Abandoned railroad station mars face of Richmond Hill

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Community members in Richmond Hill are troubled by a triangle of property they say could jeopardize years of attempts to lower crime, create community landmarks, and attract small businesses to the area.

At issue is the abandoned Long Island Rail Road station on a triangle of property on Hillside Avenue, Lefferts Boulevard and Babbage Street, just north of Jamaica Avenue. The area gradually has become a trash dump, a place for homeless people to sleep and a nesting ground for pigeons since the Metropolitan Transit Authority stopped leasing the property as a parking lot for a neighboring funeral home.

“We fenced the area in, kept it clean, put a security guard there and lit it up really bright,” said co-owner of Simonson’s Funeral Home John Sommese, who leased the property for more than five years. “All that served as a deterrent for people wanting to stay there overnight.”

But Sommese, whose lease with the MTA ended in 1993 after it told him the trestles for supporting the train platform were weakening, said everything has changed.

“There are fences with torn holes, people living there ... it’s not a healthy environment,” he said, adding that the MTA did not want to be liable for any accidents, such as falling concrete. The MTA “has made no effort; they do nothing.”

Even before the station closed in March 1998, the area attracted homeless people and became a hindrance to those wanting to rejuvenate the area, said Community Board 9 President Paul Sapienza.

“It’s really not an appropriate place, it really brings down the area,” said Sapienza, who noted Salerno’s restaurant still has cars parking under a portion of the rail tracks and has no problems with garbage or trespassers. “Restoring Simonson’s parking privileges would help relieve the problem.”

Sapienza said the triangle of property is hurting community efforts to clean up the area, which is home to the Richmond Hill branch of the Queens Public Library on Hillside Avenue and the Republican Club, a historical building community members want listed as a historic landmark.

Brian Dolan, spokesman for the Long Island Rail Road, said the MTA police recently visited the site and observed debris, abandoned mattresses and other garbage. He also said a homeless man, not on LIRR property, was approached by MTA Connections, a social services group contracting with the MTA.

“Our task force was there for a cleanup, and another cleanup is being scheduled,” Dolan said. “And we are interested in long-term security solutions for the area.”

Dolan said the MTA last cleaned the site Sept. 6.

Sommese said he contacted the MTA several times about possibly releasing the site, the last time in a letter he wrote six months ago, but has received no reply. He said despite hearings with legislators, the MTA and the LIRR about the property’s future, nothing has been done about the site.

“The area threatens [owners] from coming into the neighborhood and wanting to do business here,” he said of the piles of garbage, homeless people and pigeons. “If (the site) is on Long Island Rail Road property, it’s their responsibi­lity.”

One local resident named Laurie, who frequents the area but denied living on the site, said people assume the triangle property is bad but do not see for themselves what happens there. She also said the homeless people should not be blamed for the area’s problems, including the increase in pigeons.

“If we can’t feed ourselves, why would we be feeding pigeons?” she asked, saying neighborhood residents were the ones responsible because they leave food on the ground and outside trash cans. “There is no drug dealing going on there either.”

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

Updated 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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