By Gary Buiso
A city agency has yet to approve controversial plans detailing the expansion of King’s Plaza into its outdoor parking lot. The plans were filed last year at the city’s Department of Buildings, and call for the construction of a 338,271-square-foot, 30-foot building with a mezzanine at the 5.9-acre parking lot at East 55th Street, near the mall. The plans were disapproved on August 29 for a variety of technical reasons, and were resubmitted in January. The revised plans, according to the agency, were again disapproved on Jan. 26. “No permits have been issued by the Department of Buildings for what is being developed there,” Buildings’ Community Liaison Kenneth Lazar said this week. The cost of the project will be approximately $21 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Alexander’s, the company that owns the parking lot. The filing notes that the building will be operated by Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores and that the lease is expected to begin some time this year. Wendi Kopsick, a spokesperson for Alexander’s, Inc., did not return a call for comment on the plans. The project may proceed as of right, a city zoning term meaning that no special approvals or public review is required by law. The original plan for the site included a multiplex movie theater as well as the Lowe’s. The project has brought a crashing wave of criticism from local elected officials like State Senator Carl Kruger, who said the project would only generate more traffic in the neighborhood, making an already bad situation worse. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Alexander’s Kings Plaza Center Inc., has agreed voluntarily to clean up the parking lot, which is presently contaminated. Formerly home to the Standard Oil Terminal, a bulk petroleum storage facility, the lot is now closed and home to a host of toxic byproducts that have since seeped underground, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and a variety of other compounds. Part of the agreement includes the establishment of a community air monitoring program, as well as the excavation and removal of all petroleum contaminated soil. An agreement with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, agency spokesperson Gabrielle Done has said, allows Alexander’s to clean up the site and redevelop it as a brownfield—meaning subsidies and other incentives could be granted provided the clean-up is approved by the state agency. The brownfield remediation program is intended to develop former industrial sites for the betterment of the community. The DEC has told this paper that it appears contamination has remained on site and not migrated.