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Community Board 5 members express concerns about proposed zoning laws and cannabis shops at year-end meeting

Dec. 14, 2023 By Anthony Medina

Concerns over proposed zoning laws and the influx of cannabis shops remained the top concerns among members of Community Board 5 at its year-end meeting Wednesday night.

The board meeting, held at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, also focused on quality-of-life issues, with board members and the public wanting to address issues such as rats and trash. Members also discussed the return of local civic group meetings.

Maryann Lattanzio, a board member, said that rats were running rampant in Maspeth. She said the rat problem has been an issue in Ridgewood for some time but has spread into Maspeth. She also made the board aware that the 104th Precinct is looking for Auxiliary Police Officers and encouraged those interested to apply.

Meanwhile, Paul Pogozelski, president of the Middle Village Property Owners and Residents Association, announced the civic group would be holding meetings yet again—starting in February. Pogozelski said he hopes to generate more community involvement with the civic group, create neighborhood safety patrols, and contribute to neighborhood beautification as a whole.

Zoning concerns

The issue of zoning arose, when Paul Kerzner, a board member and Ridgewood native, and member of the Ridgewood Property Owners Civic Association, brought the topic of the “City of Yes” to the board’s attention. The “City of Yes”, a plan put forward by the mayor, involves relaxing some of the existing zoning code in an attempt to create housing and promote business.

In the past board meetings, and others throughout Queens, residents have expressed concerns over provisions in the plan that would promote the conversion of one-family homes into potential multi-family dwellings. The plan would also see the placement of businesses within residential zoning neighborhoods, which also has drawn criticism.

Quality of life issues

Dan DeBrucker, a pastor at the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, complained about a business that he said is contributing to rat issues, music complaints, improper garbage disposal, and selling alcohol illegally. The business in question is located at the former Capitol One Bank building, on the corner of Forest and 70th Avenue, in Ridgewood.

DeBrunker said the police action regarding submitted 311 complaints was slow and he asked for the board to inquire with the 104th Precinct for further action.

Demolition of toxic site

In District Manager Gary Giordano’s monthly report, given shortly after the public forum, he said the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company property, located at 11-27 and 11-29 Irving Ave., in Ridgewood, was about to be demolished.

The demolition, he said, is necessary to remove radiologically contaminated building materials and the contaminated soil underneath the buildings. The Wolff-Alport Chemical Company operated on the property from 1920 – 1954 processing monazite sand, which contains thorium.

According to the EPA, thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive substance found in small amounts in rocks, soils, and water. As thorium breaks down, it releases small amounts of radiation.

Nearly three trucks a day are expected to travel to and from the property to transport debris, according to information shared by the board and EPA. Trucks and equipment plan to travel on Knickerbocker Avenue, enter the property using Moffat Street, and leave using Cooper Avenue.

Work will be conducted during normal business hours, and all demolition work is scheduled to be completed by April 2024, the EPA shared. Additionally, the EPA has erected fencing around the entire property and is providing 24/7 security surveillance with a security guard on duty during non-work hours to prevent unauthorized access to the site.

The EPA also stated ​​it is working with The Army Core of Engineers and contractors to implement required safety measures for the surrounding area. During the cleanup, the EPA said there will also be continuous, 24/7 air monitoring taking place at four strategic points on the northern, southern, eastern, and western boundaries of the property.

Giordano added that the demolition will cost close to $30 million to be completed and the process is very slow. He also stated that the EPA’s outreach on project was minimal. The board, he said, discovered details about the project through its own inquiry.

“We kinda found out about this through the grapevine instead of being contacted directly, even though I’ve been calling the person who is responsible at EPA on a fairly regular basis to get updates as to when the demolition is going to start and when the soil removal is going to start,” Giordano said. “The last public meeting they had I think was in the summer of 2017.”

Any changes or additional information about truck and equipment road use, such as road closures, and more are on the EPA’s website and through the site’s mailing list. The EPA added The Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site to the National Priorities List in 2014, according to its website.

Cannabis update

Following the discussion on the demolition, the board’s committee leaders gave their reports.

The Liquor License and Cannabis Committee report reiterated much of what was said at its meeting in November.

​​At the Queens Community Board 5 Liquor License and Cannabis Committee meeting on Monday, Nov. 27, members voted to oppose four out of six applications for proposed legal adult-use cannabis dispensary locations in Ridgewood and Glendale.

After much discussion, the board voted in favor of the committee’s recommendations regarding the proposed legal cannabis shop locations. The board did not object to the locations at 78-10 Cypress Ave. and 66-33 Fresh Pond Rd.

The board emphasized that it doesn’t have the final say as to whether the shops are permitted to open or not, and can only share its recommendations with the Office of Cannabis Management.

The cannabis committee also mentioned the applicant seeking a license for 55-14 Myrtle Ave. had already put up its store sign. The business, however, has yet to receive the approval from OCM, with the OCM waiting to hear the board’s recommendation. Furthermore, during the public safety committee meeting report, Community Affairs Officers allegedly confirmed that there was a gunpoint robbery at the location.

NYPD Compstat data confirms a robbery took place at the location on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Eric Butkiewicz, financial secretary for CB5, emphasized the importance of adding relevant details regarding the reasons to oppose the proposed sites to OCM — including new information shared to the board — further sharing details that may not be known by the state.

He also highlighted a need to utilize the board’s recommendation to oppose proposed sites responsibly.

“If we oppose everything, our opposition means nothing and my personal opinion is we should reserve that opposition when it counts, so it means something when we oppose it,” Butkiewicz said.

The Transportation and Public Transit Committee report shortly followed with a reminder to the community to bring issues to the committee for further discussion. Pedestrian and cycling access to the Ridgewood Reservoir will be discussed at the next meeting, along with complaints received about excessive noise near railways.

Additionally, the Queens Bus Network Redesign will be further evaluated by the transportation committee in January.

Before the meeting’s end, Chair Vincent Arcuri, Jr. and District Manager Giordano wished everyone a happy holidays and happy new year. The next board meeting will take place in January.

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