Mosquitoes, graffiti and uncertainty: history of problems for Whitestone site

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Photos THE COURIER/by Liam La Guerre and courtesy of Artie McCrossen

Retired firefighter Artie McCrossen, his wife, their son, and the family’s dog are the only residents on their side of a Whitestone block.

Their former neighbors moved out and sold their properties decades earlier to the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens for part of the Cresthaven Country Club near the intersection of 150th Street and 6th Avenue. The club, which closed in 1989, was situated on 22 acres and consisted of a catering hall for weddings and other events, pools, and tennis and handball courts.

Catholic Charities once operated a large summer camp on the land where hundreds of children played daily. About 16 acres were sold in 2000 and more than 100 homes were developed, leaving a pesky six-acre plot that surrounds McCrossen’s home on three sides.

The lot has resurfaced in the news lately as developer Fulcrum Real Estate Advisors LLC recently purchased it for about $14 million through a foreclosure auction and plans to begin construction of a 45-home project this summer. But for about a decade McCrossen and his family have been living with the property, which has attracted rodents and garbage, and while developing it could be good, it comes with a level of uncertainty that troubles him.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next door, so should I put more money into this house?” McCrossen said. “I don’t know where I stand here.”

McCrossen, 61, was born and grew up in the home. As a teenager, he worked part time cleaning tennis courts on the land. He was devastated when all the trees were removed from the land for a 50-home plan proposed by Whitestone Jewels LLC, which bought the land from the Catholic Charities in 2006 for $23.3 million.

Whitestone Jewels started construction on a few homes on the property, before running out of money and slipping into foreclosure.

For years, the six acres stayed untouched and the family lived with an imposing baby-blue-colored fence that surrounds the site.

By 2012, the unkempt land fostered swarms of mosquitoes in weeds as high as 5 feet. It also attracted garbage, raccoons, opossums and hard-nosed graffiti artists that made certain to leave their marks across the blue fence. After battles with raccoons and enough mosquito bites for a lifetime, McCrossen enlisted help from state Senator Tony Avella to eventually get the site cleaned up.

McCrossen as well as the rest of the Whitestone community, has been fighting for only single-family homes on the site, and at an even larger vacant site nearby.

While he feels optimistic that this time Fulcrum will be able to develop the site as the community envisions, McCrossen is a little exhausted with the issues of the site over the past decade and hopes to see action soon.

“My main concern is how bad is it going to get before it gets better,” he said. “I’m to the point of just get it over with.”