BY JAMES FARRELL
For years, the property on the corner of 14th Avenue and Totten Street has stood behind green plywood fences unfinished, unoccupied and unaccounted for—and neighbors have had enough.
Last week, neighbors held a press conference with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), demanding answers on the status of the property, calling it an unsanitary eyesore that attracts rodents and vandals. Some have reported finding used condoms and trash at the site. Construction seems to have stopped years ago, and now residents want the city to do something about it.
“It looks terrible. It has brought rats, all kinds of infestations, plus there are people who go in there. They go there and they smoke pot and they do whatever they want,” said Sue Ritucci, 84, a Whitestone resident of 62 years. “This is a lovely neighborhood, and that house—that semi-house—has been there for 14 years that we’re all looking at it. It’s really not right.”
Tom Piazza, 80, who has lived in the neighborhood for 41 years, said that the property owner, Francis Haufe, was a nice man, but the house threatens to bring property values down.
“Would you come into a neighborhood and buy a house, knowing that’s been there for 13 years? It’s a deterrent,” he said.
The property, which has two addresses, 168-08 14th Ave. and 14-05 Totten St., received its first permit on Oct. 22, 2004, according to Department of Buildings (DOB) records. The DOB renewed the permit in 2008 and again in 2013. The permit last expired in 2014. There is no active permit for construction on the site, according to the DOB.
According to DOB records, the building has six open violations dating back to 2013. These include issues with having a jobsite construction fence without a permit and a truck parked illegally on the property.
The DOB has been investigating the property, according to a spokesman, with the most recent onsite visit occurring on Oct. 27. Those inspectors determined that the site was secure, but issued two violations to the property owner regarding the construction fence.
Haufe, in a phone interview with the Queens Tribune, said that the property has been up for sale “for quite some time.” His initial plans to build a new home for his family were derailed after he was injured in a car crash in 2013, preventing him from continuing work on the house, he said.
Haufe argued that he has tried his best to keep up maintenance and blamed the condition of the house on vandals, who repeatedly destroy his construction fence, dump garbage and leave debris. He said that he has filed police reports on these incidents, but the Queens Tribune could not independently verify this by press time.
“This is what other people are doing,” he said. “I have no control over this whatsoever.”
He said that he intends to make an appointment to speak with Avella “to try to explain the circumstances.”
He believes he has been a good neighbor, and said that he tries to help out those who live in the area as much as he can.
“I can understand that the place looks like an eyesore and stuff,” he said. “I have never been nasty with any of the people; I have been friendly with them. I’ve taken care of any issues I’ve had with the property, but all these other issues with garbage that is being dumped, all these summonses I’m receiving from the Department of Sanitation, that is not my fault.”
But years of unrealized work raises questions as to why the DOB would renew the permits, Avella said.
“The fact that a property can sit idle while in a state of construction, with a number of violations, and still have its permit renewed over and over shows a clear dereliction of DOB’s duty to monitor these properties,” Avella said.
The DOB will continue to monitor the property and issue additional enforcement if necessary, a spokesman said.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.