Ownership of Richmond Hill GOP club in limbo

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Unknown members of Richmond Hill's Republican Club have filed a petition in court effectively asking a judge to undo the September auction of the party's headquarters to a private third party, said lawyers for the company that owns the property's tax lien.

A Queens Supreme Court judge has issued a temporary injunction and scheduled a hearing Feb. 18 on the request by someone claiming to be a member of the club, said John Chilson, managing director of JER Revenue Services, which holds the lien.

The property could go back on the auction block, he said, but no one knows who went to court seeking to have the auction results invalidated.

"I don't know where that would come from," said Anton Dietrich, an 84-year-old resident of Richmond Hill who is the sole owner of a majority of shares in the Richmond Hill Holding Corp. from whom the Republican Club used to rent its headquarters. He said many members of the club were also shareholders in the holding company, thus blurring the distinction between renters and owners.

Dietrich and Simonson's Funeral Home are the only known holders of nameless shares that were created for the holding corporation - technical owners of The Republican Club building, Dietrichsaid. Both he and John Sommese, co-owner of Simonson's, said neither petitioned the court.

"I'm not sure who's claiming to be a stockholder," Dietrich said.

From his North Haven, Conn. office, Chilson said the city sold a tax lien to his company on the property after club members had accumulated more than $330,000 in back taxes. The property then went up for sale in a September foreclosure auction and was sold to Faizulmunir Kazi, who has yet to close on the property, said Michele Lynch, account manager for JER.

Many community members were angered when Kazi, a specialist in buying properties and then selling them at profit from his Jackson Heights office, said he wanted to develop the property into four or five retail stores or a party hall.

Lynch said Kazi is unlikely to finish paying for the property, however, because he has already defaulted on subsequent payments after paying an initial deposit at the auction. This gives preservationists in the community another chance to buy the property.

During a public hearing Dec. 17, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to make the 1908 building a landmark, preserving it from demolition or alteration, said Sherida Paulsen, commission chairwoman.

The property will stay a city landmark regardless of who is the owner, according to city law.

"Basically we're not sure what's going on," said Nancy Cataldi, president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

If the judge approves a so-called order to show cause, which would reverse the foreclosure auction, the Republican Club would again be up for sale. Cataldi and other community members interested in preserving the building have in the past expressed interest in buying the Republican Club site but have lacked the funds.

The court order, however, benefits parties such as the Richmond Hill Historical Society, whose members were upset when Kazi bought the property. Cataldi has said in the past she would like to see a coalition of community groups come together to buy the property.

"Orders to show cause are used strategically more than practically," said Steve Oppenheim, counsel for JER. "This serves to stay the foreclosure auction until a decision has been rendered."

At the Feb. 18 hearing in Queens Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, the judge will decide whether to approve the order.

Chilson said the order was technically requested by The Republican Club, but no one seems to know who is representing the club. He said he is waiting for the situation to play itself out before deciding what comes next, either another auction or a final sale.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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