With Doors Wide Open, The Diner's Now Dangerous
By Brian Magoolaghan
The former diner property in Rockaway Park isn't just a piece of prime real estate locked in limbo by a big-time Manhattan real estate company anymore - it's fast becoming an eyesore, and a dangerous one at that.
Wave reporters noted last week that three doors, including the main entrance to the property located at 116-11 Beach Channel Drive have been removed, which means anyone can walk right in. And this week, the property received its first violation and a complaint from the Department of Buildings since it was sold to Wharton Realty, a real estate company that specializes in multi-million dollar deals and nationally recognized retail stores.
Photos published earlier this month in The Wave revealed the destruction of the former diner's interior: light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, booths and counters demolished and debris strewn about the entire dining area. HVAC units on the roof have been removed, which damaged the once-glitzy parapet and is allowing precipitation into the building. The dining area was filled with about an inch of water during a visit in late January; last week it was frozen solid.
With the doors open to anyone, and potentially dangerous conditions waiting inside, some are beginning to fear that the property is a disaster waiting to happen. It's no secret that the peninsula's abandoned buildings are frequently the scene of fires started by trespassers during winter cold spells.
At least one homeless person was observed on the property this week.
Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska both became aware of the situation this week. They reacted with dismay and then reported the condition to the city.
On Tuesday, the property received a violation from Buildings for "work without a permit." A day later a complaint was registered. It cited "building vacant, open and unguarded."
After a meeting on the reconstruction of the Beach 116 Street subway station and the surrounding city-owned storefronts, Pheffer's Chief of Staff JoAnn Shapiro reported the open-doors condition to 311, the city's non-emergency response line.
"It's very disappointing," Pheffer said. "We're working so hard and now we're seeing this abandoned building.
"It's very upsetting that they rushed to buy it and now they're just sitting on it."
Gaska put it this way: "It's surprising that it has been a year and they haven't done anything. It is a bit bizarre. That's one of Rockaway's most expensive commercial properties."
Gaska said the city would eventually seal the building and bill Wharton Realty, but the diner remained open when The Wave went to press.
The Wave left several messages for Jeff Sutton, a representative of Wharton Realty who has been described as a savvy real estate investor who owns dozens of properties. He is listed in Department of Finance records as the manager of 116-11 Beach Channel Drive LLC, which holds the deed to the former diner. Sutton did not return our calls seeking comment.