Debating who owns the Jamaica Bay land

Hearing on Inwood's Roger Avenue building postponed until Jan. 9

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An application that was first scheduled to be heard on June 27 has been adjourned four times and is now scheduled to be addressed at the Jan. 9 Town of Hempstead Board of Appeals meeting.

Russo’s Development Enterprises is seeking to build a soil sorting facility at 180 Roger Ave. in Inwood. The site’s neighbor, Roger Realty Co., the company that rents the 150 Roger Ave. to Sony Pictures Entertainment, opposes the variances Russo’s is requesting.

Permitting a “noxious and offensive use,” is the most important variance to Russo’s, as the company’s project narrative states that without that use the facility wouldn’t be able to operate in any capacity. The plan is to sort through the material on site, and use barges to remove it after the sorting process is complete.

Al D’Agostino, the attorney representing Roger Realty Co., said that Sony stores valuable prints of classic films, and he said that the air quality is vital to the preservation process. While the Russo’s operation won’t include the crushing of rocks and most likely generate less dust than the previous occupant, D’Agostino said his concerns focus on the exhaust from the barges Russo expects to use. 

The barges are the reason for the most recent postponement of the Oct. 17 hearing, as contradictions between tax maps of the area and the Russo’s land deed brings into question what entity owns the bulkhead over Jamaica Bay. D’Agostino said that the area where the bulkhead has been filled, the town owns any land filled above water based on the Kieft Patent, a 1644 decree named for Dutch Director General William Kieft, that granted settlers in Hempstead rights and title to land. “The (state) Department of Conservation should have never accepted the application [to barge out material left by the previous occupant,]” D’Agostino said. “[The DEC] said to me they don’t care who owns it. Their regulations say of course that has to be considered.”

D’Agostino added that Roger Realty Co. could file suit against the DEC for failure to follow their own regulations, and his client has the right to attempt to purchase that parcel of land owned by the town to prevent the use of barges.

Bram Weber, the attorney for Russo’s Development Enterprises, said the company’s deed covers the entire lot, as every deed has for the past 60 years. He said that the discrepancy comes from the tax map. “We’ll work with the town to confirm ownership,” Weber said. “We have an obligation to finish cleaning the property, which the applicant voluntarily agreed with the DEC to do. We want to fulfill that obligation.”

Chairman to the Board of Appeals of the Town of Hempstead, David Weiss, said that the issue needs to be resolved before moving on in the appeals process. “We as a zoning board cannot grant anything beyond the borders of that which is owned by an applicant. Even our town attorney sent a memo saying there’s an issue, lets adjourn until we get to the bottom of it,” he said.