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Queens Chronicle

Woodhaven fuming over building ruling

At civic meeting, anger over delayed demolition of collapsed structure

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Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:41 am, Thu Aug 28, 2014.

It may be the dog days of August, but nothing seems to be slowing down for the summer in Woodhaven.

The monthly meeting of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association drew a high-energy crowd to the Emanuel United Church of Christ on 91st Avenue Saturday morning.

A highlight was the status of the partially collapsed building at 78-19 Jamaica Ave., a former furniture store whose rear collapsed in April 2013, raining bricks into the street.

Last month residents were troubled to hear that George Kochabe, who owns the building through 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC., sued the city for demanding he demolish it, on grounds that the structure is not a public safety issue. He won a ruling last month that allowed him until October to repair the structure.

Many disagree, and distrust Kochabe’s promise to fix problems.

“I’m wondering if this happened in Williamsburg or Chelsea or somewhere else, if we’d be having this discussion 16 months later,” said Martin Colberg, president of the WRBA, adding that the site attracts graffiti.

“It’s not just the graffiti, the garbage is terrible,” one woman added. She said the barely lit “pig sty” sometimes compels people to urinate on the site.

“We’re on it, we’re making phone calls, we’re sending letters,” Neil Giannelli, from state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr.’s (D-Howard Beach) office, who also lives in Woodhaven, said.

Several residents bashed the judge who issued the ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Diccia Pineda-Kirwan, alleging that she “doesn’t care about the neighborhood.”

The damage caused the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center, operating in the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Ambulance Corps building next door, to relocate due to debris obstructing the emergency exit. The corps itself also was forced to relocate, though it moved back in eventually only to be evicted again in February when rainwater flooded its space. Without rent from the center, the ambulance corps is floundering.

In an open letter to the judge overseeing the case, WRBA’s immediate past-president, Ed Wendell, stressed time is precious, even with an October deadline.

“Each day of inaction is another nail in the coffin of the ambulance corps,” Wendell wrote. “When it rains, it rains inside their building. The walls are now covered in mold.”

The WRBA and area elected officials are throwing a 1950s-themed pasta party fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Emanuel United Church of Christ. Tickets are $20 and all proceeds will go to the corps’ legal bills and other expenses.

“They’ve still got money going out, they’re still paying their taxes, they’re still paying their insurance,” Wendell said. “They’ve got no money going in. They’re just about dead. They’re hoping they can hold on for another few months.”

The civic group also addressed ongoing issues like frustration over graffiti, noise complaints and parking, which is a growing concern due to Mayor de Blasio’s plan to add 200,000 affordable housing units citywide.

Angel Vazquez, chief of staff to Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), shared his concerns over whether the plan includes basement apartments.

“They promote absentee landlordship,” said Vazquez, who is also running for district leader. “You can’t convince me that these people are not going to come with a vehicle as well, which is going to mess up the parking situation even more.”

Some residents expressed concern about traffic when school starts at PS 97 and the new universal pre-K program in the nearby Woodhaven branch of the Queens Public Library.

Police Officer Jose Severino, a community affairs officer from the 102nd Precinct, suggested the precinct could speak to school parent coordinators. He could not promise any kind of presence, however, explaining there are over 25 schools in the precinct.

Severino also warned residents against scammers who pretend to be maintenance workers to gain access into homes. He stressed that anyone working for a city or state agency will have proper identification and told residents to call agency headquarters if workers unexpectedly arrive.

Kate Mooney, from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s (D-Glendale) office, updated the residents on the Mary Whelan Park project on Park Lane South at 79th Street, expected to begin next year. Crowley is allocating $1 million to upgrade the park to have upgraded amenities like a ramp for children with disabilities.

The park, commemorating the late civic leader, was last upgraded in the early 1990s.

Residents were not thrilled to hear again that the park would not have restrooms. Mooney explained it would cost $6 million to install a comfort station, pointing out the high cost of a below-ground plumbing system. Accumulating funds would take years.

“It’s something that’s a lack absolutely. But, you need to have the bucks for it,” Mooney said.

The WRBA also mentioned upcoming community events.

• WRBA memeber Vance Barbour plugged the Great Woodhaven Yard Sale, planned for Sept. 27. The civic group aims to engage residents via Facebook, inviting those participating to share photos of items for sale. For more details, visit projectwoodhaven.com.

• The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society’s All Saints Church Cemetery cleanup is Saturday, Sept. 13, at 9 a.m.

• The WRBA’s 43rd annual fundraiser is on Friday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 pm.

The next town hall is Thursday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. at the American Legion Hall at 89-02 91 St. HeartShare Human Services of New York, which plans to build a group home in the community, is expected to be at the meeting.

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