BY JAMES FARRELL
Holliswood residents are still uncertain about the future of the abandoned Holliswood Hospital. Meanwhile, neighbors still view the site as a hazard and an eyesore that attracts vandals, even as both the city and owner, Steve Cheung, have tried to secure the property.
In December, the Queens Tribune reported that the site, at 87-37 Palermo St., was involved in court hearings to settle two “unsafe building” violations, due to several unsealed openings that allowed entry to intruders. On Nov. 30, the court ruled that the city could seal the site at cost to the owner, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) told the Queens Tribune that they contracted out the work to seal the building for $1,170. The work was completed on Feb. 3 and confirmed by inspection, according to the HPD.
But during a recent visit to the site, openings were still visible. While nearly all the first-floor entrances had been blocked by plywood or otherwise locked or sealed, several second-story windows were either open or smashed, leaving broken glass on the ground. When the Queens Tribune visited the site in December, a rear sliding glass door had been smashed open behind a loose piece of plywood. On this latest visit, the opening appeared to have been sealed with a new piece of plywood, but that plywood had been pulled off the door, revealing a completely smashed open entryway.
“I’ve seen people walking through the parking lot at night,” said Deepak Viswanath, a Holliswood resident who has lived just down the street from the Hospital since 1972. “At this point, we’d welcome any development. For us, it’s a security issue.”
Linda Valentino, president of the Holliswood Civic Association, which has opposed development plans proposed by Cheung, says it has asked Cheung “from day one” to put up a construction fence around the property.
Cheung, in an interview with the Queens Tribune, said that he has worked to fix the site’s accessibility. When informed of the latest accessible opening, he said that he’d try to send someone to fix it on Thursday, Feb. 16.
“We’ll try to work out something,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 2, Cheung’s architect, Michael Kang, filed plans for the building with the DOB—the first such filing since Cheung purchased the property. The plans would have subdivided the property’s tax lot into 22 smaller lots, but were disapproved by the DOB on Feb. 9 since the paperwork was incomplete, according to the agency.
The subdivision seemed to be in keeping with Cheung’s original plans, which called for 20 single-family houses that could be built according to the area’s current zoning, and a 31-unit condominium complex in the former hospital building that would require a variance. The Holliswood Civic Association has opposed the condominium complex and requested that the homes be revised to include parking garages, citing congestion concerns and fears that rezoning could open the door to larger developments in the future.
Valentino said that the civic association has been in the dark about the project’s future since meeting with Cheung in the spring. At the time, he said he’d file plans within the week.
Cheung told the Queens Tribune that he intends on moving forward with the project and is “trying to do the condos.”
But Valentino said that the civic association is not convinced that he will go through with the project, and predicts the site will be sold, pointing to unpaid property taxes. A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance confirmed with the Queens Tribune that the property owner currently owes $601,766.10 in unpaid property taxes and that the last payment was due on Jan. 3. The most recent payment was received in January 2016, according to city records. The lack of payments, Valentino argues, shows a reluctance to put money into the property.
“I think he’s marking time,” said Valentino.
When asked about the property taxes, Cheung said, “Everything is fine; we’re working on it.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.