunts its neighbors with a big wet
Technicolor raspberry. Much of the Tudor home's exterior is rotting and
peeling away, and much of the grounds are a shambles, but the front
yard is meticulously cared for.

It is a forest of artificial Christmas trees bordered by
colorful artificial flowers and knickknacks. There is an inflatable
dinosaur, with figurines of animals and various wind chimes. It has
become such a curiosity over the past decade that it is a staple of
neighborhood walking tours and a favorite drive-by spot for teenagers
and tourists.

The place looks landscaped by Willy Wonka, but it is actually
the work of its owners, Elizabeth Sheridan, 88, and her 53-year-old
son, Michael Sheridan. The two are in front of the house early every
morning, primping and pruning and changing the exhibits. They often
scurry back inside before neighbors step out to work.

For years, it has irked the neighbors, who must adhere to the
Garden's infamously strict standards of taste and demure design. And
now, one of them, a Manhattan lawyer named Peter E. Vairo, who lives
across the street, is fed up.

Mr. Vairo, who said the irked neighbors have not wanted to
make a fuss with the Sheridans or the Gardens' management group, moved
into his Tudor house five years ago. Now he wakes up furious every
morning. ''It's like a punch in the face every time I look out the
window,'' he said. ''Look, they put the brightest colors on the side
facing me, just to bug me. I can't go to my death knowing I didn't do
something about this.''

So last week, Mr. Vairo showed up at Queens Supreme Court in
Jamaica, paid his $210 fee and filed a lawsuit against the Sheridans
and the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, whose board that governs the
community. The suit charges that the board has failed to enforce its
strict aesthetic regulations and has let the Sheridan property become a
public nuisance.

''You have to get board permission to replace your door
knocker here,'' Mr. Vairo said. ''One guy was told by a judge to take
his new garage door down. The rules are made to protect us from people
like this. Since when is landscaping filling your property up with
Christmas trees?''

The Sheridans say they have no intention of selling or
changing their landscaping. But they do intend on countersuing Mr.
Vairo for harassment if he cannot curb his ''obsession'' with them, Mr.
Sheridan said.

Mr. Sheridan wears a tweed blazer, a traditional British flat
cap and longish sideburns. He smokes a pipe and calls his mother
''Mother.'' He is rarely seen without her.

''He has been harassing Mother, who is 88, just for displaying
colorful flowers in her own yard,'' Mr. Sheridan said of Mr. Vairo.

The 147-acre enclave has a population of about 4,500 and has
included Geraldine Ferraro and Branch Rickey as residents.

Robert and Susanna Hof are real estate brokers specializing in
Forest Hills Gardens listings, and they also happen to live on Puritan
Avenue. They said a single-family house half a block away from the
Sheridan house was in contract for ''the low three millions,'' and that
the Sheridan house could likely draw $1.4 million as is -- and up to $2
million if in better shape.

The house once belonged to the textile mogul Ferdinand Lowther
Starbuck, whose forefathers helped settle Nantucket. Mr. Starbuck, who
lived there with his wife and three children, jumped to his death from
the third-floor window in February 1960.

Mr. Sheridan said they were simply beautifying their home.

''We change them every season and decorate for holidays,'' he
said. ''We were here when he bought his house. He knew what he was
getting into.''

''He's brought out the English in us,'' he said of Mr. Vairo.
''We're not compromising. It's a matter of principle and my heels are
dug in. I'll fight him to the end.''

Correction: April 28, 2006, Friday
An article on April 20 about an aesthetic dispute in the planned
community of Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, over one home's landscaping
misidentified the type of tree that lines the streets of the
neighborhood. It is a horse chestnut, not a chestnut.

Tags: newyorkcity

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