City should take over vacant Whitestone lot: Avella

City should take over vacant Whitestone lot: Avella
Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

An abandoned plot of land in Whitestone has been an eyesore and health hazard in the community for around a decade, and a lawmaker said the city has passed the buck onto private agencies without ensuring something is done.

The triangular lot at the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and 24th Road has been festering for more than 10 years, according to neighbor Felisa Regoso.

“The rats go into our houses, and during summer all the mosquitoes are not healthy for my kids,” said Regoso, who lives next door to the lot.

The property, at 24-19 Francis Lewis Blvd., is home to huge trash containers filled with construction waste, a large industrial truck, steel beams and long planks of wood. There are random piles of garbage around the lot — even a kitchen sink.

Peter Brancazio, president of the North East Flushing Civic Association, said the neglect has gone on long enough.

“If kids go in there, they could get hurt,” Brancazio said. “It’s an eyesore. There’s a big, long fence covered with graffiti.”

Brancazio and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called on the city to follow through with forcing the owner of the lot to clean it up or getting a new owner altogether.

No one paid taxes on the property after 2009, according to Avella, so the city Department of Finance put a tax lien on the property to recoup the outstanding balance.

That tax lien then could be theoretically sold for the outstanding amount to another party who might be interested in the property. If the original owner of the property fails to pay back the cash, the lien holder can foreclose on the property.

In this case, the property owner owed $15,809.86 in back taxes and fees to the city Sanitation Department.

Finance, which is responsible for collecting taxes, sold that lien off to the New York City Tax Lien Trust, a entity that then sells the liens to individuals or companies.

When contacted by Avella, Finance said the lien existed on the property. After being sold to the trust, it was being handled by a lien-servicing company called Xspand.

But in an Oct. 25 letter, a representative from Xspand said it was not handling any liens on the property. A lien originally existed but was removed from the sale list this year, the letter said.

On the website of Finance, a list of liens for 2011 did not include the property.

“Here’s a perfect example that the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand,” Avella said, noting that the city thought Xspand was handling the lien when it was never sold off to begin with.

Avella and Brancazio want something to be done with the property. They suggested the city buy the land and turn it into a greenspace.

The triangular plot once held a real estate company, and a rusted sign on the lot still reads “Barrett Real Estate.”

But the lot is actually zoned for residential use, and its odd shape makes it unlikely someone would want to build a house, according to Brancazio.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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