Several White Plains residents blasted a proposal to develop the property at 52 N. Broadway during the May 6 Common Council meeting.
The neighboring residents were particularly concerned about a landfill on the site. For months residents have questioned whether the former owners of the site, the Sisters of the Divine Compassion, were forthcoming about the status of the landfill when they decided to sell the former Good Counsel campus.
The developer is seeking to amend the White Plains Zoning Ordinance to create a new Planned Residential Development Zoning District and amend the Zoning Map classification for the site from RM-1.5 to Planned Residential Development. The developer is also asking for approval of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The analysis of the open space fill area, prepared by Hauppauge, LI-based VHB that was commissioned by the city and submitted to White Plains Commissioner of Building Damon Amadio in January suggests, “the existing backfill material is not considered satisfactory and it may be necessary for same to be removed from each applicable building footprint (referring to the proposed residential development of the site).”
The analysis is based on 14 samples taken from 11 borings at the site from late November to early December 2018.
The report states: “Regardless of environmental impacts and the eventual plan for addressing the removal and/or capping of environmentally impaired soils, the generation and disposal of surplus soils should also be considered. VHB anticipates that surplus soils will likely be generated due to the proposed site redevelopment activities, and there is a potential that geotechnical specifications will require additional excavation/removal of the backfill. Off-site disposal of surplus soils should be considered due to the impairments detected.”
The history of toxicity at the former Good Counsel athletic field dates back to a period between 2004 and 2006 when backfill containing construction and demolition debris was deposited on the site. Upon inspection by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at that time, it was determined SVOCs were present in the fill materials at concentrations exceeding the NYSDEC objectives.
At last week’s meeting one of the vocal critics of the project was Maria Gallagher, who resides at 10 Stewart Place. She was particularly critical of comments at the April meeting made by Anthony Veneziano, an attorney representing the developer, who did not attend last week’s meeting.
“During Mr. Veneziano’s ‘woe is me’ speech he remarked that the developer really cares about the nearby residents and knew about the illegal landfill when they bided and bought the property for millions of dollars,” Gallagher said. “He also stated the developer had all intentions of safely remediating the area before building. Here is the original petition for rezoning and building dated July 25, 2016; nowhere can I find any remediation plan or acknowledgement that the area of the landfill might be unsafe. If we the nearby residents had not voiced our concerns, the developers would have pushed ahead and starting building without any remediation or safety standards in place.”
Gallagher disputed the comment by the developer’s attorney that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has given them a clean bill of health. “The DEC told the developer to cover the landfill with a geo membrane, two inches of clean soil on top of that is not there currently and to not disturb the landfill for 30 years. How could the DEC write a letter to the developers stating there was nothing toxic in the landfill area when our independent testing had not been completed yet. This makes no sense,” Gallagher said.
“How many times are we going to hear Mr. (William) Null and Mr. Veneziano, who represent the developer, say they are in the process of making repairs to the exposed and compromised membrane? I have heard these statements over and over again at each meeting over the past months, but the work has not been done,” Gallagher said. “Our own soil testing team, VHB, and the DEC have stated the membrane is exposed and needs to be fixed. Meantime, we the nearby residents are living feet away from this area and we continue to hear from the developers, we are in the process of working with the DEC. Just do the work and fix it if you really care about our health. I cannot understand what is taking so long.”
“This is the same developer we are supposed to trust if they are allowed to build, that they will conform to all regulations that our independent agency has recommended to the DEC. Who is going to monitor daily that these soils are going to be contained, wetted down so no dust particles are released, soil vapor barriers conformed to? Is the DEC going to be there every day ensuring our safety? This illegal landfill is there because there was a lack of monitoring from this agency in the first place,” Gallagher said. The only way to ensure the safety of neighboring residents is to not approve the project, she said.
Another 10 Stewart Place resident, Ellen Glasser, also expressed serious concerns about the landfill. “For the last three years our neighborhood has been fighting for our lives and our homes,” she said. “All of this time we have been waiting for the help of our elected officials.” Chemicals initially thought not to be dangerous throughout America have led to health hazards to residents including cancer, she said. “Why are you subjecting White Plains to possible illness or death by cancer?” she asked.
Clifford Davis, an attorney representing residents of the 10 Stewart Place condominium complex, said the zoning change would not be consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan because of the negative visual impact on residents of the complex. “Ten Stewart Place is being thrown under the bus” if the zoning change is given to the developer, he said.
George James, a visual impact analyst hired by the board of directors of 10 Stewart Place, said the proposed project would have an adverse impact on complex residents, which currently have exceptional views. “It blocks the view. You can no longer see the horizon,” Janes said. “These (proposed) buildings are 400 feet wide.”
Null said last week his client would respond to the roughly one year of comments from residents during the DEIS hearing in the FEIS. “Informed decision-making is the only decision making you undertake,” Null told the Common Council. He asked that the public hearing be closed.
Councilman Dennis Krolian said he opposed both the closing of the public hearing and the zoning change for the property. “It is surrounded by our constituents” with “an illegal dump site” which was ordered to be covered by the DEC 12 years ago, he said. The landfill “is a public safety” hazard and risk to the surrounding area. There are holes and tears in the membrane covering the landfill. “No repair has ever been accomplished and this site is dangerous,” he said. More information is required before the public hearing can be closed. “Public safety is the real issue,” he said, adding no resident in the neighborhood of the property has spoken in favor of the project.
Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona said there was a “lack of information” about the project in the scoping document, which she voted against. “Because these questions are complex” the public hearing must be kept open, she said.
There should be a 3D representation of the landfill, Lecuona continued. “You have these tools,” she told the representatives of the developer.
The Common Council voted 5-2 to close the public hearing on the DEIS, with Lecuona and Krolian voting no. With the closing of the public hearing, the developer released a statement that it now looks forward to the opportunity to address the comments raised.
The Council adjourned the public hearing on the proposed zoning change to July 1.