By Gina Martinez
After the Whitestone community raised concerns about soil contamination, elected officials and local leaders met with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and developers of the Whitestone Waterpointe project to discuss the future of the venture moving forward.
Last week, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D-Flushing) and members of Community Board 7 and the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, were able to talk to DEC and developers from the Edgestone Group about key issues facing the 18-acre waterfront property, located at 151st Place and 6th Road.
Avella wrote a letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos requesting a meeting with the commissioner to find out why DEC permitted Edgestone Group to modify the soil cover requirement from Track 2 Residential to Track 4 Restricted-Residential and why DEC allowed the change without first discussing it with elected officials, CB 7 or community members.
In September, DEC announced it was using the lesser grade of soil, called Track 4 Restricted Residential Use, as opposed to the higher grade Track 2 Residential Soil that was originally agreed upon. Avella and CB 7 board member and College Point environmentalist James Cervino said the switch from Track 2 residential soil to Track 4 commercial soil will negatively affect future owners in this development. He pointed out that in order to build a house a chemical criteria must be met that guarantees a safe toxicity level for children to play in the yard and for plants to grow there.
Waterpointe is now being built under a special permit issued by the Department of City Planning that allows for the construction of 52 single-family homes. The development requires environmental oversight because the property had many prior industrial uses over many decades. The land was previously owned by Bayrock Group, which bought the land in 2005 for $25 million. According to reports, Bayrock racked up $150,000 in DEC fines for bringing in toxic soil to the already contaminated site. This led the current developers to enroll in the DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program when they took over.
Last week’s meeting allowed for a dialogue and Avella said that while there are still a few items that remain to be concluded, he and Rosenthal were able to talk the developer into agreeing to bring in additional “unrestricted” or “virgin” soil so that homeowners will be able to grow vegetables in their garden. Avella said they were also able to have the developers agree that all monies placed in escrow to maintain the environmental monitoring system, which will require a yearly report, will remain with the homeowners association at the end of the original ten-year escrow agreement term.
For now Avella and Rosenthal said they will urge the developer to increase the monies to be held in escrow to ensure that the new homeowners will not be burdened by the expense of the environmental monitoring system. While the senator said he was pleased that the developer agreed to put in unrestricted soil , he is convinced that the current dollar amount planned for the escrow account is inadequate and will prove to be too little over time.
“We are pleased we have made progress with the community and the developer and we look forward to further discussions where we should be able to come to an agreement that is best for the future homeowners and community at large,” Avella said.
Rosenthal said considering the history of the site, where community members have felt left out of the process, he is glad to see the current project moving forward in a transparent manner with the input of the community.
“Working with Senator Avella and the DEC has allowed us to secure sensible accommodations for future homeowners and the entire Whitestone community,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the developer make the appropriate investments to ensure our families’ homes are viable and safe in the long term.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart