By Daniel Katzive
Work is getting underway to remediate a “brownfield” site on the south side of West 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue, formerly the location of an MTA electrical substation for the IRT subway, as well as two other buildings.
Those old structures have now been torn down and the plan is to replace them with a 23-story mixed-use commercial and residential building with an affordable-housing component. But first the environmental legacy from the properties’ previous lives must be cleaned up.
The Rag reported on the proposed redevelopment in detail when CB7 approved the plans back in 2019, and more recently in January, 2022, just before demolition was getting underway.
Environmental studies of the site have determined there are contaminants in the soil and groundwater that exceed New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) guidelines. The soil at the site was found to contain a range of semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), as well as lead and mercury, earning it a “brownfield” designation, according to DEC’s classification. The developer — Fetner Properties — is undertaking remediation accordingly.
To remediate the problem and make the land safe for development, plans filed with DEC call for excavation down to bedrock, which is estimated at between 3 and 11.5 feet deep, and the removal of 3,800 cubic yards of soil. Contaminated groundwater will be treated as necessary before being discharged into the sewer system.
The MTA substation operated on the property from 1912 to 2005, then sat unused until recently, according to information filed with DEC. It was a striking building, with a limestone facade and ornamentation. The Landmark West website has more information on the building.
The two other buildings on the site were less distinctive in appearance and had a number of purposes over the years. Immediately to the west of the MTA property was a two-story building built in 1951. It was occupied by the Salvation Army from 1973 and, before that, by an upholstery store. The building to its west was originally a single-family dwelling, then sub-divided into apartments, and housed the NAACP’s mid-Manhattan branch from 1978. In between, a number of commercial establishments occupied the space, including a dry cleaner from 1950 to 1968.
The levels of SVOCs were noted to be particularly high in the area below the courtyard behind the Salvation Army building. However, there is no indication that the contamination has affected other properties in the neighborhood, according to DEC reports. Because it has been contained in the soil below the buildings and concrete-covered courtyards, it is not believed to have been posing a hazard to public health.
The MTA power station was likely the source of petroleum contamination in some of the soil. However, the reports do not give a known source for the main pollutants of concern, noting that the SVOC contamination is believed to reflect “the quality of historic fill at this isolated location.” This suggests it could have been brought in from elsewhere during historic construction.
According to the DEC reports, “the historic fill originated from unidentified sources and was placed as backfill at an unknown time, prior to site development.” The dry cleaning operations dating back to the 1960s are not believed to be responsible for the contamination.
A visit to the site in recent days showed that the old buildings have been demolished and workers are removing brick and rubble. Excavation and remediation work has not yet begun, but is set to commence shortly, according to the DEC.
Officials with the DEC told the West Side Rag “the work will look similar to a standard construction site, with added air monitors and personnel monitoring the soil characterization and off-site disposal.” The agency “will be receiving daily reports from the field team and will be making periodic visits to the site to ensure that all protective measures outlined in the approved Remedial Action Work Plan are being implemented to protect public health and the environment during the remedial activities.”
Residents and workers in the area who want to know more about the site and the work underway can find fact sheets, and detailed information on the work plan, as well as monthly reports from the environmental engineers undertaking the remediation, on the DEC’s website.
I would have loved to have gotten my hands on some of the façade. With so many semi-historic buildings torn down each year, I wish there was a way that we could recycle some of the beautiful elements for either public or private use.
some of the beautiful elements of the facade are going to be incorporated into the new buildings facade.
You might be able to find some good stuff here. I’ve used them in the past for historical decor.
This will be a huge improvement to the area.
23 stories? As usual, excessive to the neighborhood. The West Side continues to turn into the East Side.
This is 96th Street. Most of the buildings are over 30 stories. Why do we need to stick to low buildings on major cross roads?
“Most of the buildings on 96th st are over 30 stories?”
What?! Please list all those buildings!
This is false.
This is a joke. The so-called “remediation” seems to have spared the gas station/garage immediately across West 96th Street, on the north side between the entrance to the Henry Hudson Parkway and West End Avenue. Years ago there was a report by an agency (Federal? State? City?) of a contaminated reservoir of highly hazardous material beneath the sidewalk and roadway outside the gas station/garage on West 96th Street. No mention was made that I recall of what was beneath the interior of the garage. Yet an apartment building went up immediately to the south of the gas station/garage. No “remediation” of that garage site was begun then or has ever been done in my 42 years living at WEA and West 97th Street. That hazardous reservoir still seems to exist. Reports of its existence seemed to have disappeared.
This entire situation calls for an investigation by an outside impartial group. Residents of this area have never been informed of the dangers of living on or near that hazardous reservoir. Exceptions seem to have been made for the real estate industry to build wherever they think they can make lots of big bucks. This area of the Upper West Side has been made an unknowing hostage to the Upper Echelons of this city’s government and real estate sector. Does the new Mayor – “ELA” – know or care? Does our Community Board know or care? Do our local elected representatives know or care? Or are we just “chopped liver?”
Hazardous materials were removed from the gas station between WEST End and Riverside. The materials.and the tank that contained them underground were removed. I remember calling th 24 with an after hours noise complaint. I was told that the gas station got a special permit because they needed to work around the clock to get the dangerous materials out. Therefore, the 97th street resident can relax. BTW, where is that building south of the gas station to which he refers?
This is typical mta mismanagement i wouldn’t trust anyone involved with these projects, the community has been exposed to who knows what but we need to build another boring ugly structure and then we try to justify by claiming affordable housing at over 50-60 thousand per year. Poor folks will never get in and that’s the point, let them think we want to help because we have to but we only want the privileged here in reality.so typical of nyc today , no regard for community or what its needs really are.The environmental issues are concerning no doubt it but what about the human aspect?
Actually affordable housing you have to make a minimum of 90,000 a year per person to qualify. The whole affordable housing system is a scam for Rich elitist and people from other cities and countries. If you Born and Raised here you get shit.
In my 64 years of residing on the Upper West Side, aside from the unified demolition of Columbus Ave from 87th st to 96th st in the early 70’s, there has never been so much new construction happening simultaneously. Current work sights sites above 72 street are 78th Bt Broadway and WEA , the MoNH extension, the towers at 85th and Broadway, 91st & Broadway, 93rd & Broadway, 96th & Broadway, 103rd and Broadway ( just beginning) 93rd Bt. Broadway & Amsterdam and 96th Bt. Columbus and CPW. Add in a couple of smaller projects and the 40 story tower going up at 122nd st and Broadway. Now add this latest one and you have a full scale reimagining of the upper west side. For better or worse, progress remains unabated and the cultural feel of the upper west side that many long time UWS residence felt distinguished us from the upper east side is disappearing in front of ours eyes in record time. In 2 years the vibe will be unrecognizable ( although many feel that is went away years ago) We really are watching the cultural disintegration of the UWS. Right in front of our eyes.