2011-08-12 / Top Stories

City Addresses Beach 116 St. Problems

By Howard Schwach

For the past several months, residents say, people who live in the Rockaway Park Hotel have been causing problems on the busy Beach 116 shopping street, panhandling and threatening shoppers, keeping customers away from the shops on the street.

Just last week, however, the city began to address the problem with a visit to the old hotel by the city’s task force.

Early on Friday morning, representatives of the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Community Board 14, the 100 Precinct Community Council, the New York City Police Department and the Fire Department entered the building and checked the place from top to bottom.

While they found a few safety violations and “about two dozen other violations,” according to Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for CB 14, “they found nothing that would warrant a vacate order.”

The city’s report on the visit is due out “in a few weeks,” officials say.

Gaska said that the new commanding officer of the 100 Precinct, Captain Scott Olexa, is “doing all he can, but the residents know the law, and the law says they can panhandle and sit in the street in front of stores. What they can’t do is lie down in front of the store entrances, but few do that.”

Just this week, Daily News reporter Lisa Colangelo spoke with some of the storeowners on the street, including Liz Smith-Breslin, the co-owner of the Blue Bungalow.

“We want shoppers to feel comfortable when they come here,” Smith-Breslin said, adding that the residents of the hotel harass her clients and chase them away.

“The adult homes are stifling our growth,” Gaska said. “We really need a kick start from government to get things going here on the street.”

According to Danny Ruscillo, the president of the 100 Precinct Community Council, who tracks 911 calls and reports of violence and harassment on the street, there have been numerous calls about people who live in the Rockaway Park Hotel.

For example, a resident of the hotel was arrested on the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 116 Street in June for allegedly threatening someone with a box cutter inside the Beach 116 Street MTA public bathroom, according to court papers.

Transit District 23 police responded to the scene and arrested Bruce Taylor, 40, for criminal possession of a weapon as well as harassment and menacing. Upon searching Taylor they found an undisclosed amount of marijuana on his person, leading to an additional charge of unlawful possession. Taylor was accused of shouting at and threatening a man with the box cutter inside the bathroom and attempting to prevent him from leaving by blocking the door.

Reports of incidents involving aggressive panhandlers such as Taylor, who scream, curse, shout or even threaten both merchants and shoppers along Beach 116 Street, are not uncommon.

According to residents and merchants, panhandling along the street has seen a steep increase of late. Much of their renewed anger and opposition towards those panhandlers is aimed at the new owner and operator of the Rockaway Park Hotel and a nearby halfway house at 154 Beach 114 Street. It’s the residents of these properties, some locals say, who can often be seen roaming the streets aggressively begging and harassing anyone in their path.

The Rockaway Park Hotel on Beach 116 Street is a home for people who attend “programs,” owner and operator Jay Deutchman has said in the past. Many of the panhandlers along the commercial strip, when asked, claim to be residents at one or the other of the two properties.

“Everyone is scared. The merchants are scared to fight back,” Democratic District Leader Lew M. Simon said this week. “This is not your average typical thing in the community. If we thought the old Rockaway Park Hotel was dangerous before, well then, this takes the cake. It’s very sad that a man like this can sock it to a community and nothing can be done about it.”

Jay Deutchman says he’s never heard of any incidents at the hotel including that of Taylor’s alleged offense on June 7. According to local police sources, since the Rockaway Park Hotel reopened last September, the 100 Precinct has made three arrests which consisted of charges that include grand larceny, criminal possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest. In addition to the arrests the precinct has reportedly filed eight incident reports of criminal activity at the property’s address that range from robbery, petit larceny, menacing, assault and harassment. In total, 47 calls to the 911 system have been made requesting police assistance at the location.

“I haven’t heard about it,” Deutchman said last month. “If the incident did happen, I am sure the person was discharged from the program.”

He failed to confirm, however, if Taylor was actually evicted from the property.

Residents and Beach 116 Street merchants who feel enough is enough showed up at this month’s Community Board 14 meeting in hopes that something can be done. However, many fear retribution for publicly speaking out against the property and its inhabitants.

In addition to the criminal activity, quality of life complaints swarm the hotel as well. In one instance, there were complaints of men walking naked in front of the hotel windows, which are across the street from a pizzeria and ice cream shop. Since then, that problem has been resolved with sheets of plastic placed on the windows in lieu of curtains.

According to testimony by Community Board members, the residents can be seen sitting on the median of Beach 116 Street for hours at a time, just loitering and blocking vehicles from parking at the adjacent spots.

It was agreed upon by Community Board 14 at this month’s meeting to send intervention request letters to any and all city or state agencies responsible for the funding or oversight of Deutchman’s Rockaway properties.

Simon says he didn’t believe a word Deutchman said during a meeting with community representatives prior to moving into the neighborhood. He promised private security and ensured quality of life and public safety to be properly maintained.

“We had no control of what he planned on doing. It was like talking to a wall,” Simon said. “I don’t know what we could do anymore.”

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