Lonely house faces the end

N.J. homeowner stayed

neighborhood moved away

April 01, 2001|By Blaine Harden | Blaine Harden,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

FORT LEE, N.J. - The next time you feel like complaining about the neighbors, consider what George Di Bouno has to put up with.

His closest neighbor is a huge pile of salt. It moved in next door about 20 years ago. In winter, front loaders growl around the yard in front of the salt pile 24 hours a day. Whenever they back up, they emit a sleep-bedeviling series of beeps.

Not long after the pile of salt moved in, a hulking concrete salt hopper took up residence just beyond Di Bouno's back yard. Trucks from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey rumble beneath it to grab a giant-sized serving of salt before heading off to de-ice the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to Manhattan.

The Jersey-side tower of that bridge looms outside Di Bouno's kitchen window. At night, through the slats of his Venetian blinds, it looks like a prehistoric arthropod with a skeleton of steel. Di Bouno, 60, says he has always loved the look of the bridge, which opened a decade before he was born. But the traffic it now attracts (108 million vehicles last year) has all but obliterated his neighborhood.

A changed landscape

The frame houses that once lined his street were razed to make way for a bridge-side Marriott hotel that was never built. In every direction, spreading out from the vacant lot where the hotel was to have been, there are tollbooths, off ramps, parking lots, queues of idling traffic and, of course, the salt pile. The neighborhood resounds to the incessant yowl of cars and trucks crossing the bridge.

Di Bouno's tidy three-story brick house looks desperately lonely.

"My friends say I am the only person they know who stayed put while the entire neighborhood moved away," he said the other night while sitting in his dining room drinking coffee. He doesn't notice the beeping from the salt pile next door, he said.

For the past 38 years, Di Bouno has commuted from this house to his job as an art teacher at a middle school in River Vale, N.J.

The house is where his grandparents lived after immigrating from Italy. It's where his parents lived throughout their marriage, and where his father died.

Di Bouno lives alone on the top two floors, renting out the ground floor. Except for four years in the 1950s at Montclair State College, it's the only place Di Bouno has ever lived.

Making way for ramp

Next year, though, his house will cease to exist.

He got a letter in December from his neighbor, the Port Authority. The letter said that to accommodate traffic on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, which now connects only to the upper level of the nearby bridge, the authority has to build another ramp. That ramp, the letter said, has to be built on the land beneath Di Bouno's house.

In January, he was invited to bridge headquarters in Fort Lee to watch a video. The computer-generated presentation showed the new ramp curving up from the parkway - on a collision course with his house. The video then showed his house disappearing as the new ramp swept triumphantly to the lower level of the bridge.

"I can't quite remember, as I think back on that video, if my house vaporizes, fades away or explodes," Di Bouno said. "As I sat there watching, I was wondering if the Port Authority thought this video would make me feel good."

The Port Authority has promised to pay fair market value for the house and to compensate him for the cost of moving. The authority would not say how much it will pay for the house, which Di Bouno said was worth at least $200,000.

"We feel bad about this," said Gerard Del Tufo, physical plant manager at the bridge, who explained that in the video the house was "morphed" out of existence. "We are trying to do what is right for the public good. Our intention is not to hurt this person."

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