Village officials have issued three summonses to the owner of a pair of vacant commercial buildings after residents complained last week about the condition of the property.
Code Enforcement officers cited Dr. Leonard Bleicher, owner of the two buildings, which are just south of the Gibson Long Island Rail Road station on Gibson Boulevard, for high grass and weeds as well as graffiti, and for allowing the storage of vehicles on the property without a permit. Residents also complained about a loose piece of metal hanging off one of the buildings. Village Clerk Bob Barra said it was a piece of stripping, and he removed it himself.
The condition of the buildings, which once housed about a dozen businesses, has drawn the ire of local residents for years. The village’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a 39-unit apartment complex for the site, but Bleicher never built it. The land is now for sale.
With no activity at the site, the buildings have fallen into disrepair, local homeowners say, and have been a constant target of vandals. “The residents who are impacted by this are totally fed up, and they’re tired of complaining with no results,” said Gibson Boulevard resident Mary Ellen McGroary. “The buildings have been vacant for so long that they’re now starting to fall apart.”
This is not the first time Bleicher has been cited by the village for code violations, and he has paid thousands of dollars in fines in the past. Barra said that when residents complain about a problem at the buildings, the village notifies Bleicher immediately. If a problem isn’t resolved quickly, Barra added, the village doesn’t hesitate to write a summons.
Barra said that the recent complaints are the first the village has received about the property in several months. Carol Crupi, president of the Valley Stream Community Association, contacted Barra last week.
“I’m happy with the response,” she said, noting that officials appeared almost immediately to inspect the property and issue summonses. “It’s obvious no one is taking care of the property.”
McGroary said that the latest problems pose a health and safety risk to the public. The rusty piece of metal made walking on the sidewalk dangerous, and the overgrown weeds are attracting mosquitoes.
“We who live here truly try to keep our homes neat and tidy,” she said, “and to have this is really awful.”
Crupi, who lives across the street from the property, said that while she is happy that the village is taking action, it is still only a “Band-Aid” until a permanent solution is found. She said it is apparent that the owner has no concern for the neighbors.
A call to Bleicher’s attorney was not returned.
Village officials say that residents’ complaints are not falling on deaf ears, and they are indeed looking for a solution. Mayor Ed Fare said he wants to see the property developed, whether by Bleicher or someone else. Fare said he has been in regular contact with other developers, but his hands are tied because the property is privately owned.
“I’m constantly trying to get people interested in the property,” he said. “We’ve tried to broker many deals. There’s nothing else I can do.”
Barra said that there are other developers interested in building on the property, but no deal has been worked out yet.
Several residents have called for the village to use eminent domain proceedings, as it is doing to acquire a parcel on Rockaway Avenue that will serve as a Village Hall annex. Fare said that this option would be considered only as a last resort for the Gibson property. First, he said, he wants capitalism to run its course and give Bleicher a chance to come to an agreement with another buyer.
Fare said that he wants to help the residents of Gibson, who are stuck looking at the vacant buildings, and would like “positive development” on the site to boost the tax rolls. The value of the property has been reduced in recent years.
McGroary, a resident of the community for 31 years, said she remembers the thriving stores that used to occupy those buildings. “I love my neighborhood,” she said. “It’s just very disappointing to see this happen.”