By Joe Anuta
Residents at Bowne Tree in downtown Flushing once enjoyed a grassy courtyard in the middle of their horseshoe-shaped complex until 2000, when a notorious landlord shocked residents by tearing up the greenspace inside and putting another apartment building in its place.
The owner of the complex at the time, Sam Suzuki, eventually constructed a five-story building that sat vacant for more than a decade surrounded by the larger apartment structure, but new permits were filed with the city Department of Buildings last month.
According to the new owner of the building in the middle, the apartments may soon be occupied.
Suzuki’s company sold the horseshoe apartments to another company called JJS Enterprises in 2008 and sold the courtyard building to a company called 143-19 LLC in 2009.
Ji Juan Lin, who is listed as the owner of 143-19 LLC, said in a phone interview that his company is currently making renovations and hopes to rent out the apartments in the interior soon.
Plans for the complex were first approved by DOB in 2000, when management of the apartments surrounding the courtyard sent a letter to tenants informing them of the impending construction.
“Please be advised that management wishes to inform you BowneTree LLC intends to improve the courtyard which is facing 38th Avenue,” the letter said.
Tenants were not happy about the alleged “improvement,” according to Florence Fisher, who runs a civic group dedicated to helping Flushing residents with housing complaints.
“It was nuts. There were several issues,” said Fisher, director of the Queens Community Civic Organization, who took many complaints from the people living in the apartments around the courtyard.
Many of the tenants who agreed to leases thought the courtyard was a basic service that they had signed on for when renting the apartment. Others were furious their once-leafy view of the tall trees which stood in the green space would be replaced with the back of a brick building.
In a message sent to Community Board 7 around the time of construction, a man named Jon Sepe said Suzuki was “ripping history out of Flushing.”
Suzuki, widely known as a slumlord, has made The Village Voice’s Top 10 Worst Landlord list and neglected a Bronx apartment complex to such an extent that a judge had him jailed in 2010.
Many in the community were unsure if Suzuki’s courtyard building was even legal, and CB 7 sent several letters to DOB and to the FDNY wondering if the city’s Bravest could respond to a fire in the complex.
DOB approved the plans because the courtyard is a separate property and zoned for apartment buildings. But it appears Suzuki never got a certificate of occupancy, which is required to use a building for either residential or commercial purposes and is the reason the empty building has sat with plywood over the front doors for the last 12 years.
Fisher said the complex is a symbol of development in Flushing, where no open space is sacred.
“Any little space, any little plot of land is being built on,” she said. “It is so congested down there. It’s terrible.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.