2006-09-15 / Community

Snag in Plan to Expand Water Pollution Plant

By Brian Magoolaghan

Homes are being built on the site where the Department of Environmental Protection wants to expand the Rockaway Water Pollution Control Plant.
Homes are being built on the site where the Department of Environmental Protection wants to expand the Rockaway Water Pollution Control Plant.

Stories about the Rockaway Water Pollution Control Plant usually involve people pinching their noses, but this one might have you scratching your head.

In November of 2004, representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection won community board support for a plan to expand the plant by acquiring adjacent land where a defunct catering hall stood. The plant would gain a new "administration building, parking facility, and accessory electrical substation," according to the agency's project proposal.

Community board approval was a preliminary step in the required Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, and it was estimated then that work could be started sometime next year. The only sticking point seemed to be the condition of the site, which was littered with construction debris and had potentially dangerous levels of zinc and iron in soil mounds.

Kevin Clarke, a project manager for the Department of Environmental Protection, presents the agency's expansion plan at Community Board 14's meeting in November of 2004.
Kevin Clarke, a project manager for the Department of Environmental Protection, presents the agency's expansion plan at Community Board 14's meeting in November of 2004. Kevin Clarke, DEP's project manager, told community board members that the owner of the property would have to safely clean and secure the site first.

Shortly after that meeting, a construction fence went up around the 190 x 387-foot site, and workers began demolishing the catering hall and clearing the site.

Everything appeared to be going according to plan - until the foundations for new homes appeared on the site this summer.

Property records show that the site, located at 315 Beach 104 Street, was sold last year to developers listed as Beach 104 Street Realty, with offices in Staten Island. In July, the developers filed plans with the Department of Buildings for the construction of two three-story residential units.

But DEP told The Wave this week that the agency is moving forward with its plans to expand onto the property. "We are still interested in obtaining that property," said DEP spokesperson Ian Michaels. "The owner has refused our offer to purchase it and we are taking the steps to proceed to condemnation."

Meanwhile, Gal Sela, the man behind Beach 104 Street Realty, told The Wave he had no idea that DEP was eyeing the property.

"I have no clue what you're talking about," Sela said. "How am I supposed to know? Nobody contacted me."

Sela accused the former owner of selling him the property without disclosing the fact that the DEP was interested in it, but he also said he'd be willing to sell. "If [DEP] wants to buy, no problem," he said. "If the price is right, why not?" Meanwhile, Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 14's district manager, questioned the decision to build homes near a plant that constantly generates a powerful odor said Sela should stop building on the site immediately (the DOB issued a "Stop Work" order at the site, which is unrelated to this issue).

"It doesn't make sense for this guy to do any more work there," he said. Gaska said the city could take the property for DEP's use under eminent domain, and suggested that Sela "may have legal recourse" against the former owner, Meyer Chaim Greenbaum of Brooklyn.

Gaska said he has tipped DEP off to the new development at the site and will meet with reps from the agencies within a few weeks.

"DEP is one of these big, big agencies," he said. "I'm sure this got lost somewhere."

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