Photo by Bill Parry
The Astoria Cove development site is being probed by the state for illegal dumping of hazardous substances and solid waste.
By Bill Parry

The Durst Organization is moving forward with its Hallets Point mega-project in Astoria now that a replacement for the 421-a tax abatement for developers is in place. The newly branded Affordable New York housing program will provide tax breaks to developers in exchange for desperately needed affordable housing.

When the original program expired in January 2016, one day after Mayor Bill de Blasio helped break-ground for the $1.5 billion complex, Durst scaled back its plans for seven buildings with 2,400 units, 484 of them affordable, to just one building with 163 units. The latter amount was what had been financed before 421-a expired. With a new deal hammered out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, The Real Estate Board of New York, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York that expands the production of affordable housing and provides fair wages for construction workers, Hallets Point has received the green light.

“The passing of ‘Affordable New York’ allows the Hallets Point project to continue,” Durst Organization spokesman Jordan Barowitz said. “We are full steam ahead.”

The same cannot be said of a second giant development project nearby that was shelved when 421-a expired. The massive Astoria Cove plan — which promised to bring 1,723 units, 460 of them affordable, in five buildings — is the subject of a state probe for illegal dumping by 2030 Astoria Developers. The landowner Alma Realty recently hired Cushman & Wakefield to sell the site for $350 million, according to the business journal Crain’s.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating the use of 8-01 26th Ave., Astoria, Queens, for the illegal dumping of hazardous substances and solid waste,” DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said. “The investigation is ongoing.”

According to Environmental Conservation Law, perpetrators found guilty of illegal dumping of hazardous substances and solid waste are subject to criminal fines up to $37,500 for each day the violation continues, as well as imprisonment and civil penalties of up to $22,500 per day of violation.

“Allegations concerning unauthorized waste handling are completely untrue,” 2030 Astoria Developers said in a statement. “The work that has been done recently at the site involves the deconstruction of a building under a demolition order by the city. All permits for this work are accurately filed and all regulations pertaining to safety and environmental requirements have been complied with. No violations were issued in connection with this work. We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders in the community as we move forward.”

On April 6, a group of activists from Build Up NY, along with Charlene Obernauer, the executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, toured the trash-strewn site in a cold rain, finding many sources of potential contamination. These included leaking drums among dilapidated buildings with shaky scaffolding, exposed wiring and a lack of fencing and security that pose a danger to nearby residents.

“You could have kids walking through here,” Obernauer said, pointing to a barrel. “We can’t concretely say this is hazardous waste, but we can say we don’t know what it is and it needs to be labeled. It’s unsafe for the community.”

Afterward, the group was joined by Borough President Melinda Katz and City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), the chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.

“Allowing this unscrupulous developer to continue to operate unsafely, without permits, with toxins in the water, is not what should be going on here,” Constantinides said. “It continues to be a polluted and contaminated site. That’s not what should be going on here.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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