The owner of the abandoned building at 78-19 Jamaica Ave. that collapsed in April 2013 appears to have gotten a reprieve.
The two-story structure crumbled after a rainstorm 15 months ago, crushing a parked car, and was slated to be demolished starting last week. But the owner, George Kochabe, who owns the building through his company, 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC., sued the city for “arbitrary and capricious” conduct in demanding the demolition of the structure, alleging that it was not a public safety issue. The city and the owner settled with the agreement that he would fix the building by mid-October.
The building had been vacant for nearly a year when it collapsed and a vacate order was issued immediately and remains in effect. The city battled with the owner to fix the building, slapping on fines that he paid, before going to court to allow the Department of Buildings to move ahead and demolish the building.
The DOB had already filed permits in May to tear it down, but the settlement means it won’t be torn down — at least not yet.
The demolition had been delayed just a few days before a judge ruled in Kochabe’s favor because the Metropolitan Transit Authority wanted to review the plans and its potential effect on the J train elevated trestle that stands just feet from the building.
Kochabe’s attorney, Elio Forcina, said the situation is “day by day” and can change, but his understanding is that the owner will be given until Oct. 15 to repair the structure and he is filing for permits to repair the problem. The DOB lists two permits, one filed June 27 and another July 14 to repair the second floor. The court order allowing the city to tear down the structure expired July 16.
“It’s not going to be a full demolition,” Forcina said. “It’s going to be fixed up to be made anew.”
Forcina said the owner has not repaired the building as of yet because of issues with his insurance company and Kochabe had to go into litigation to get his payout.
“If it wasn’t for the insurance company, he would have fixed it a long time ago,” he said.
But that was of little comfort to some civic leaders like Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, who said she doesn’t have any faith that the owner will rebuild the structure.
“This guy is really some character,” she said. “I don’t know what games he’s playing, but all of a sudden he wants to fix it up? I don’t believe it.”
The collapse left the financially strapped Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Ambulance Corps, which is located next door, in dire straits. Members were forced out of their headquarters for several weeks by the collapse, then again in February after melting snow leaked into the ambulance corps building. The Woodhaven Senior Center, which also operated in the ambulance corps building, had to be relocated, taking with it rent money that the corps survived on.
Thomson said she is afraid the building becomes more and more dangerous every day.
“The longer he lets it stay there, the more likely it is to fall down more,” she said, adding she wanted to see the building completely demolished and replaced with a senior housing development.