A dustup on Roger Avenue

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The fear that the current owners of 180 Roger Ave., in Inwood, could behave similarly to the previous tenant has some residents and a business looking carefully at a request by Inwood Realty Associates Inc. to build a soil-screening station by Jamaica Bay.

Inwood Realty is seeking variances from the Town of Hempstead to allow one of its lessees, Russo’s Development Enterprises, an Inwood-based contractor, to construct the station on property by the waterway that Inwood Realty owns.

At a soil-screening station, topsoil, sand, gravel and compost are sifted to remove debris like rocks, tree stumps and construction material. Once separated, the debris is then transported off site to be sold or reused. The machinery used to transport it brings the potential not only for noise, but also dust in the air. The previous tenant, New York Recycling and Materials, similarly screened soil and other materials.

Chief among Inwood Realty’s requested variances from the Town Building Zone Ordinance is to permit a “noxious and offensive use” on the premises. The project narrative submitted to the town’s Board of Appeals states that without this variance, the facility would not be able to operate in any capacity. The narrative does state that measures would be taken to reduce the noise and dust, like dampening the materials and positioning the equipment away from property lines and adjacent businesses.

There are several other industrial businesses on Roger Avenue, but there are homes to the east and south of the property. Inwood Realty Associates purchased it in May 2017, according to Bram Weber, the lawyer representing the company. “The previous owners were alleged by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to have improperly abandoned the property,” Weber said, “and left it with construction and demolition debris after having run a crushing operation on the . . . property without the required permits and approvals.”

DEC spokesman Bill Fonda said that the agency issued a Notice of Violation to New York Recycling and Materials in April 2015, for storing excessive quantities of concrete, soil, rock, brick and asphalt at the site. The following January, New York Recycling was evicted, and in March of this year, Inwood Realty assumed responsibility for removing the material.

Inwood Reality has received approval from the DEC to use barges on the bay to remove the remaining material, but that will require a special permit, which the company plans to apply for, Weber said. One of the other variances would allow it to build and maintain a loading zone at the back of the property.

Building an 8-foot-tall fence, 2 feet taller than the maximum height allowed by the town of 6 feet, and 18- to 21-foot-tall concrete walls to house the materials, are also among Inwood Realty’s variance requests. The limit for concrete walls is also 6 feet, but because the piles of soil can be as high as 25 feet, Inwood Realty claims the higher walls are needed to keep materials separated.

A Board of Appeals hearing was originally scheduled for June 27, but was adjourned until Aug. 22. An expert for Inwood Realty was unable to attend the August hearing, which was rescheduled for Sept. 12.

Inwood resident Elisa Hinken spoke at the June hearing, voicing her opposition to the requested variances. “If you park across the water, at the Town of Hempstead’s Inwood Marina, and observe the [site] in operation, you would easily see the noxious dust, machine emissions and all sorts of pollution going on,” she said. “The proposed application threatens the very nature of the bay’s ecosystem.”

Drew Angerer, who lives directly across the bay, said that he does not feel as strongly as Hinken, but has his own concerns, specifically about the use of barges. “So far the new operators have been respectful toward neighboring residents and boat owners,” Angerer said. “On behalf of my family, we would like to see that continue. If the majority of material loaded onto the barge is rock or stone, versus soil, dust taken by the wind would be minimal. It does get very windy at times.”

One of the non-industrial residents is Sony Pictures Entertainment, at 150 Roger Ave., which stores valuable prints of major movies. To preserve the films, some of which date back to the 1920s, air temperature, humidity and cleanliness must be strictly monitored, Sony officials said. While the building’s proximity to Kennedy Airport is one of the reasons Sony selected the location, there is concern that the dust and the exhaust from industrial operations could lead the company to look elsewhere.

While New York Recycling did not use barges to move materials, Weber claims that the Russo’s operation would not create as much debris. “Inwood Realty has agreed not to conduct any crushing at the subject property,” Weber wrote. “The only operation at the subject property (other than the intake and turnout of materials) will be soil screening using a small machine which has been located as far to the west on the subject property as possible (and, therefore, as far from the neighboring property to the east as possible).”

Represntatives from both Russo's and Sony are schedulded to speak at the Inwood Civic Assoiation metting on Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at 202 Wanser Ave., Inwood.

If you have an opinion on the request to build a soil screening station, send your letters to the editor at jbessen@liherald.com.