Concerns about soil contamination at an Atlantic Avenue used car lot were raised at a May 9 Town of Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals hearing, as the lot’s owner sought to receive a special exception from the board for his plans to improve the property.
Speaking on behalf of members of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis, Oceanside-based architect Monte Leeper, who is a Herald columnist, presented to the board a 2003 environmental site assessment by environmental consulting firm Advanced Cleanup Technologies Inc. that revealed petroleum soil and groundwater contamination on the property as well as an out-of-service underground fuel tank.
The owner, Joseph Defigieroa, of 38 Lincoln Owners Corp., was seeking an exception for the overnight storage and display of used cars and commercial vehicles on the lot, as well as a waiver of off-street parking requirements in order to improve the existing garage on the site. According to Defigieroa’s attorney, William Bonesso, he wants to add an auto servicing and auto body repair shop and to “legalize everything associated with the property,” which Defigieroa’s family has owned since 2000. The board has yet to make a decision.
Leeper questioned the lack of details in the site plans, prepared by the East Meadow-based RMB Drafting & Development Consultants, submitted to the board — such as calculations used to ensure proper drainage on the lot. The calculations, he said, might have revealed the soil contamination.
“I’m neither opposed or in favor [of the development],” Leeper told the board. “I just have questions, and request that certain requirements would be in a grant, if a grant is made.”
Bonesso replied that his client’s plans were in the discretionary approval phase, and that the town Building Department would handle issues of drainage and contamination at a later date. “Anything required by the Building Department, I would do,” he said, and added that a review of the site plans by the state Department of Environmental Conservation determined that the planned construction would not adversely affect the surrounding environment, according to requirements set by the State Environmental Quality Act.
Leeper said during the hearing that his goal was to put on the record his concerns, and those of the Oceanside residents who had contacted him. “Since I am someone who has expertise in this,” he told the board, “rather than assume that these things will be addressed, [it’s better] to just simply state them publicly.”
BZA Chairman David Weiss replied that “not being an expert in all the procedures that go on outside this office,” he believed that other town departments could better address Leeper’s concerns.
Responding to an inquiry, town spokesman Michael Fricchione said that matters such as those raised by Leeper would typically be handled by the Building Department at a later stage in the process.
Speaking after the hearing, Leeper, an architect who often appears before the board on behalf of his clients, maintained that “all the things I was outlining should have been in those plans . . . The Building Department follows the stipulations of the Board of Zoning Appeals and whether or not they’ve been approved. They follow it to the letter, but what if the letter isn’t even written?”
Defigieroa’s father purchased the property in 2000, according to Bonesso, and had maintained it as a used-car lot until his death about four and a half years ago. When his son inherited the land, Bonesso said, he decided to move forward with plans to improve the business. The Town Board unanimously approved Defigieroa’s proposed use of the property last August, according to town records. Bonesso could not be reached for comment after the hearing.
Atlantic Avenue resident Glenn Doughten, who attended the hearing, spoke in favor of the development. “First of all, let me say that I have no problem with those garages being there,” he said. “They’ve been there for over 20 years — good to see rather than an empty lot.” He added that although he was unaware of the contamination, “that’s a different entity.” In light of the number of empty businesses on Atlantic Avenue, Doughten said, he would rather see an active business on the land.
Dr. Adam Kritzberg, a local chiropractor and the Chamber of Commerce president, said he agreed with Leeper about raising the contamination issue. “It’s up to the owner to bring it up to code,” Kritzberg said. “It’s plain and simple . . . It needs to be cleaned before anything else happens.”
Leeper said that after years of neglect, and given the possibility that the lot could be improved, this was an opportunity for members of the community to ensure that the business follows “the regulations that all businesses in the community must follow.”