The head of the company that owns the Woodhaven building that partially collapsed last year appeared in Queens Criminal Court last Friday and was ordered to immediately hire an architect and file for a work permit for the corner structure at 78-19 Jamaica Ave.
George Kochabe, the head officer of 78-19 Jamaica LLC, appeared in court after a warrant was issued for his arrest. A judge told him he must retain the architect and file for the work permit before his next court date on April 10 — almost a year to the day after the collapse occurred.
The vacant building Kochabe owns partially collapsed on April 12, 2013. No one was injured, but the collapse rained bricks onto 79th Street, crushing a minivan and damaging the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps building next door.
The city has slapped thousands of dollars in fines on Kochabe, but he has paid most of the fines.
However, an arrest warrant was issued for him over $60,000 that was not paid and for doing work without a permit. The warrant forced Kochabe into court, where the judge issued the decision last week.
The order comes as Woodhaven residents are increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in demolishing or fixing the building that they are concerned continues to be a looming danger to pedestrians walking along busy Jamaica Avenue.
They now also worry the collapse may put the ambulance corps, whose headquarters has been rendered unusable by the incident, out of business.
The collapse forced the relocation of the Woodhaven Senior Center, which used the corps building. That also meant the financially strapped corps was no longer receiving rent money from Catholic Charities, which operates the senior center. Because of the lack of revenue, members of the corps fear they will not have the funds to continue operating.
The corps itself was able to operate out of a portion of the building for a while, but was evicted after a leak was discovered stemming from melting snow that had accumulated in a collapsed portion of the next-door building. Several sources said the FDNY warned the corps that its building may have suffered structural damage as a result, though the Buildings Department told the corps owners that there was no risk to the building.
The ambulance corps cannot use the building at all now and is effectively not in operation. A sign on the door says it is closed and Kathy Sexton Dalby, president of the corps, said she didn’t feel safe inside the building.
Woodhaven residents and civic leaders rallied outside of the collapsed building on Sunday afternoon, demanding the city move immediately to tear it down or have it repaired.
“It is shameful that this problem has stretched on for as long as it has. It’s time for the city to resolve this once and for all,” Martin Colberg, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, said in a statement. “Not only does the current situation put us all at risk — every pedestrian who passes by, every car that drives by — but it might also kill the ambulance corps, which would be a terribly unfair outcome. The city must take action now.”
Colberg’s predecessor, Ed Wendell, said he isn’t sure the ambulance corps could survive several more months even if Kochabe is forced to make repairs to the building. The April 10 deadline set by the judge is only for paperwork to be filed. Actual repairs or demolition could take many more months, perhaps years.
“April 10 is another five or six weeks away,” he said. “They may not last that long.”
In the meantime, Kochabe is also facing two civil suits.
One is from a contractor hired by him to fix the building before the April 12 incident. A construction worker alleged that he was injured internally and externally and rendered disabled by the collapse, though the FDNY had stated were was no injuries.
The volunteer ambulance corps also filed a civil case against 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC for $8 million in damages.