2014-03-07 / Front Page

Neponsit Money Pit

Prime Property Without a Purpose
By Katie McFadden

Waiting might be the new pastime in Rockaway. Residents wait for sand replenishment, for Build It Back to get started, for a new boardwalk, insurance payments, building permits, and so on. With all this waiting, it’s easy to overlook a soaring symbol of idleness – the Neponsit Health Care Center, closed since 1998.

Nearly sixteen years after it was abruptly closed on orders from the Giuliani administration, the beachfront property sits unused and decaying but costing the city plenty.

The Neponsit property, located at 149-25 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, is maintained by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), and it pays a lot of money for it to sit idly. The various buildings aren’t being used but HHC says it pays $266,000 annually for security and basic repairs to the property. When asked about Sandy damage, HHC made no mention of flood damage but said that “the property sustained significant damage to the guard booth and fencing as a result of Hurricane Sandy.” The cost for repairs: $139,000.

Even though it is has been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars every year into the crumbling eyesore, HHC says it has “no plans for a new structure or new use of the property.”

A covenant in the deed for the land says that it can only be used for a park or a public health facility and this can only be changed by an act of the state legislature.

The current sad state of the property can be traced back to September 7th, 1998 when a strong Labor Day storm rolled through Rockaway. The storm, allegedly, caused structural damage to the Neponsit Health Care Center. At the time, Mayor Giuliani’s administration said that the buildings were in “imminent danger of collapse.” Close to three hundred residents were forced to evacuate the buildings a few days later, without being given prior notice. Many of the residents, who had Alzheimer’s and dementia, were bused to other hospital wards and nursing homes across the city in a move that was traumatizing to some. Two residents died while being relocated to acute care facilities and another resident couldn’t be found for several weeks.

With the sudden closing, there were rumors that Giuliani wanted to sell the land to a political ally and friend, to turn the facility into an oceanfront hotel. The plan was tripped up because the deed to the land requires it to be used as a health care facility or a park. With the residents removed and the hotel plans thwarted, the City made plans to clear the property and turn it into park land. A Legal Aid attorney, however, got a court-ordered injunction in October 1999 which prevented the city from tearing down the buildings.

In early 2000, Merritt & Harris, Inc., was hired by the City Council to conduct an independent structural survey of the Neponsit home. Merritt & Harris determined that the buildings were never in imminent danger of collapse and determined that they were in “fair to good structural condition.”

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon was among those who fought to have the facility reopened after the Giuliani order and remains bitter about the way patients were treated. With the building left in shambles for so many years, Simon says he would now support the idea of the property being used to build homes, which was an idea proposed by the Neponsit Homeowners Association in past years. “I’m hoping to see within the next year or so, maybe with economic boom back, maybe they can start a project for one family homes.”

Amanda Agoglia, President of the Neponsit Property Owners Association, says that the property is now more than an eyesore.

“Homeowners who live in close proximity to the buildings have reported a serious rat problem recently. One has said that the rats have eaten their way into her garage and car. It is also a terrible eyesore as it is the first building you see as you enter Neponsit and Rockaway from Brooklyn. We have had problems in the past with vagrants squatting there, and young people drinking, having parties and painting graffiti in and around the building.”

Turning the property into home lots could be a boon to the city, say some neighbors. The 246,000 square-foot property could fit roughly 35 homes on 60 x 100 lots. “If they were to divide it up into 35 home sites, and each were worth a million bucks, the city would get $35 million on the sale. And on top of that, the City would no longer have to pay these maintenance costs,” a local resident said. In addition to this, with home property taxes averaging about $15,000 a year, this would mean an extra $525,000 in property taxes for those 35 homes. “And if they kept it as a hospital, like the deed says it supposed to remain, that’s a lot of jobs and tax revenue for the city as well,” the resident added.

When asked what should be done with the property now, Agoglia said the buildings should be demolished. “The building was closed because it was a danger and has deteriorated further due to age, neglect and the storm. We would love to see it return to a passive recreation area,” she added.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder said that the city should be held accountable for letting the property go vacant for so long. “I think something needs to be done. We need to get a sense of what the interest is and what the value is and determine what should be done. The City should put out a Request for Proposals and should give everyone in the community a sense of what options are possible,” Goldfeder said.

Representatives from Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office say they hope to facilitate a meeting with city agencies within the next month to renew interest in the property.

Many ideas for the land have been presented at various meetings. A hearing was held in November 2006 as HHC wanted public comment on a plan to turn over the facility to the City of New York and opening the site to the development of single family homes. This idea received mixed reviews. Some community members offered alternative suggestions such as a hotel, a school and a rehabilitation center for “Wounded Warriors.” Following the hearing, the HHC vote to turn the property over to the City was postponed indefinitely and the buildings continue to go unused. The carrying costs continue as well.

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