BY JAMES FARRELL
The incoming residential development known as Waterpointe, on Whitestone’s northern waterfront, has long worried civic leaders in the neighborhood. Years ago, the community fought for development that would be easy on local infrastructure, and Community Board 7 ultimately secured an agreement with the project’s developers, Edgestone Group, for 52 single-family homes at the site. It was a significant paring back of earlier proposals, including Edgestone’s initial plans for 107 townhouses with four times as many residential units.
But recent decisions by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have community members worried about whether that agreement will hold. The ensuing confusion prompted state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) to hold a press conference on Monday with community leaders, urging for more transparency from the DEC.
The developers are participating in the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program to remediate environmental concerns at the site. The cleanup was slated to follow a “Track 2” residential cleanup, which would be in keeping with the plan for single-family homes. But the DEC discovered that between 2012 and 2014, the developers who previously owned the site used an unapproved fill to replace contaminated soil. The new fill forced the DEC to change the cleanup to a “Track 4” restricted residential cleanup, which allows for multi-family housing or units with a “common controlling entity,” according to a fact sheet from the DEC explaining the change.
For CB 7, the change raised concerns that the cleanup might prevent the agreed-upon plan from proceeding—especially since an earlier version of the fact sheet said that the “Track 4” cleanup would “prohibit single family housing.” After board member Joseph Sweeney discussed the issue with the DEC, citing the agreement, the agency issued a correction for the sheet, writing that “Track 4” would instead “prohibit housing without a common controlling entity responsible for maintaining the ICs and ECs.”
The DEC clarified in a statement to the Queens Tribune: “If the property is controlled by means of common ownership or a single owner/managing entity, the remedy will not prohibit single-family housing and as such the proposed 52-unit subdivision contemplated by the special permit is an acceptable re-use of this site.”
For Avella and other community members, however, the issue is not yet resolved. He sent a letter to the DEC, asking why the community was not informed of the track change before it happened, and wondering how the inappropriate fill may affect future homeowners.
“There’s gonna have to be a [civic or homeowners] association to manage the entire property because the association is going to have to manage this vapor system [required by the Track 4 fill], which is going to be, in my opinion, very expensive,” Avella said at Monday’s press conference.
Additionally, Whitestone resident Robert LoScalzo believes that despite the correction made in the September fact sheet, it’s impossible for the DEC to allow single-family homes on a Track 4 site, per the Department of State’s regulations. In a letter to the DEC, he cites one regulation that “the restricted residential use” denoted by Track 4 “shall at a minimum, include restrictions which prohibit…single family housing.”
“It’s right there in black and white,” LoScalzo said. “It just doesn’t seem to wash with what the regulation says.”
The DEC said that the certificate of completion for the remediation should be issued this year. Additionally, the agency is “establishing an escrow agreement with the developer to fund site management activities at this site for a period of 10 years in the amount of $272,000.” In the meantime, Sweeney said that the board has reached out to Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) seeking the only thing that will guarantee single-family homes at Waterpointe: a rezoning.