Not Keen On KeySpan

The former Elmhurst gas tanks site has become a battleground between the interests of western Queens neighbors and KeySpan, which recently agreed to sell the six-acre land to two developers.
In a meeting on September 18, angry members of the Juniper Valley Civic Association (JVCA), led by its president Bob Holden and Councilman Dennis Gallagher, declared war on KeySpan, accusing the energy giant of putting profits ahead of a promise to allow elected officials to garner money to purchase the plot.
"Ive never seen them treat a community with such disrespect," said Councilman Gallagher, infuriated over the recent revelation that KeySpan agreed to sell the Mattone Group and Starwood Ceruzzi the six-acre tract of land for approximately $14.5 million, despite a good faith agreement to put a "clock stop" on negotiations with developers.
"I asked them why did you bother coming out to the community?" said the councilman, denouncing the energy companys efforts to work with the Middle Village and Maspeth communities as hollow.
In April, KeySpan agreed to give elected officials the opportunity to acquire the site on Grand Avenue and 57th Avenue. Local representatives have until December 31, 2003 to make the purchase. Since the spring, Gallagher and his colleague, Councilwoman Melinda Katz, had raised $3 million in capital funding for the purchase. However, state senators and assemblymembers were also working to obtain state and federal grants.
"Ive never ever seen such an underhanded corporation and officials like the ones in KeySpan," charged Holden heatedly to a crowd of more than 50 at Our Lady of Hope. "What theyve done and what theyve suggested to do to our neighborhood is a disgrace."
KeySpan officials, however, maintain that the energy company is still honoring its promised date of December 31 for elected officials, but it never agreed to cease taking offers from developers.
According to Holden, a majority of residents wanted the land purchased for a park or, if not, to be developed as residential property for assisted-senior-living housing. JVCA members were angered over the agreement with the Mattone Group because the developers have plans of turning the property into a "big box" store and commercial space. Residents believe it will cripple Middle Village roads, not built for high traffic volume.
The Mattone Group, a Whitestone-based developer, intends to erect an Express Home Depot. Holden said he believes its unnecessary, since the borough already holds six and one is located just south of Middle Village on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills.
In published reports, the Mattone Group said that its development site, which is mostly zoned heavy manufacturing and a smll part labeled residential, would be sensitive to the concerns of the community.
The Mattone Groups "as-of-right" project envisions a 90,000-square-feet Home Depot and a two-story storage facility above it. A bank would also be constructed taking up 35,000 square feet. Vehicles would enter the commercial area at Grand Avenue and exit on 57th Avenue. The community would be given a half acre of land to use as it chooses.
Holden charged that an agreement with Mattone Group for commercial development is also more beneficial in cost terms to the energy company. The site is besot with residual lead hotspots and other contaminants. There also remains more than 3,000 linear feet of pipe four feet underground throughout the site, which KeySpan plans on encapsulating.
"KeySpan said they would clean this property up to residential standards and somewhere along the line they kind of changed their tune," raged Holden. If KeySpan agreed to sell to elected officials or a developer for residential purposes, the clean-up costs for KeySpan would be much higher than the commercial standards that come with a sale to the Mattone Group.
In published responses, Keyspan spokesman Ed Yutkowitz said that the site would be cleaned to the standards of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
As part of their plan to prevent the purchase, Holdens organization will call for blood and soil tests to determine the environmental impact that the 80-year-old site had on the residential property surrounding it and the residents.
"We want Keyspan held responsible for the clean-up … on the site and on the contaminated sites and on the surrounding areas," said Holden.
During his speech to the crowd, Gallagher questioned why KeySpan had given other communities more time to purchase former sites than western Queens received. He recounted that the town of Jamesport on Long Island was given 24 months to make a purchase of 530 acres, despite many developers making offers during that period.
"They allowed Long Island approximately two years to come up with the funding," he stated. "We should have been afforded the same opportunity."
Gallagher would like to see the property converted into assisted-senior-living housing. He told the crowd that he and other elected officials would meet with KeySpan to stop the development of a Home Depot and get more time to make a purchase. "We are going to see if there is a way out, but first we are going to let them know that we are not happy with the way they treated us," said Gallagher to applause.
JVCA is also planning a protest at KeySpans 57th Avenue site as well as at its complex at Metrotech.
"They dont care about communities," barked Holden. "They care about the bottom line. They care about the big salaries for the corporate leaders."

More from Around New York