2007-02-23 / Front Page

With Doors Wide Open, The Diner's Now Dangerous

Owner, Jeff Sutton, Hiding In Manhattan, Won't Return Wave's Calls
By Brian Magoolaghan

By Brian Magoolaghan

A look inside the former Rockaway Sunset Diner reveals both the mess inside and the windows that face Jamaica Bay, one of the diner's premier attractions. Note the icicles forming on the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. Photo by Brian MagoolaghanA look inside the former Rockaway Sunset Diner reveals both the mess inside and the windows that face Jamaica Bay, one of the diner's premier attractions. Note the icicles forming on the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. Photo 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.

No door here.No door here. 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."

Make it safely to the top of these steps and you can walk right in. The doors have been removed from both sides of the diner's main entrance.
Make it safely to the top of these steps and you can walk right in. The doors have been removed from both sides of the diner's main entrance. 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.

Light fixtures and metal framing hangs from the former diner's rooftop.
Light fixtures and metal framing hangs from the former diner's rooftop. 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.


The diner's exterior and parking lot was covered with trash, ice and cars last week. Photos by Brian Magoolaghan
The diner's exterior and parking lot was covered with trash, ice and cars last week. Photos by Brian Magoolaghan

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