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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Cazim Mustajfa, Edin Gjoni and Nazim Hodzic of the Albanian-American Islamic Center in Glendale on Sept. 7.

June 24, 2017, was supposed to be a night of celebration for the members of the Albanian-American Islamic Center in Glendale, as the next day marked the end of their month of fasting for Ramadan.

As an added bonus, the owners of the mosque just launched a promising investment six months prior by purchasing the commercial buildings next door at 72-12, 72-10 and 72-08 Myrtle Ave. Just after 9 p.m. that night, however, their excitement quite literally came crashing down.

“It was really terrible,” said Edin Gjoni, Imam of the mosque. “We were expecting people to be in here, and the mosque was filled with smoke.”

The Farmer’s Market at 72-10 Myrtle Ave. suddenly went up in flames and the four-alarm blaze gutted the property, including the two apartments above it and a restaurant supply store beside it. Since then, the ownership group from the mosque has seen their investment turn into a complete loss as they constantly fight to restore the property to what it once was.

Gjoni, along with mosque vice president and co-founder Cazim Mustajfa and secretary Nazim Hodzic, welcomed QNS into the mosque on Sept. 6 to tell their story after local residents began raising concerns about the burnt-down buildings that are still in a state of disrepair. In a previous article highlighting those concerns, QNS had been unable to get in touch with the mosque before press time.

Some of the primary complaints were about the expired permits for the sidewalk shed and shoring work from the fire. Despite claims from the community that the building had never been worked on, Hodzic explained that all of the shoring work to make the interior of the buildings safe, structurally sound and remove the food and other debris has been completed.

Hodzic also explained that he renewed the permit for the sidewalk shed as of Aug. 1, which is now posted at the site.

Their struggles with DOB began much earlier, however, when in February the ownership group’s initial request to reconstruct the building was denied by the department. According to the zoning resolution determination form obtained by QNS, the request was denied because no structural assessment report or construction drawings for the project had been filed yet.

Since the destroyed buildings were non-conforming but grandfathered into the current zoning, the owners needed that determination in order to rebuild them to their original state. Without it, they would have to build a structure that was conforming to the zoning laws.

A DOB spokesperson in the previous article had no knowledge of this denial.

Then, the architect for the project, Gerald Caliendo, secured a meeting with DOB Queens Borough Commissioner Derek Lee who gave his permission to go ahead with the intended plans, Hodzic said. After several more months went by, the mosque finally received the official plans from Caliendo and the pre-filed work permit appeared in the DOB records on Aug. 29.

While the project is finally making some headway, the confusion and miscommunication along the way has been crippling for the owners.

“The biggest victims of all this are us,” Gjoni said. “We were in a lot of debt, and every day actually we are losing.”

The drawings shown to QNS describe that the site will be restored to its original state, with three commercial units on the ground floor and two apartments above one of them. After that, the owners intend on eventually adding a second floor with studio apartments above the other two commercial units as well.

Gjoni, Hodzic and Mustajfa ultimately wanted to make it clear to the community that they have been “fighting tooth and nail” to get the reconstruction of the buildings underway. One of the last hurdles is to find a contractor that will do the work, and the owners are in discussions with interested companies.

First opened in 2002, the mosque has become entrenched in the community and every one of its board members serve on a volunteer basis, Gjoni said. They have sacrificed more time than they ever planned on, but they also expressed their gratitude to Lee, Assemblyman Mike Miller, Councilman Robert Holden, the 104th Precinct and others for supporting them and offering to help in many ways.

“It’s really been an excruciating process, and we have been working all the time to hopefully bring it back to something that will help the community,” Hodzic said.

 

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