Focus of Affordable Housing Concerns Shifts to Environmental, Health Issues

The proposal for a zoning change that would permit a 54-unit affordable senior housing project at the corner of Theodore Fremd Avenue and North Street was opened for a public hearing in January.

Published June 6, 2014 5:00 AM
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The proposal for a zoning change that would permit a 54-unit affordable senior housing project at the corner of Theodore Fremd Avenue and North Street was opened for a public hearing in January.

By Bill Lawyer

The proposal for a zoning change that would permit a 54-unit affordable senior housing project at the corner of Theodore Fremd Avenue and North Street was opened for a public hearing in January. This followed the presentation of the project to the City Council by developer Lou Larizza and Deputy Planning Commissioner Norma Drummond in December.  

At the hearing, supporters stressed the need for housing for those of modest income. They cited a three-year waiting list to get into Rye Manor, the senior affordable housing facility on Theall Road.  

Opponents, primarily neighboring property owners, outlined a variety of traffic and safety issues. The proposed site, which is currently zoned for commercial use, is located behind a gas station and directly adjacent to the railroad tracks and I-95.  

As the hearings progressed, the primary focus at the May 7 Council meeting turned to environmental and health issues. One neighbor in particular, John Shoemaker, questioned the conclusions of County Health and NY DEC officials who said that the site was safe for residential development.  

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Shoemaker obtained a number of documents that he claimed showed the site still possessed some contaminants. After some hesitation, Shoemaker agreed to share his notes and data with the Council.

Larizza informed the Council that they would be receiving extensive documentation of the County’s claim, and could discuss the information at the next meeting, May 21. By the time of that meeting, Council members had the materials promised by the County, along with a four-page letter from the County Planning and Health departments.

In the letter are references to conclusions drawn from tests in April and May 2014, stating that the project’s depositing a minimum of three feet of fill “is sufficient to protect against any possible exposure to soil contaminants.”  

And, the DEC and the Health Department report, “All accessible contaminated soil has been removed from the Valero site, and therefore the Valero site no longer contains a source of contamination.”

Mayor Sack asked Councilwoman Laura Brett to take the lead in discussing the reports. Brett noted that some of the points raised in the letter did not have supporting details, and expressed concern regarding the ability of the Council to wade through all the information.

Councilman Richard Slack had questions about whether the measurements took into consideration impact during heavy rains, the issue of fumes, and whether the site is a wetland or not.
Mayor Sack suggested that the Council should hire its own, independent expert to review the County and DEC data.  

Resident Walter Savrack, who lives on nearby Hammond Road, urged the City to hire a consultant – someone to make sure that the information is not “tilted” toward development. He also raised the question of whether all the additional fill being proposed, to “cap” the site would actually alleviate the fumes.

City Planner Christian Miller said it was very appropriate for the City to hire a consultant. He also added that building on a formerly toxic site is not “revolutionary” for Rye. He noted that many former gas station sites are now being used for commercial (1st floor) and residential (2nd floor) purposes.  

Mayor Sack commented that it’s too bad the site that’s causing the pollution is not the property in question – then the City could control the cleanup process.

The Council voted unanimously to hire an independent consultant. They agreed that the consultant should focus on determining the nature of the sub-surface conditions and their implications for the proposed residential development.

 

 

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