2007-03-02 / Community

Wave Gets Answers On Deteriorating Diner

By Brian Magoolaghan It's not their fault.

By Brian Magoolaghan
It's not their fault.

Plywood covers one of the main entrance doors to the former diner this week.Plywood covers one of the main entrance doors to the former diner this week.

That's what the fired-up owner of the Sunset Diner property in Rockaway Park and a representative for lessee HSBC bank told The Wave this week in response to our probe into dangerous conditions at the prominent and fast-deteriorating site.

Jeff Sutton, the Manhattan-based real estate mogul who holds the deed to the property, called The Wave this week to vent his frustration with our story last week in which we reported that three doors to the property were removed, allowing anyone to walk right it. This newspaper also reported that HVAC units were removed from the roof, allowing precipitation to enter through the damaged ceiling and other conditions such as exposed wiring, dangling light fixtures and seemingly unsafe conditions on the exterior.

Vagrants have also been seen lurking around the former diner.

Sutton, who was furious at The Wave's suggestion that he was "Hiding in Manhattan" because he did not return our calls last week, said HSBC has leased the property and is now solely responsible for the conditions there.

"We turned over the space to HSBC, they net-leased the building," Sutton said on Thursday. "We have no ability to even walk on the premises.

"I have a perfect reputation in this industry - impeccable reputation," Sutton fumed. "I own over 100 buildings and for you to write what you wrote - that I'm hiding - is disgusting. I was recuperating from very difficult shoulder surgery."

Sutton's secretary indicated last week that The Wave's detailed messages were being sent directly to Sutton and suggested that he would be able to respond quickly.

"I don't hide from anyone," Sutton maintained. "If you really wanted to help something you would go to the authorities and the authorities would dig in and do what they have to do."

The Wave reported last week that upon learning of the worsening conditions at the former diner, Community Board District Manager Jonathan Gaska and a representative for Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer reported the conditions to the Department of Buildings.

The diner's foundation was spattered with racist and hateful graffiti this weekend, which is under investigation by police.

On Monday, Buildings slapped a "Stop Work" order on the property for "work without a permit" and "failing to maintain the building interior." 116-11 Beach Channel Drive LLC, the limited liability corporation of which Sutton is manager, is listed on the paperwork for Building's "Stop Work" order. The property was boarded up early this week.

Stephen Cohen, a spokesperson for HSBC, confirmed that a lease has been signed and told The Wave that the bank's hands are tied until it obtains the proper permits.

"I think at this point we really also are entirely limited in what we can do without permits to continue work," said Cohen, who described the situation as a "municipal holdup."

"We're presently awaiting final signoff from the Department of Environmental Protection to proceed with our application and to continue work on the site," Cohen said.

When asked about the demolition work and apparent metal scrapping that has already taken place, for which no Buildings permits were obtained or even applied for according to the agency's records, Cohen said the work wasn't performed by HSBC contractors and that he's not sure who did it.

Cohen, whose comments shed the most light on the diner's future since it was sold about a year ago, said that a perimeter fence would be erected as soon as a demolition permit was obtained, and that its sewer issues with the DEP is serving as a major hold-up.

"HSBC is anxious to proceed with construction and to become a part of the community as soon as possible," said Cohen. "HSBC is extremely excited about expanding into Rockaway and occupying the site on Beach Channel Drive."

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