Civic Keeps Pressure On Owner
Frustration continued among Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) members during the group’s meeting last Saturday, Aug. 16, at Emanuel United Church of Christ over a lack of action regarding a Jamaica Avenue structure that partially collapsed nearly 18 months ago.
After waiting over a year for a resolution, the community will have to wait some more as last month Queens Civil Court Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwan allowed the owner, George Kochabe, until October to either demolish or rebuild 78-19 JamaicaAve.. When the roof buckled in spring 2013, it damaged the adjacent building which housed the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center.
Because the building lies near the elevated J/Z subway line, Housing and Preservation Development needed permission from the MTA to demolish the building, it was noted. This was granted, but a judge again delayed the razing after the building’s owner sued the city.
The senior center was forced to relocate, and the ambulance corps is now struggling to survive, some members noted.
Though the ambulance corps has secured a pro bono attorney to represent them in court, “they still have to pay taxes and they still have to pay insurance,” and are fighting to remain solvent, according to former WRBA president Ed Wendell.
“But they have no money coming in. I don’t know how long they can hang on,” he said.
Wendell announced that a spaghetti dinner will be held next month to raise funds to support the the ambulance corps.
“They’ve got legal fees that they have to pay to stay alive,” he said. “They’re in limbo.”
State Sen. Joe Addabbo has penned a letter to Pineda-Kirwan urging that a timely resolution be brought about. At Saturday’s meeting, an aide to Addabbo, Neil Giannelli, read it aloud to attendees.
In the letter, Addabbo asks the judge to allow the city to “proceed with the demolition of said building for the betterment of the Woodhaven community and its residents … In my opinion, Mr. Kochabe has directly negatively impacted the health and safety of my constituents in Woodhaven,” he said.
“Our elected officials have been backing us on this,” WRBA President Martin Colberg said.
Colberg said he sent an email to the Department of Buildings in July, and recently followed up with another message. He also urged more letters from group members.
“We’re on it,” Giannelli said. “We’re sending letters and making phone calls.”
After the building was damaged, inclement weather brought copious amounts of moisture and water into the ambulance headquarters. Many WRBA members, including Colberg are concerned that if a resolution is not reached by the fall or winter, it will receive further damage.
“We’re getting into winter. With every snow, every rain what’s going to happen,” Colberg said.
“The damage continues … every time it rains,” Wendell said.
The owner bears much of the responsibility for the collapse, according to WRBA member Vance Barbour.
“He took down bearing walls … and the roof caved in,” and “has a history of not doing what is required of a property owner,” he said.
“The guy had 40 something violations before it even collapsed,” Wendell said.
He told the Times Newsweekly on Tuesday, Aug. 20, that it’s been 465 days since the roof collapsed, but Kochabe’s lawyer continues to claim it is not a danger to the community.
Wendell however believes the damaged building, the forced relocation of the senior center and the negative impacts to the ambulance corps have all damaged the community.
“It leaves a hole in the sense that what they provided will no longer be there,” he said of the all-volunteer ambulance corps.
Colberg expressed his frustration with the months long process and said, “I think it just shows some of these laws and procedures are out of date.”
P.O. Jose Severino of the 102nd Precinct Community Affairs Unit updated the group on the deception burglary scam which has become prevalent in the area. He explained that crooks “walk around pretending to be from a utility company,” to gain entry into a house, Severino said.
Phony workers will knock on doors in neighborhoods while dressed like service workers, and “they prey on the elderly,” he said.
Severino advised residents to always ask for identification before letting anyone inside their home or answering any questions, and that all city and state employees must have proper identification.
“So don’t be conned, question people,” he said.
He also touched on the importance of keeping aware while walking to avoid injury and emphasized the importance of street safety.
“A lot of people walking, crossing the street have their heads down in their phone,” he said. “Sometimes the pedestrian is at fault too.”
The next scheduled meeting of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association will be held Thursday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. at the American Legion Post 118, located at 89-02 91st St., in Woodhaven.