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Queens Chronicle

Collapsed building may now come down

Owner of Woodhaven structure fails to appear in court; case handed to HPD

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2014 10:30 am

Woodhaven residents who have been demanding the city demolish a Jamaica Avenue building that partially collapsed a year ago may finally get their wish. The building could come down within a month.

The owner of the building failed to appear in court for a hearing on April 10 — almost a year to the day since the collapse — allowing the judge to give the city the authority to make the next move.

The structure’s partial implosion occurred on the evening of April 12, 2013. The second floor of the vacant century-old building crumbled, crushing a vehicle. Nobody was injured, but the collapse seriously damaged the building that houses the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps next door, forcing the eviction of the Woodhaven Senior Center and eventually the corps itself after several leaks compromised a wall in the building in February.

With the judge’s decision, the future of the building is now in the hands of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The Department of Buildings has already ordered the demolition of the building, which will be carried out by the HPD through one of their contractors. The HPD has completed a scope of work and an asbestos inspection at the property was done Tuesday to ascertain any predemolition work that may need to be done, when the work can begin and how it will affect the surrounding buildings.

The owner of the property will be billed for the demolition and if he doesn’t pay, a lien will be placed on the property.

Before the collapse, the building had more than 40 violations on file with the DOB.

Multiple attempts to reach the owner, George Kochabe, and his lawyer both last year and this week were unsuccessful.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said if HPD finds no asbestos abatement is needed, the building could be torn down within a month; otherwise it could take several months. The results of the asbestos investigation should be finished later this week.

Addabbo and other elected officials representing Woodhaven called the deputy commissioner of HPD to demand a quick resolution to the problem.

“I impressed upon him how important that building is before it crumbles and then you’re answering to a more serious situation,” he said.

Addabbo said the city was hesitant to act on the building before because it wanted to give the owner his day in court and did not want to give him any reason to act against the city and drag out the process further.

“Now that we see he’s been an absent landlord, the city can move forward,” he said. “I would feel no guilt if I knocked that building down myself. The owner has had ample time to correct the situation.”

Maria Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. and Woodhaven Business Improvement District, said she was glad the city is finally moving forward, but was not surprised that the owner did not show up in court.

“This guy who owns it, if he had all of these violations piled up, is he going to become a nice guy now?” she asked. “It had affected the quality of life of our neighborhood. He’s so disgraceful. He knew what was going on in that building.”

Martin Colberg, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, said he is glad to see movement toward demolishing the building, which he was told could be torn down within a month.

“It’s great news, long past due,” he said. “It’s great that HPD is moving on this.”

He said once the building is demolished, the ambulance corps could move forward on fixing its headquarters and get back up and running again.

Thomson said she wanted senior housing to be constructed in place of the collapsed building and noted that the rezoning of Woodhaven approved in 2012 would allow for greater residential development at the site.

“I’d love to see the senior citizens go back in there and occupy the first floor,” she said. “A lot of senior citizens here, they don’t want to leave Woodhaven when they can’t take care of their houses anymore, but there is no housing for them.”

Welcome to the discussion.