It’s easy to understand how the initial rejection by the Pleasantville Planning Commission to approve Lighthouse Living’s 71-unit apartment building at 52 Depew St. on Feb. 26 caused a significant stir.
It’s not often that an application reaches a vote for site plan approval and fails to gain support from a majority of the board.
While mainly traffic issues were resolved within three weeks following negotiations in executive session between the village and the applicant, which allowed for the Mar. 18 approval, angst over two other matters continue to follow the project.
The Town of Mount Pleasant and the Village of Pleasantville have reported that Lighthouse Living owes back taxes of more than $51,000 and $12,000, respectively.
And recently, the former owner of the 1.04-acre parcel, Vincent LaDuca, who operated an auto repair shop at the site for 18 years, recently told The Examiner that insinuations that his operation was the source of soil contamination at the site is wrong. The contamination, which will require Lighthouse Living to undertake a Brownfield Cleanup Program, was caused by a gas station that had occupied the site when state regulations were less stringent, LaDuca said.
Mount Pleasant Receiver of Taxes Grace Papa said Lighthouse owes $47,673.74 in back taxes from 2018, and $3,471.07 for 2019. The combined $51,144.81 includes town and school taxes, she said.
According to Jason Hoffman, Pleasantville’s village treasurer, all previous liens on the property were paid but two are outstanding: a 2019 lien for $4,341.63 and another this year for $8,395.09.
David Cooper, an attorney representing Lighthouse Living, however, contended that when his client took title of the property, all liens were resolved.
“Now that Lighthouse is the owner of the property, they are not in arrears anymore,” Cooper said.
LaDuca said he paid all taxes in full on the property at the bank closing with Lighthouse in late 2018. He sold the property to Lighthouse Living in November 2018 and moved his business to Mount Kisco.
He was steadfast that his shop did not cause the ground contamination.
“A number of my clients called me about the articles,” he said. “They frown on these issues and don’t take them lightly.”
LaDuca purchased the land from gas station owner John Nitti in 2000. Nitti owned the property from 1976.
When the bank issued LaDuca a small business loan to purchase the property, a Phase 2 environmental site assessment was required, he said. Although contaminated soil from years of leaks was discovered at the site, his business loan was approved.
“The bank was more relaxed about the situation,” he recalled. “Today it’s different from 20 years ago. We didn’t know the seriousness (of the leaks) back then, how (the contamination) gets in the water.”
LaDuca said he knew there were numerous tanks underground when he bought the property. He removed six of them – two 20,000-gallon tanks and four 6,000-gallon tanks – which had been leaking into the ground. LaDuca Auto Repair did not sell gas.
“I took every measure possible to clean up all the junk, old cars and tires and auto parts that were left there,” he said.
Pleasantville Building Department records show that most of the underground oil tanks had been on site since at least the 1960s; a 10,000-gallon gas tank was replaced in 1969.
In a 2019 environmental report prepared for Lighthouse Living by HydroEnvironmental Solutions for the state Department of Conservation, soil samples revealed elevated levels of petroleum hydrocarbons and other volatile organic compounds. Environmental regulations require the removal of the contaminated soil, especially if property encroaches on a wetlands buffer, which is the case at 52 Depew St.
Lighthouse Living plans on spending $1.5 million to complete the Brownfield Cleanup Program to mitigate the contamination.