The massive Halloween rave shutdown by the Fire Department in Greenpoint over the weekend stole the show once again, this time at Monday evening’s Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) meeting about the oversight of hazardous waste cleanup at a former plastics manufacturing site in the neighborhood.
The building of interest, 280 Franklin Street (aka the NuHart Plastics building) is a Superfund site that was recently bought by a group of developers (DuPont Street Developers, LLC) hoping to turn it into a residential and retail site. Things got pretty, pretty weird at the meeting– to the point that Michael Roux, a geologist hired by the developers as an environmental consultant, fielded most of the questions about why on earth nearly 5,000 ravers were almost allowed to party on a Superfund site. At one point he slipped up, referring to the former plastics factory as a “venue.” The audience erupted back. “It’s not a venue!” one neighbor shouted. “It’s a toxic waste site!”
Originally the NAG meeting (something we first heard about after NAG presented their ToxiCity Map a couple weeks back) had been convened to present Greenpoint residents with information about the ongoing environmental cleanup assessment that must take place at the NuHart site– which was the site of a plastics manufacturing plant up until 2004– prior to rezoning and subsequently development. Before the building can be deemed safe for use, the building owners must determine levels of toxicity, subsequent safety measures, and necessary cleanup procedures. Among the government agencies involved in assessing all this are the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Health, and city agencies including the Department of Buildings. In other words, there’s a ton of oversight, though as a representative from DEC admitted, “city agencies are not always the best at coordinating.”
Earlier this year, NAG received a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) from the DEC in order to hire a consultant to act as a liaison between the DEC’s Superfund process and the community. The DEC describes the grant as a “citizen participation tool” and Greenpointers definitely seem interested in the cleanup process. About 100 of them showed up Monday for an update from Peter DeFur, President of Environmental Stewardship Concepts (the firm NAG hired in August with the grant money).
DeFur walked the room through slides, one with a rainbow-colored flow chart indicating the NuHart site is in the “feasibility study” phase of the Superfund process, when the most effective cleanup strategies are identified. (The building is located across the street from a senior citizens center on the south side, a playground on the west side, and a proposed school site located diagonally southwest). DeFur shared conclusive evidence obtained during the “remedial investigation” phase which identified, measured, and tracked the contaminants of concern: Tricloroethylene (TCE) and Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (LNAPL), both of which are potentially harmful to humans and the environment. DeFur repeated the acronym for LNAPL, and advised the crowd: “They’re not as good as real apples– don’t eat them.”
The Superfund findings (found in this NAG newsletter) indicate that a large toxic plume (TCE concentrations in the groundwater, in this case) was detected in the northeast section of the building. Computer-generated models from DeFur’s firm indicated that it’s likely the plume has spread under Clay Street and perhaps even across the street to commercial buildings on the northern side of Clay Street. The State is still investigating whether PCBs (harmful chemicals banned in the ’70s) might be in the ground as well.
DeFur highlighted a troublesome “data gap” in what’s going on underneath residential and commercial properties surrounding NuHart. “Our computer estimates say [the plume] might be across the street,” DeFur explained. “But we don’t know because we don’t have access.” The buildings’ owners have barred the environmental surveyors from conducting tests on their property.
Another concern DeFur cited was that utility pathways found under the street– another area that is difficult to gain access to– could function in one of two ways: they could either block the plume from spreading or provide a pathway for the plume to spread further, what he called a “pancake effect.” TCE, though it is easily secreted by the body upon consumption, can cause a range of health problems in the lymphatic, nervous, immune, and reproductive systems. TCE can also stymie development in children. “The good news is it leaves your body pretty quickly,” DeFur explained. “There needs to be ongoing exposure to have an effect.” However, if TCE gets into your home or workplace for instance, it could feasibly ensure consistent exposure.
LNAPLs (aka phthalates) are known to impact the endocrine system and have been attributed to asthma. However, as NAG board member Emily Gallagher explained, phthalates are found in many products we come into contact with every day including cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and building materials. Mike Schade (also of NAG) reminded the crowd that he’s been working to get companies to ban products containing phthalates (he succeeded in the case of Home Depot and Lowe’s) and suggested neighbors ban together to prevent the use of these products in the proposed public school.
Neighbors listened carefully, but emotions erupted when the topic of discussion moved to the Halloween rave at the NuHart site. On Saturday night, the CityFox Experience, a Zurich-based entertainment company that’s part of electronic music label CityFox, was set to throw a huge rave, complete with “house music’s finest”– something they’ve been doing inside Brooklyn warehouses for the last few years.
Vice’s Thump praised CityFox’s success in “merging eye-candy of a mega-club with vibes that are anything but.” Neighbors speaking to one another at Monday night’s NAG meeting said it was “obvious” that something was going to happen at the NuHart building after hearing the sound checks early last week. Needless to say, residents were not happy about the prospect of a mega-party going down at a Superfund site. NAG posted a blog entry on their website that argues “setup for the party [included] people entering into the contaminated portions of the property.”
B+B’s editor spent Halloween night in Greenpoint, where he happened to stumble on some of the commotion caused by the rave, which was cancelled before it even had a chance to get going. Hundreds of people lined up outside were turned away as the FDNY rolled through and shut it down for “failure to have proper fire systems in place,” according to NAG.
According to their event site, the promoters were happy to play up the decaying post-industrial interior via lighting installations that would spotlight “some incredible (and creepy) features of the space,” just one of many attractions at this “spectacular, brand new venue in Brooklyn.” As of this morning, it appears ticket holders are still waiting on their refunds. Would-be partygoers also took to the Facebook event page to praise CityFox. On Monday morning one user wrote: “We need to support Cityfox and all the underground because without them we wouldn’t have these warehouse events and would be stuck at clubs and commercial bullshit with no soul.” Still others posted about their sense of betrayal as news emerged about the building being a toxic waste site.
The Greenpoint residents at Monday night’s NAG meeting also voiced their sense of betrayal that the building’s new owners could let something as outlandishly irresponsible as this go down. Mike Schade of NAG described the event “in and next to a hazardous waste site” with an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 people planning to attend as “unconscionable.”
The developer’s consultant, Michael Roux, looking nervous, stepped up to speak on behalf of the building owners. “My client approached me on Thursday night and said there was going to be some kind of party,” he recalled. “They asked if there was any environmental reason why they wouldn’t let a massive rave in the Eastern part of the building.” Roux indicated this was an area of the building that was not contaminated. “I’m not going to be totally forthcoming,” he admitted to confused sighs. Roux mentioned the party planners’ experience with throwing raves in Bushwick.
“This is very much our neighborhood,” one woman shouted. “Sure, have it out in Bushwick where it’s a warehouse district.”
Yi Han, one of several owners under the name DuPont Street Developers LLC, finally stepped forward. “They told me they were not going to party on the roof,” she said, referring to the building’s roof, a known asbestos site. A few neighbors shouted back: “But they were on the roof, we saw them.”
Han continued. “[When the party promoter] said there would be 5,000 people,” she recalled, “I panicked, this was not what we had been sold.” The owner claimed, “I don’t know how they got a key.” A neighbor interrupted Miss Han. “So you’re saying they broke into the building?” The response was confused, but basically amounted to this: no one was sure exactly how the party promoter got the keys to the building. (CityFox hasn’t responded to our requests for comment.) Han claimed the contract was already in place by the time she understood the massive scale of the party. “I want to apologize,” she said. “Someone from our organization did something with the contracting. I had said no to this, but I hadn’t said no firmly enough.” Han added, “It was too late to put a stop to this.”
The developer also claimed that, despite NAG’s reports to the contrary, “Nobody had access to the Superfund site.” However neighbors continued to press her: if she and the other owners were not able to control their own building for one night, how were they going to control it from now on?
Roux interrupted again. “This was a major screw-up from the developer,” he said. “The trust was trashed.” But he said now they were going to start from scratch and build that trust. The audience members were increasingly aggravated. “We don’t accept your apology!” one woman yelled. “Now what?” another man demanded.
The looming question last night however was, how was this allowed to happen? Even if the developers were irresponsible enough to go ahead with a party inside a Superfund site, how did government agencies— that are ostensibly there to protect the public– approve a rave at a Superfund site?
Stephen Levin, who was present at the NuHart building after the rave was shut down, spoke to the crowd. “I went over there at midnight, there was no music when I got there,” he recalled. Levin explained the party was shutdown by the fire department for lack of proper exits and sprinklers, but said the two things that needed to happen in order for the party to be approved by the government, as it apparently was, were actually obtained: a temporary permit from the State Liquor Authority and a Temporary Place of Assembly permit from the Department of Buildings. CityFox succeeded in obtaining both, but it appears they did so through a combination of loopholes, lack of coordination across city agencies, making false statements (whether they were intentional or not), and inadequate oversight.
“The police were oblivious,” one man said, recalling that the police who knew about the rave and were out in numbers tried to quell his concerns by reminding him the party would be finished by one in the morning. “I told them, ‘It’s a rave, it’s not going to be over at 1 am.'”
NAG got ahold of both applications, and after sharing them at the meeting last night, posted them on their website this morning. According to the documents(see thumbnails below), a Greenpoint bar and beer store One Stop Beer Shop, stood in for CityFox in order to get a temporary off-site liquor license. The application was submitted to the State Liquor Authority on October 29 and was approved just two days later on Halloween. While at least one SLA board member complained in the notes that the application was submitted last minute, and should therefore be denied, the request was granted anyway.
Jane, a representative from the DEC pointed out that, from their end, such a permit would have required at least 60 days to ensure the location was safe before it could be approved. “We did not get any official change of use notice,” she said. “We don’t have the authority to come out and put a lock on the door […] we don’t have any authority to tell a property owner what to do with their property.” Jane also emphasized the situation did not qualify for an “emergency OEM,” or an emergency shutdown.
A representative from the City’s Office of Environmental Remediation also took his turn to speak–at this point the mic was traveling from official hand to official hand like a hot potato. He explained the applications lacked any indication that they were in violation of the site’s zoning e-designations, something that would cause a red flag to show up under the agency’s radar. “This is one of the worst ideas I can possibly imagine,” he said.
The documents make clear the promoters submitted false statements, either by accident or possibly on purpose in order to obtain both permits. The SLA application, for instance, indicates a headcount of 3,500 when the ticketing page shows that 4,570 people bought tickets.
The permit application submitted to the DOB was also filled with misleading information. While the 49 DuPont Street address is listed (along with diagrams and a map of the site), the block and lot numbers indicate an address in Bay Ridge (108 85th Street). And not only are there inaccuracies on the form, there are inconsistencies within the mistakes– something one might reasonably think the DOB would pick up on. In the formal request letter, a third address is listed as 202 Coffey Street, a building located in Red Hook.
The documents list Andrew Formichella as the applicant representative. Formichella is an architect who was faced with disciplinary action by the same department back in 2011 and voluntarily surrendered his “ability to file, sign applications, and fine.” According to the DOB website, when threatened with disciplinary action licensees and expeditors can voluntarily surrender their privileges “in lieu of facing formal disciplinary action.”
Formichella is listed as an architect on the A. Form Architecture, PC website, which portrays the firm as one that specializes in “entertainment and special events in New York City and nationwide” (the company also has a name that’s suspiciously close to “a form”– as in: “Are you in need of a form?”).
The DOB approved Formichella’s application for a temporary place of assembly on October 30, 2015 and provides a number of stipulations including a maximum capacity of 3,500 people, and a minimum of 35 certified “fireguards.”
A representative from Assembly Member Joseph R. Lentol’s (50th district) office spoke to enthusiastic applause. “We will be writing a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office,” he explained. The letter will call attention to what the representative says are party promoters who repeatedly submit false information along with permit applications. “Where is the oversight? What is the punishment when a promoter blatantly lies?” he asked.
Toward the end of the meeting, Rita Pasarell of NAG reminded the audience this was the third “failure in oversight” since DuPont Street Developers bought the building in August 2012. “What is being done to prevent future failures?” she wondered.
Click thumbnails to see documents, via Neighbors Allied for Good Growth.