A long-neglected vacant Upper East Side lot that neighbors unsuccessfully fought to transform from an eyesore into a community garden is so toxic it needs remediation removing 20 feet of soil, according to a public notice from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which plans to give a developer tax breaks to clean up the chemical-contaminated land on which it will build a giant luxury apartment building.
As the overgrown, rat-infested lot became a longtime blight at the corner of First Avenue and East 78th Street — even drawing attention from City Council Member Julie Menin and then-Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney — the prior owners of the property sat on an environmental assessment from 2016 showing high levels of toxic chemicals in the dirt left from chemical spills years ago, according to records filed with the state.
Just before selling the property to developers for $73.5 million in December 2021, the prior owner hired contractors to clear the entire lot of every last piece of vegetation— pulling up every plant, chopping down every tree, and leaving behind what we now know is churned-up toxic dirt, rocks, bricks and bits of trash.
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According to filings with the state, the development site located at 1487 First Avenue served as home to a “dyeing and cleaning facility” in addition to multiple laundries over the past century, which is likely to blame for the contamination. A leak from two 275-gallon home heating oil tanks in 2009 are also noted.
Industrial solvents like trichloroethene, tetrachloroethane and chloroform, along with the toxic insecticide DDT, a known carcinogen, as well as heavy metals including barium and mercury have all been identified as a contaminants of concern in the soil at the site. However, according to the DEC, the contaminated property “does not pose a significant threat to public health or the environment.”
Carmel Partners, the California-based developer who bought the toxic land is now asking for a tax break from New York State to clean up their own property. You read that correctly. The developer is asking taxpayers to subsidize the remediation, so their luxury tower will be more attractive to prospective residents who wouldn’t want to live on top of toxic land.
Filings show a 24-story, 189,000 square foot mixed-use building with 12,000 square feet of commercial space and 94 apartments planned for the site — which sounds like a lot — except that would mean each apartment would be on average 1,900 square feet, pointing towards a luxury development. Conflicting filings indicate the tower could grow as tall as 34-stories.
The NYC Department of Buildings says Carmel Partners could legally construct the exact same size luxury condo tower on the site without doing the remediation work — or receiving the tax break associated with the so-called Brownfield Cleanup Program under which they’ve applied.
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Remediation work was well underway at the site on Wednesday, where Upper East Site spoke with unmasked workers who explained that respirators were not necessary when handling the the toxic soil because they were working in the open air outdoors.
“New York State has a proven track record of successfully investigating and cleaning up contaminated sites across New York City,” said a NYS Department of Environmental Conversation spokesperson in a statement to Upper East Site.
“DEC will provide comprehensive oversight of the cleanup of the 1487 First Avenue site under the [Brownfield Cleanup Program], which helps encourage private-sector cleanups to address contamination and protect communities while also promoting a site’s redevelopment.”
There are no public hearings planned on the proposal, however, Upper East Siders can let the Department of Environmental Conservation know what they think of the remediation and tax break by emailing the assigned DEC Project Manager, Michael MacCabe, by Monday, March 27th.
Upper East Site reached out to Carmel Partners for more details on their planned Upper East Side development, but we did not hear back.
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I don’t understand what the problem is. The Brownfield Cleanup Program is a well established program that promotes private enterprises to behave responsibly by cleaning up environmental messes. Yes it is tax payer money, but this time you are actually getting something for your money. As for building without remediation being legal, I don’t see how it would be feasible. They need to move soil out of there to put in the new foundation. Once built, how much tax money will the building generate over its lifetime? Far more than if it stays an empty polluted lot.