Building kicks butt: Condo votes no smoking

By Jennifer Gould Keil and Leonard Greene
New York Post, May 17, 2013

A towering 650-unit condominium complex in Manhattan has become the largest smoke-free residential building in the country, homeowners said yesterday.

“I can finally breathe,” said Deloris Seiler, 82, a resident of Union Square’s 29-story Zeckendorf Towers, which passed a historic smoke-free ban that covers both residential units and the building’s public areas.

“People are not stupid,” Seiler said. “People realize smoking is dangerous even if you are not a smoker.”

While several new condominiums in New York City have prohibited smoking upon opening, Zeckendorf Towers is one of only a handful of condos whose unit owners have voted to transition their buildings to smoke-free complexes.

The April 30 vote came on the heels of a recent Quinnipiac University poll revealing that 59 percent of New Yorkers would prefer to live in a smoke-free building, yet a majority would also prefer that the restriction not be dictated by the city.

The building’s board first began to explore going smoke-free in 2010, after numerous complaints from residents about cigarette smoke.

After confirming that they could legally prohibit smoking by amending the building’s bylaws, the board teamed up with the city Department of Health and the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City.

“This is a growing movement,” said Maria Pico, borough manager for the Manhattan Smoke Free Partnership. “We are protecting and promoting nonsmokers’ air rights in their homes. There is no way to isolate secondhand smoke from coming into your apartment. Sixty-five percent of all air is shared.”

Residents said 85 percent of the owners voted on the policy.

Of those unit owners casting ballots, nearly 84 percent voted in favor of the amendment to prohibit smoking in both residential units and public areas for all new residents.
They also adopted a grandfather clause granting existing owners who smoke a three-year waiver before their units are subject to the smoke-free policy.

“I am thrilled that such a large majority of my neighbors voted to make our building a healthier, safer, and more pleasant place to live,” said homeowner Andrea York.
“It feels great to know that I can sit in my living room and sleep in my bedroom with clean air again.”

But not everybody was on board with the big news.

“It seems unfair,” said Victor Bonilla, 30, who did not vote on the proposal.
“Why can’t you smoke in your own apartment? I think it’s disgusting. I’ve lived in the building for 18 months and never once smelled smoke. “I’m a believer in personal freedom, so as long as I don’t have someone blowing smoke in my face.”

His neighbor, Santa Sgarlato, 48, voted against the measure.

“I didn’t want it,” Sgarlato said. “I didn’t want them telling me what to do in my own apartment, and I’m not even a smoker.”

Additional reporting by Lois Weiss and Antonio Antenucci

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