FDNY Banking On A New Home. 116th Firehouse Too Rich To Rescue

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One’s a landmark in need of repair.  One’s a vacant eyesore in need of a new owner.   Things are afoot that may solve both problems.

The NY Fire Department found out that a landmark building is a nice idea – until you have to renovate.  The City and the FDNY have found the prospect of overhauling the firehouse on Beach 116th Street to be so steep that relocating might be a better option.  Right now, the preferred site is the vacant HSBC bank at 116th Street and Beach Channel Drive.

The firehouse, more than 100 years old and home to Engine 268 and Ladder 137, was landmarked in 2013.  The HSBC bank, formerly the Sunset Diner, never reopened after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  The building and lot is not and was never owned by HSBC.  The property is owned by Jeff Sutton, who according to Forbes magazine is worth $3.4 billion and is among the top 200 richest Americans. Because HSBC signed a long-term lease, the bank continues to pay rent to Sutton who purchased the property in 2006 for $3.9 million.  While the parent company of HSBC shows no interest in reopening the branch and the landlord continues to receive rent, there has been no reason to believe the property would be any­thing other than a vacant dead spot at the foot of Rockaway’s main commercial strip.

Until now.  As it became apparent that a needed overhaul and updating of the 116th Street firehouse, now shrouded with unsightly scaffolding, would cost many millions, the FDNY started looking at other locations.  Rockaway’s topography limits such options.  Because Rockaway is so narrow the north and south real estate possibilities are quite few.  Heading west of 116th Street, the first option would likely be the firehouse on Beach 169th Street leaving almost four miles between it and the next firehouse at Beach 94th Street.  Relocating too far to the east of 116th Street would create a gap of adequate fire protection on the west end.

The HSBC bank site appears ideal for a fire company because it has frontage on both Beach Channel Drive and Newport Avenue, which would allow fire apparatus and emergency vehicles easy access to either east or west bound traffic lanes.

A Fire Department spokesman said the move is not a done deal though soil testing has been done at the site as a preliminary step in determining the overall viability of the site.

Jon Gaska, District Manager of Community Board 14, was alerted to the  possible move by an FDNY official who told Gaska that a ULURP application might cross his desk.  A ULURP is a standardized City procedure whereby applications affecting the land use of city property would be publicly reviewed.

To use City property – assuming the City takes control of the site – the FDNY would submit an application to the City Planning Commission.  Copies of this application are then sent to the Queens Borough President, the Community Board, and the City Council within five days.  Certifying the application (which might involve Environmental Impact studies and such) is more of an open-ended timeline.  Once an application is certified, a Community Board has 60 days to hold a public hearing and then issue a recommendation to City Planning and the Borough President.  The Borough President would then have 30 days to make a recommendation followed by possible City Council and Mayoral review.

The FDNY did not indicate when an application would be submitted.  Jim Long, the spokesman, suggested it could be five years before trucks and engines rolled out of a new facility.

In the event that a deal is struck, what will become of the landmarked firehouse?  The usual process would be for the City to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP).  RFPs can range in scope.  The City could request proposals for commercial use (e.g. restaurant, art gallery, hotel, etc) or issue one limited to non-profit interests such as community or educational centers, for instance.

As for the HSBC site, The Rockaway Times emailed property owner Jeff Sutton for comment but he did not reply by press time.

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