Photo by Christina Santucci
Malba Gardens Civic Association members say that the six-acre lot has sat unused since 1988.
By Joe Anuta

The courts have taken the next step in foreclosure proceedings against the owners of a vacant Whitestone property, but a lawmaker hopes to intervene before the lot hits the auction block.

Northeast Queens civic leaders would rather see the 6-acre cluster of undeveloped land, along 150th Street near 5th Avenue, turned into sports fields, which is why state Sen. Tony Avella is hoping to snag the property.

“If it’s done properly, I absolutely think it is a good idea,” said Al Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association.

Centola has had his eye on the property for several years after the company known as Whitestone Jewels LLC failed to pay its mortgage.

As a result, in 2007 La Jolla Bank began foreclosure proceedings against the company. In 2010, the lender was bought by One West Bank, the institution currently foreclosing on the property.

Late last year Queens Supreme Court Judge Orin Kitzes ruled in One West Bank’s favor.

A lawyer was recently assigned by the state courts to find out exactly how much is owed on the lot.

It was not clear when he was assigned, but Friday afternoon when a call was placed to the lawyer known as a referee, he had not even been informed of his assignment to the property.

After the referee determines how much money is owed, he will submit a report to Kitzes. The bank will ask for a ruling to move ahead with an auction and the referee will put a notice in the paper, according to a court clerk.

But this is where Centola hopes Avella will intervene.

The lawmaker is hoping to work with the bank to circumvent an auction.

“We are talking with the bank,” Avella said. “I want the city to acquire that for a park.”

It was not clear whether Avella’s discussions have paid off, since the bank cannot ask for what is known as a judgment of foreclosure until after the referee’s report.

But Avella said he wished the community had been behind the plan when he first proposed it as a city councilman.

Before Whitestone Jewels, the property was owned by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn, according to documents from the city Department of Finance.

The Catholic organization ran a youth camp on the property, but in 2006 decided to put the property up for sale.

In September 2006, the diocese sold the property to Whitestone Jewels for $23.3 million, according to Finance Department documents, but Avella said that sale never had to happen.

“I could have negotiated with Catholic Charities and would have been in a much better position,” Avella said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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