Arson Owner Decries Taxes, Punks, Graffiti
Chris Kakoulas came to America in 1990, looking for the American dream. He looked around and settled in Rockaway, where he bought a building at 112-16 Rockaway Beach Boulevard with a restaurant at ground level and apartments above.
“I came from Brooklyn and brought money,” he told The Wave in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday. “I was a good citizen and I did what was right.”
Now, however, he is disillusioned with New York City, with Rockaway, with the “punks” who he believes control his neighborhood and with his situation.
And, while his problems really began when the building was torched by young arsonists on July 9, 2003, he believes his trials are typical of those faced by business and property owners in Rockaway.
At about 8:50 p.m. on that night, with thousands of locals on the nearby boardwalk for a beach protest meeting, fire broke out in the pillow of a couch in a second floor apartment. Two young men who went into the building to rouse residents said that there was “some sort of liquid” all over the floor in the apartment.
Eyewitnesses at the scene told investigators that the owner of the building had recently evicted two tenants and that some young men were seen running from the building shortly before they saw the smoke and flames.
Janice Robertson, the owner of Patrick’s, the restaurant that rented space in the building, watched the fire. She never reopened.
On July 14, fire marshals arrested two local 16-year-olds, Daniel Ortiz and Shawn Williams. One of the boys told the Queens District Attorney that they touched off the fire as a favor for a friend and in return for some marijuana.
The two boys, who lived in the St. John’s Residence nearby, said that they set the fire as “a favor” for the two people who had been evicted the day before.
At the time, Kakoulas told The Wave that he was “very bitter” at the system that protected bad tenants while not doing enough for investors.
He has grown even more bitter over the past two years, with $160,000 in renovation expenses and no income to show for it. While insurance paid for a large chunk of the damage, he says that the company fought him all the way and that city bureaucrats forced expensive and unnecessary work while doing nothing about his basic problem.
“The criminal punks who burned down my building are still walking around,” he said. “Those punks have taken over my neighborhood. People come to look at the restaurant as a business investment and see them hanging around and there is no longer any interest in taking over the restaurant.”
“All they do,” he adds, “ is hang out causing trouble and paint graffiti on my building.”
Kakoulas is equally angry at the city.
“Without even looking around, the city raises my taxes,” he says. “They stop me from fixing my building. They support tenants who do not pay. They protect the punks who deface my building.”
The building owner says that the graffiti drawn on his building last week might be the final straw.
“All the city wants to do is punish business owners with more taxes, more fines,” he said. “This is all nonsense.”