Contaminated Site and Cannabis Confusion at CB5 

By Celia Bernhardt |

Community Board 5 gathered for a full-board meeting last week in Christ the King High School’s cafeteria. Highlights from the meeting included an update about a nearby contaminated site and full-board votes on adult-use retail cannabis license applicants.

Radioactive Contamination Cleanup in Ridgewood

In his District Manager’s report, Gary Giordano called attention to a piece of environmental news in the area: a contaminated site located at 1127 and 1129 Irving Avenue in Ridgewood is set to undergo a demolition and cleanup process this January. 

The site was home to the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company from 1920-1954. The company’s activities involved processing monazite sand, which contains Thorium, a “naturally occurring radioactive substance found in small amounts of rocks, soil, and water” according to the EPA. 

The EPA is set to demolish four buildings on the site and remove all debris, a process that will run from January to late April. “What they’re gonna do to control the dust is they’re gonna keep the area wet down,” Giordano said. “The area is fenced, but they’re not going to tent the area. They think it’s safe enough that they can do what they intend to do.” 

After this phase is completed, the removal of Thorium-contaminated soil will begin. 

“In some areas the contamination of the soil is quite deep, especially under one or more of the buildings,” Giordano said to the board. “Other areas, the contamination may only be four feet down.” 

“Some of it is in the city sewer system,” Giordano added later. “So they’re going to try to flush that out, and whatever they can’t flush out, they’re going to replace the sewer line.” 

The site was added to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in 2014. Now that cleanup is set to begin, Giordano says that the EPA’s communication leaves much to be desired. 

“I don’t think the outreach was too good by the EPA, because they didn’t even contact us directly,” Giordano said, explaining that he found out about the initiation of the cleanup “through the grapevine” instead. 

Giordano called the contamination removal a “slow and expensive process.” 

“The last I know—and I don’t know if the price tag went up—it was $30 million to do this removal,” he said. 

“They do not think that it is a significant risk to the people who are even nearby,” Giordano said. “From what I know, the worst levels of radiation are under the buildings where the work was being done. So they kind of just dumped into a pit in the buildings, they dumped into the city sewer system, and now the department of environmental protection, with your water and sewer charges, has to pay to remediate the sewer problems.”

Later, Chairperson Vincent Arcuri Jr. clarified that the EPA would “keep going till they get rid of it.”


Cannabis License Headaches 

Shortly after Giordano’s report, the Liquor License and Cannabis Committee took to the floor. Maryann Lattanzio presented the committee’s recent review of five applicants for adult-use retail cannabis dispensary licenses, inviting the board to vote either for or against the committee’s own decision on each applicant.

Votes were cast between long sidetracks of confusion, questions, and clarifications.

The first applicant, Lattanzio explained, initially came with two proposed locations—64-40 Myrtle Avenue and 71-05 Myrtle Avenue. The committee had voted against the first site on the grounds of its proximity to Saint’s Church. The majority of the board voted to uphold that decision. 

71-05 Myrtle Avenue was next. This location had received a split vote by the committee earlier in the month, with three in opposition on the grounds that it lay close to Forte Prep High School (though whether or not it would be legally too close was unclear). There was confusion about the hypothetical dispensary being at the address which currently houses a gas station and liquor store; then there was confusion about which distance regulation, if any, the location would be in violation of, as board members cited a nearby church and mosque. 

The board’s vote was split approximately two-to-one, with those “for” upholding the committee’s opposition winning the majority. 

66-74 Fresh Pond Road was introduced next. Lattanzio told the board that the committee voted to oppose the location “based on the proximity to Benninger playground.” 

Board Member Carol Benvic-Bradley raised a question in response. “It’d just be helpful, I think, when we’re hearing these proposals for ‘for’ or ‘against,’ if we could cite the specific rule. So, proximity to a playground—is there a certain [distance] that it should be away? And does it fall inside of that requirement or outside of it?”

“To my knowledge, it’s similar to a school in that you shouldn’t be 500 feet from the playground site,” Giordano said. “This is less than that.”

Board Member Diego Leclery spoke next. “It seems to me from having attended one of these meetings that these guidelines are being interpreted quite freely,” he said. “We should be very mindful that if we interpret these rules to include every area that a young person might be near or in, we’re going to make legal cannabis impossible in this city and we’re going to help the proliferation of illegal cannabis.”

Lattanzio also mentioned, later in the discussion, that the applicant neglected to show up to the committee’s meeting or fill out the questionnaire sent to him. 

“It’s very alarming when someone does not respond to the community board’s request,” CB5 Financial Secretary Eric Butkiewicz said. “This is when they’re trying to get something from us, and this is how they’re behaving. When they dont need something from us, think how they’re going to behave towards us.”

After more comments and questions about distance regulations, the board voted to uphold the committee’s recommendation. 

66-33 Fresh Pond Road was up next—the first to have earned a committee stance of “not opposed” through a 3-2 vote earlier in the month. Votes opposed to the location were due to its placement on the same street as Benninger Playground, though it exceeded 500 feet in distance. After some varied discussion, the board voted in favor of the committee’s report. 

78-10 Cypress Avenue followed. Unlike previous sites, this one would be located in a manufacturing zone, farther from residential and community corridors. The applicant earned a unanimous vote of “not opposed” from the committee, which the majority of the board voted to uphold. 

The last location was 55-41 Myrtle Avenue, which the committee opposed based on its under-200 feet proximity to a synagogue.

“We also believe he was selling cannabis illegally, as he had already had the sign put up,” Lattanzio said. “And an armed robbery took place on December 4th at night at that location.” 

Lattanzio went on to say that on the morning of the committee meeting earlier in the month, she passed by the location and saw that the applicant had put up a sign advertising cannabis products—something the state doesn’t allow even after one has obtained a license, much less before. 

“The lawyer didn’t know about the sign being put up,” she said, referencing the applicant and lawyer’s visit to the committee meeting. “He told us he was going to cover it up with black markings, which he didn’t.”

The board voted unanimously for the first time in the night, standing by the committee’s report. 


Chhaya CDC Hosts a Winter Festival at Lt. Frank McConnell Park

By Athena Dawson |

On Saturday, December 16th, members of Chhaya Community Development Corporation (CDC) held a Winter Festival event at Lt. Frank McConnell Park, in Richmond Hill. The event aimed to open a dialogue between the organization and residents about how the park could be turned into a more active community space. 

Chhaya CDC serves low to moderate income New Yorkers and provides services around homeownership and economic well being. The organization primarily services the Jackson Heights, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park communities with an emphasis on South Asian and Indo-Caribbean residents. 

Members of Chhaya CDC and their urban design partner organizations, Hive Public Space and Studio Fōr, gave out samosas and warm chai, and manned an arts and craft table for families that stopped by. 

Jessica Balgovin, special initiatives manager for Chhaya CDC, said the event is a part of an ongoing community project. “We want to bring more community to the space and bring more programming and make it more accessible. We’ve observed that there is a real lack of accessible public space in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park,” Balgovin said.

Chhaya CDC members host their Winter Festival outreach event

Balgovin feels the park has the potential to be an even bigger community space in Richmond Hill. One of the goals for the event was to poll residents on how they felt the park could be utilized to bring the community together. 

“One of the biggest things we are doing today is to get people to fill out our community experience survey. We’re asking folks specific questions about Frank Mcconnell park. We have a storytelling station where people are sharing their ideas about the park and their experiences,” she said. 

Alexandra Gonzalez, co-founder of Hive Public Space, explained how important it is to make public spaces racially and culturally inclusive. “We want to make sure that the spaces reflect the type of communities they are in, and the programming feels like a reflection of the people and the types of things they want to do. We’re getting really good feedback and we are seeing that kids want to do a lot of programming,” she said.

Hive Public Space Co-Founder Alexandra Gonzalez mans a vision board station

Gonzalez noted that so far, their data shows that residents are interested in a community garden and arts and craft events for kids in the park. “We’re definitely seeing that a community garden and art programming is what people are leaning towards,” she said. “We definitely want to have something like a class that will be a continuous thing.”

The polling and community outreach is a part of an ongoing effort to eventually transform the park into an active community space in the future.

Fauzia Khanani, founder of architecture firm Studio Fōr, feels that the park is a central location that can be utilized by the Richmond Hill community, “We think that the community could really benefit from an evolution of programming and what’s offered in the space” she said. “We’re spending a lot of time trying to build relationships in the neighborhood and really understand what people need,” she said.

The Winter Festival is one of many events that Chhaya CDC and their urban design partners plan to host at Lt. Frank McConnell Park in the future.


Queens Bus Redesign Proposal Released: Southeast Queens Reps Express Concerns

By Celia Bernhardt |

The MTA unveiled its final proposal for the Queens Bus Network Redesign last week, taking another stab at reconfiguring bus routes in the borough. 

The $30 million dollar plan would cut 10 existing routes, add 15 new ones, and tweak plenty of others. 

Queens residents are more reliant on buses than boroughs with more extensive subway service, like Manhattan and Brooklyn; roughly 800,000 Queens residents board a bus on an average weekday. But riders have had to make do with a bus system with declining on-time performance (a 12 percent decrease from 2014 to 2018) and bus speeds (from nine miles per hour in 2015 to 8.7 miles per hour in 2019). 

MTA efforts to remedy that decline with a full redesign have been in development since 2019. An original draft plan was published in 2020; after a fairly negative reception from the public and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative took a pause. Another draft plan was released in March 2022. It was described by the MTA as a “fresh look” at the redesign, taking direction from the outpouring of feedback in 2020. This newly-released iteration, the Proposed Final Plan, builds on 2022’s feedback. 

Full-borough redesign map. Courtesy of the MTA

A change permeating the design as a whole is increased spacing between bus stops. This would force some riders to walk farther in their daily commute, but the MTA says it should ultimately make the buses faster and more reliable; the plan states that removing one stop saves riders about 20 seconds per trip. The agency also aims to straighten out routes that may have too many twists and turns to create faster, more direct service.

The plan proposes new “rush routes,” designed to pick up residents in the Northeast and Southeast sections of the borough less served by transit and get them to subway stations fast, with fewer and fewer stops as the bus nears its destination. The MTA also highlighted changes to its express lines—one new proposed line, the QM65, would link Laurelton and Rochdale to downtown Manhattan. 

The transit agency kicked off its long road of feedback with a series of closed-door meetings with local stakeholders in different quadrants of the borough. Next, the agency will visit all 14 community boards in Queens, where constituents will be able to speak their minds about the proposed changes.

Andrew Lynch, chief design officer at transit advocacy group QueensLink, expects plenty of pushback. 

“It’s all about subjectivity,” Lynch said. “It’s all about ‘Are you reducing my stop?’ And you’re never going to win that battle…You have to cut something, you have to hurt someone’s commute to help everyone else’s commute.”

Lynch said that the mood among his colleagues in the transit world was generally positive towards the plan. 

“I would say this: we’re relatively happy with where this is. There are always going to be small little changes where you’re like ‘That doesn’t make sense,’ or ‘Why’d they do that?’ that are probably too nitpicky. Because at some point, you just need to pull the bandaid off,” Lynch said.

Early Criticism from Southeast Queens Reps

Southeast Queens representatives have had some angst about the plan thus far. City Council Transportation Committee Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers said at a press conference that she had “serious concerns.” 

“The changes proposed to help streamline and speed up service could also leave many people in my district at a severe disadvantage,” she continued. “Especially with the addition of congestion pricing in the city.” Brooks-Powers did not go into specific complaints at the press conference or in a follow-up statement released on Dec. 12. 

State Senator Leroy Comrie also spoke, floating the idea that Brooks-Powers took issue with additional bus lines in Rosedale.

“We went from one bus line in Rosedale to four bus lines, and that’ll confuse people so she wants to see that cleaned up,” Comrie said. 

Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson said that he also has concerns about how the plan will manifest in Rosedale. 

“More buses sounds good, but I would say that there has to be more coordination on where those buses meet,” Anderson said. He argued that though more bus lines will run through the neighborhood, they won’t enable residents to traverse from one point in Rosedale to another. 

Southeast Queens redesign map. Courtesy of the MTA

He also decried the alterations to the MTA’s planned Q51 route since its last form in the 2022 New Draft Plan: originally, the proposed route would connect Cambria Heights to Brooklyn’s Gateway Center mall via Lindenwood Boulevard. Now, it stops short at the Rockaway Boulevard A train station in Ozone Park. “You want to connect people to economic centers, to jobs, to resources, and that Q51 bus did,” Anderson said. “It was one of the most exciting, bold ideas that was out in the last plan, and I’m sad that it was taken out.” 

But Anderson’s primary concern is the Rockaways.

“The glaring thing that stands out is that there’s no major changes to any of the routes that leave the Rockaway peninsula,” Anderson said. “When I think about…the hundreds, if not thousands of families we’re getting via the migrant shelter we have in our district—I’m thinking about moving more than the people we have presently on the peninsula.”

Lynch had a similar takeaway. “The Rockaways still have relatively poor east-west transportation,” he said. “The weird thing is that there’s literally no recommendations for change.”

“We need to be bold in Rockaway,” Anderson continued, suggesting a bus from the peninsula to JFK Airport and an extension of the Q52 bus further east. 


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