It’s No Fun Living Next to a Superfund Site as Dubious Plans Move Forward at Former NuHart Plastics Building
Since scaffolding was erected last week on Dupont Street, complaints to 311 and NYC Council Member Stephen Levin’s Office have been rolling in.
Greenpoint’s former NuHart Plastics manufacturing facility is partially a state-managed Superfund Site and is divided into 10 parcels spanning an entire acre on Clay, Dupont and Franklin Streets. Two of the “uncontaminated” lots are scheduled to undergo demolition in the coming weeks.
At press time, the scaffolding lacked visible street-level permits and extends far beyond Lot 57 to include adjacent Lot 17. This is the latest in a series of well-documented missteps by the Dupont Street Developers and their rotating cast of contractors.
While North Brooklyn is no stranger to toxic sites undergoing remediation and redevelopment, NuHart has been a special case thanks to its complicated bureaucracy and dubious toxin-testing methods.
The developers are currently rushing to commence demolition, despite the Greenpoint community’s pleas for a sound cleanup plan prior to action at the site. A Dupont Street resident who wishes to remain anonymous sent a concerned message to Greenpointers:
This second lot that they are planning to demolish has a playground a half a block away and a residence for seniors right across the street, not to mention all the residents of the area including vulnerable children. So stirring up toxic soil and who knows what else inside and out in this added demolition of an e-designated site, not shared with the community at any time including at the last big public meeting, seems like true callousness as to the safety concerns of the community. It also seems that vows to be transparent and update local residents were only paying lip service to the concept as one doesn’t take these steps without planning. nor does one order and erect scaffolding on the spur of the moment. All this was done without any communication or transparency whatsoever.
Call it absurd, but the developer’s plans are legal. Lots 17 and 57 are as-of -right developments, and Lot 17 is
technically not part of the neighboring (E) designated site: Welcome to the unscrupulous relay race that is Brooklyn real estate in 2016.
Under the same logic that Lot 17 and 57 are separate buildings, the developers attempted to earn a few dollars and rent out the building for a 5,000 person rave last Halloween. The Fire Department shut down the party before the organizers had a chance to shuttle partygoers into the Superfund and E-designated portions of the building.
And it was under that logic as well that demolition was approved in 2014 for both parcels, according to the NYC Department of Buildings:
Demo applications for both 93 Dupont St (Lot 57) and 22 Clay St (Lot 17) were processed and approved 8/14/14. Please note that “approval” for demo applications is not the same as with construction approvals. Demo approval is more like acknowledging that the application was properly submitted and processed. Prior to permit issuance, a checklist of items including a pre-demo inspection by DOB is required.
With the developers awaiting approval from the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (OER), Lot 17 (pictured below in the red area) will likely undergo imminent demolition prior to the cleanup of the underground plumes of toxic chemicals nearby. Serious questions pertaining to the testing at Lot 17 are also being raised by residents and community groups.
Michael Roux, chief hydrologist at Roux Associates, is the environmental consultant to the Dupont Street Developers.
Mr. Roux also acts as the developer’s spokesman to the Greenpoint community, and he announced the plans for Lot 57 at the July 2015 public meeting:
The blue box, Lot 57, is uncontaminated. The plan as of right now is for construction of an as-of-right building, five to six stories residential. The goal is to keep it in line with the existing architecture of the neighborhood. The schedule is ‘as soon as possible,’ we’d like to be out there in a month or two, but I don’t know for sure, that’s the goal.
The other two boxes, we have found contamination on those two parcels. They’re separated by color because the yellow box is currently the New York State DEC Superfund site. The red box is not [a Superfund-designated site], and we have found some contamination there, but that is going to be managed primarily through the city Department of Environmental Remediation (sic) and their E-Designation program.
Greenpoint residents that seek accountability may have misplaced hopes in a city governed by a Mayor who accepts large sums of political donations from Brooklyn mega-developers, amongst a foot clan of corrupt inspectors at the Department of Buildings.
Their battle continues at NuHart, where the implications for public health are well-founded; see the Jan. 2016 fact sheets on trichloroethylene (TCE) and phthalates courtesy of the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and Environmental Stewardship Concepts.
At the adjacent parcels overseen by the city and state, a vaporous plume of TCE and a gelatinous plume of 40,000 – 60,000 gallons of phthalates mixed with groundwater both remain. A close look at the July 2015 report reveals that Lot 17 also has its fair share of contamination.
Mike Schade, Board Member of NAG, requests that the city OER give Lot 17 a closer look before green-lighting development:
The pending demolition of the NuHart Lot 17 building raises questions about the environmental conditions underneath the building. Given that high levels of the human carcinogen TCE have been detected at 14,000 ug/m3 in soil vapor in Lot 17, the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) and NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) should require the developer to conduct additional sampling for TCE to assess whether or not this chemical is present underneath and possibly migrating into the building via vapor intrusion, to protect both the community but also future building occupants. It’s the right thing to do, to insure that demolition workers, the community and future building occupants are protected.
The Albany-based Department of Health insists that the toxins are not a threat to public health, despite a lack of a door-to-door health study. Downplaying human risk is common at toxic sites across the state and country.
The Dupont Street Developers are also an interesting group. Joseph Brunner is the lead investor of the redevelopment and was observed fleeing the November 2015 meeting in Greenpoint as the crowd of local residents voiced their anger over the Halloween incident.
Mr. Brunner is also facing a lawsuit from fellow developer Chaim Miller for allegedly not repaying a loan on the 49 Dupont parcel, according to the Real Deal:
In August 2012, Brunner, under the entity Dupont Street Developers, acquired the site for $23.3 million, city records show. Although Miller claims Brunner’s letter of credit has since been released, he says he is yet to be repaid.
Brunner used “multiple shell limited liability companies in a high stakes game of three-card Monte to hide the identity of the current owners of [49 Dupont] and to avoid his financial obligations to Miller,” the complaint states.
It adds: “This is the first in what is expected to be a series of lawsuits intended to uncover the details and remedy a massive fraud and scheme orchestrated by Joseph Brunner to wrestle control of a valuable property.”
While the Greenpoint community has little influence in the legal dealings regarding the questionable finances of the Dupont Street Developers, there are steps locals can take to ensure increased accountability.
People and agencies who did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication include Micael Roux, Yi Han (Dupont Street Developers), the New York State Department of Health, and the city OER.