A lonely cricket chirped its morning song, echoing over even the cacophony of airplane jets, auto engines, and the screech of passing subway trains. The cricket was the metaphorical needle in a haystack, lying hidden among the overgrown weeds and yellow wildflowers that grow without care.
Seen on a map, the northwest corner of Cohancy Street and North Conduit Avenue looks like prime real estate. Located just off the busy Belt Parkway, adjacent to the Aqueduct-North Conduit subway station and steps from Aqueduct Racetrack and Resorts World Casino New York City, the site appears to be an ideal place for a general store, deli or restaurant. Every day, dozens of people stroll by heading for the subway. The site is passed by traffic heading west on North Conduit Avenue toward Cross Bay Boulevard and traffic into and out of Howard Beach looking to avoid the busy boulevard.
But no busy commercial or even residential establishment sits on the corner. Instead, the 35,000-square-foot site is home to overgrown weeds, dilapidated buildings, a noticeable amount of litter and chirping crickets.
The site belongs in a “hall of shame,” said Howard Kamph, president of the Ozone Park Civic Association, who has been seeking some maintenance of the plot, which has been vacant for decades. He said the site is not only an eyesore, but also a safety hazard, especially for commuters who walk past the area to and from the subway station at night and early in the morning.
“Somebody could get pulled in the back of the building, get mugged, raped and murdered and no one would ever find your body,” Kamph warned.
At one time, the corner was home to a business. A gas station and auto body shop sat on the site, with just the old garages remaining as ruins representing a different time period. In winter months, the signs advertising “lubrication” and “repairs” can be seen, but in the middle of August, the entire garage is engulfed in greenery. Kamph said a newsstand existed on the site for a short time but did not survive.
“There’s no parking,” he said. “All you get is customers who walk by.”
The site is actually four different lots. Two are completely vacant while the other two host the abandoned service station, built in 1955, and a red brick building that looks like it was once a home, built about a century ago, according to Buildings Department records. Behind the site, a construction company does business, the only sign of any commerce in the area. The neighborhood surrounding the land is less dense than most of Southwest Queens. Unkempt meadows are just as common as homes here and the stretch of Cohancy Street just north of North Conduit Avenue is devoid of sidewalks.
For a time, furniture was sold on the site off the back of a truck that allegedly came from North Carolina, but that business was shut down in 2007 after the owner of the lot was given a summons from the Buildings Department.
That same year, Kamph contacted then-Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr. about the land and Addabbo reached out to the Department of Sanitation, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the owner of the lot closest to the intersection, Theresa Soffos. In his letter to Soffos, Addabbo requested the owner put a fence on the property, which did later occur. The owners of the lots received warning notices from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Sanitation issued violations at that time.
But five years later, little has changed.
Today, the red building is being swallowed by overgrowth, its windows boarded up by rotting plywood. A newer sign, advertising a day care center, hangs from the roof, but is being obscured by overgrown weeds. A larger, more visible, ad for nearby real estate stands next to the sidewalk. Kamph said he was not sure if the signs were posted illegally or if the owner had allowed them to be placed there.
In an email to Kamph earlier this month, Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said Sanitation has since come at the board’s request, and the owners of the lots are billed by the city for the cleanup.
Kamph said he would like to, at the very least, see a new fence installed at the site, preferably one with privacy slats so no one could see or get in.