Flushing residents push for removal of commercial site project impacting quality of life in their community

CB 7 Meeting
Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

Residents living at Underhill Avenue near Kissena Park angrily voiced their concerns Monday night during the Community Board 7 meeting regarding a commercial site project that has caused a loud ruckus in the quiet residential neighborhood.

Complaints of loud noise from a dozen large dump trucks carrying debris, air pollution, contaminated water, and damages to homes, resulted in residents uniting at the Feb. 11 meeting at Union Plaza Care Center in Flushing, calling for removal of the site located at the end of Underhill Avenue and 170th St.

“The goal is to remove them because this is a residential area, it’s a park where people walk their dogs, kids ride their bicycles, it just doesn’t belong,” said Bebe Rohani. “A processing site belongs in an industrial site. “We already have a petition with over 70 signatures and counting.”

Rohani says the large dump trucks are destroying their roads.

Residents say there was no community input to allow construction at the storage facility site, which belongs to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in the community of one and two family homes. It is also the testing site for the Department of Motor Vehicle, which residents say is endangering the safety of children as well.

“It’s a dangerous environment when you put large trucks and inexperienced operators in the same area working on the streets,” said Joe Smeragliuolo. “ We’ve got the sound from the trucks, we’ve got pollution from trucks, we’ve got all of these issues burdened on us.”

Smeragliuolo added, “If it has to be in the DEP area, why does it have to be within 15 feet of one house and 10 yards of another? If they place this in the DEP yard where the people park, it would be the minimum 100 yards away from the nearest homes. That’s the solution.”   

Diane Varisco and her husband Jim, whose home is adjacent from the site, are awaken every morning by loud disturbing sounds rattling their home.  

“From the vibrations I have window panes that are falling out, we have a severe water problem on the side of the property that connects with their site,” said Varisco. “We have a lot of dust and debris that’s flying around.”

Photos courtesy of the Varisco’s
The Varisco’s flooded backyard

When Varisco approached the contractor of the site, he told her he would pay for the cost of repairs, but never fulfilled his promise, Varisco said.

“We have no proof that this is going to happen, because somebody else had approached him also and he said ‘Yeah, Yeah I’ll fix it’ but when?”’ said Varisco. “I can’t afford to make these repairs, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars. One guy wanted $11,000 for windows, who has that laying around?”

Eugene Kelty, chair of Community Board 7, informed residents that the DEP site is being used for a capital improvement project for Community Board 11 in Bayside, replacing a four mile stretch of old sewage pipes.

The public works project — involving the DEP, CAC (management of construction at the site), and DDC (Department of Design and Construction) — began in the summer of 2018 and is expected to be completed by 2021.

Prior to the start of construction, according to Kelty, he had no objections when the contractors asked him about working at the site and requested a letter. In the letter, Kelty “listed conditions and concerns, due to past unacceptable work and the city agencies lack of response for requests for corrective actions and enforcement.”

A DDC contractor, who was present at the meeting, was unable to speak amidst the loud outbursts from residents in the room asking whether they’re conducting legal or illegal work at the site screening, processing, and crushing material.

When asked by the environmental chair of the board, James Cervino, if they have a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to “process, handle, and shake material,” the contractor said they’re “not crushing anything, we’re just screening.”

On Jan. 30, after receiving an influx of complaint letters, the community board, 15 residents, the president of CAC, and DDC personnel met with City Councilman Peter Koo at his Flushing office to discuss the issue.

“The fact that it’s been transformed into a storage facility to an active all day long processing site that’s noisy with constant truck traffic coming out of the narrow street, there’s a significant quality of life impact,” said Koo’s representative, Scott Sieber. “We think residents are justified in being upset.”

Koo’s office wrote a letter to DEP to discontinue work at the site.

“We’re hoping they’re going to reconsider the request from the community,” said Sieber.

Cervino recommended a site meeting and an abundance of evidence such as photos and videos to present to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

“If sediment, liquid and water has been impacting their property, dust samples from their window sills, I need a clear cohesive package that documents the concerns,” said Cervino. “And if they don’t have a permit to manage solid waste, historic fill, and petroleum contaminated work from the trench work they’re doing, they’re operating illegally.”


More from Around New York