By Joe Anuta
A group of investors is well on its way to taking ownership of one of the largest vacant waterfront properties in Queens, which could soon be home to 52 single-family Whitestone homes, but state inspectors were back at the site last Thursday to check for evidence of any contaminated soil dumped there.
A group of investors involved with Barone Management, a firm that has both construction and development arms and is based in Whitestone, have paid a deposit on the 13-acre property, at 151-45 6th Road, and will likely take full possession of the property within 60 days, according to Scott Barone, whose family owns the firm.
“In a perfect world, development will begin in the middle of next year,” he said.
The property also includes 8 acres of water rights and will feature a publicly accessible waterfront park, as is required by city regulations.
It was originally zoned for manufacturing until about 2005, when a development firm called Bayrock Group bought the site and sought to rezone it for residential use.
The city modified the zoning to specifically allow for the development of 52 single-family homes, according to area lawmakers, but Bayrock went bust and the property descended into foreclosure.
Barone said the development will be a boon for the area, setting a precedent on converting old manufacturing sites into residential tracts in character with the rest of the sleepy neighborhood.
But changing industrial sites to residential properties often involves environmental remediation, and the Whitestone lot was no exception.
The soil at the site was contaminated and needed to be entirely replaced before a shovel could hit the ground. It was entered into the state’s Brownfield Cleanup program, which works with developers to clean toxic sites and prep them for development.
The court-appointed receiver for the property hired the construction arm of Barone to perform complete remediation at the site, which concluded in the fall of 2011.
But a lawmaker in the area has asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to look into the replacement soil to ensure it is not itself contaminated.
State Sen. Tony Avella was at the site last Thursday when DEC inspectors combed the site and officials met with the lawmaker and representatives from Barone.
Avella had previously sent a letter to the DEC, urging them to investigate the site for dumping of contaminated material, a prospect Barone found insulting.
The developer contends he has logs to show where each ounce of soil came, proving it is clean, and that regulations and inspections undertaken by DEC and the foreclosing bank would have made it impossible to sneak any unauthorized material onto the property.
“Unless somebody is illegally dumping with a helicopter, it’s feasibly impossible,” he said, citing 24-hour security at the site.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.