HPD to demolish caved-in Jamaica Ave. building

By Sarina Trangle

Woodhaven leaders hope a wrecking ball bound for a partially collapsed Jamaica Avenue building can bring the block back to its foundation as a neighborhood nexus complete with a senior center and volunteer ambulance corps.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association spent months calling for the demolition of the caved-in structure, at 78-19 Jamaica Ave. after the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a senior center operating next door, at 78-15 Jamaica Ave., were displaced due to damage stemming from the collapse.

“The Ambulance Corps, they’re on standby still until something is done with that building. No big repairs have been done because of the damage and concerns that more damage would be done,” said WRBA President Martin Colberg. “Now they can move forward to try to do some repairs and get back on their feet and move the senior center back in.”

The city Department of Buildings took the owner of 78-19 Jamaica Ave. to court because he neglected to fix the former furniture shop after its roof buckled in March 2013.

George Kochabe, head officer of the limited liability company that owns the property, failed to show up in court April 10, and the judge rejected his attorney’s request for an extension, according to the block association.

Kochabe, who at one point had a warrant out for his arrest, declined to comment.

The department then requested that the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development step in and demolish the structure.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said HPD began surveying the building for asbestos and would complete demolition within about a month whether or not any toxins are found.

The senator said the work would be billed to the owner and the city would take out a lien on the property if it goes unpaid.

“I’m so impressed because they got the paperwork from Buildings Friday and Tuesday they are out inspecting,” Addabbo said. “Now I want to get more details on securing it and any structural issues with the back entrance where the senior center was and the back offices of the ambulance corps.”

When the building collapsed last spring, falling bricks and debris damaged an emergency exit to the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the incident led to flooding, toxic mold and mildew at the headquarters, according to a lawsuit the nonprofit filed against the landlord of 78-19 Jamaica Ave.

The Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center that used to rent space from the corps had to relocate, which left the ambulance crew with a financial burden.

Eleven months after the incident, the corps temporarily shut its doors in March 2014 because melting snow from the partially collapsed building began seeping into its headquarters and flooding the facility.

The block association staged rallies March 2 and this past weekend to urge the city to raze the building.

“This building is starting to become the perfect trifecta of what we don’t want in this neighborhood,” Colberg said at this weekend’s rally, according to a video on the corps’s Facebook page. “It’s a magnet for graffiti, it’s a building that’s ready to collapse and it’s something that’s … threatening to take away an institution from this community …. Department of Buildings needs to step up.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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