STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — “It’s coming down like it’s a little doll house,” said Joe Tirone Wednesday morning of the rental property he owned at 87 Fox Beach Ave. in Oakwood Beach.
The home, a one-bed beach bungalow built in 1940, was torn down by a backhoe that appeared bigger than the house itself. Its claw first ripping down wires, then the white picket fence that was still standing, before punching in the front facade and chewing at the roof.
It took less than an hour — the structure was the second Hurricane Sandy-damaged house to be demolished on Staten Island under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Recreate New York Smart Home Buyout Program, which Cuomo announced here last year.
“This is the house that started it all,” Tirone said.
The pilot program was the outgrowth of Tirone and other Oakwood Beach residents contacting the state for help, in part because the city’s Rapid Repairs program failed to address their immediate needs and the larger issue of whether the area should be built back: After hearing from Islanders, Cuomo said it should be returned to Mother Nature.
Before Tirone’s house was demolished, the work crew removed a brand-new furnace and hot water heater delivered by Rapid Repairs that had never been installed. Tirone said he hoped it would be salvaged for a needy homeowner.
Under Cuomo’s buy-out program, residents receive 100 percent pre-Sandy worth of their properties. In Oakwood Beach, that’s about $400,000 per house, with some 185 houses slated for tear downs and buyouts.
Earlier this month, Cuomo announced 129 houses would be bought out in Ocean Breeze after hearing from area residents there.
All along Fox Beach Avenue, houses are boarded up, having been bought out by the state. Tirone said they will be torn down in clusters, with much of the work expected to be done by mid-January.
“This shows the finality of what happened, how very powerful the storm was,” said Tirone as he watched his house being demolished. “It brings back all the memories of what happened. You see all the board-ups here and you realize, it’s really happening.”
Frank Moszczynski and Joe Hernkind of the Ocean Breeze Civic Association were on hand to witness what will be happening in their community soon enough.
“The governor has done a fantastic thing,” said Moszczynski, “but it is a bittersweet thing. I don’t think anyone actually likes to see a house come down. But for us, there is no alternative.”
“It brings you to that final point of saying, ‘I’m almost out of this mess,'” said Hernkind. “You need a point of closure. We need a new beginning and that’s what the governor is doing for us.”
Still, said Moszczynski: “It’s the end of an era. Picture the way it was years ago. Before the street was paved, there was sand here and a clean beach and you’d have people dragging rowboats up from the shore.”