Abandonment Issues: The Once Chai Nursing Home

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Five years ago, Hurricane Sandy came crashing into the Rockaways, taking a toll on many residents’ homes and businesses in the area. Many abandoned and “zombie properties” are still all around us, some causing problems for the community.

Belle Harbor residents, Michael and Nancy Palmiero, are experiencing trouble with one neighboring zombie property in particular. Previously known as the Chai Nursing Home and before that the Hotel Del Mar, the Beach 125th building sits right beside their beachfront home.

Since Sandy, the Chai Nursing Home has become an “eye sore of the community,” says Nancy Palmiero. According to her, it has become a refuge for criminal activity, squatters and rodents. Opossums, raccoons and rats have been spotted on the property. Gang graffiti is painted on and around the deteriorating building. Vacant properties also tend to draw those that use these properties for hanging out, partying and other mischief. These are just some of the many issues that have occurred since the nursing home was abandoned. For the Palmieros and other neighboring residents, the issues have a direct impact on their lives.

According to NYC Department of Buildings website, the Chai Home property, located at 125-02 Ocean Promenade has had many violations including failure to maintain wall or appurtenances, and allowing work without proper permits. Complaints that have been filed on the property include debris being removed in excess and unsafely.

After sitting many years, open for anyone to explore the old building, whether it be raccoons or people, the old nursing home was recently boarded up and fenced in to prevent the continuing vandalism, graffiti and trespassing. Yet for the Palmieros, it’s not enough.  “It’s like putting a bandage on a dam,” says Michael Palmiero. “Boarding it up is serving no use to the neighborhood.”

The Rockaway Times (RT) reached out to our local elected officials to see if any further measures will be taken. State Senator Joe Addabbo said, “The local elected officials are working with our constituents to make sure the property is safe and secure while the owner determines future plans.” Addabbo says he will keep us updated on any further progress that will be done on this site.

Robby Schwach from Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office says, “We know the neighborhood is not happy with the eyesore, and hopefully within the next month or so, the owner will decide what he has planned for the property." Once the owner, Abraham Lichtstein, decides on the building’s future, plans and paperwork will be taken to the community board’s next meeting, to get approval for the construction. “We will not put anything up that is not approved by the community," added Schwach.

Along with the vandals and rodent problem, the surrounding environment may also be at risk and the conditions may be causing health issues for neighbors. Deteriorating buildings tend to grow mold spores and the danger of asbestos inhalation is possible when released into the air. Nancy Palmiero, who has struggled with health issues, is concerned for her well-being along with her family. She is convinced that the building is putting her health at greater risk. “Our well-being is very important and I would like to see that building go away before it causes more damage,” she says.

With the structure being so old, there was also concern of it being a potential fire hazard. The RT contacted the FDNY to see if the building was at any risk and according to them, the building was just inspected last week. Frank Dwyer of the FDNY office press said, “No unsafe fire conditions were found in our last inspection and no violations were given.” But with the winter season upon us, neighbors are worried if someone does break in, that they may start a fire for heat. “Action needs to happen sooner than later. We shouldn’t have to wait for an accident or fire to happen for something to be done,” said M. Palmiero.

With the issues that have resided in the past with this building, residents are hoping that a solution will come soon, along with peace of mind to the surrounding neighborhood. “I would like to see something built that will enhance the community,” M. Palmiero says, “something like one or two family homes or even a park for families.”

Photos by Nicole Taylor-Lang.

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