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Chilton Paint project may include flood-fighting wetlands

Developers attempting to turn the old Chilton Paint factory into seaside condos are mulling an agreement with environmentalists to create wetlands in front of the property. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Developers looking to build a six-story condo complex on the shores of College Point are mulling over an agreement with environmentalists that would create wetlands in front of the property, an amenity that could prove useful if the city is slammed by another serious storm.

Waterfront Resorts Inc. is currently seeking the city’s permission to build a 134-unit condo complex that incorporates into the design the aging brick building once known as the Chilton Paint factory, where 15th Avenue meets the water. The owners have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to build the residential complex in a manufacturing district, but they are also considering honoring a contract that would create wetlands and an artificial oyster bed off shore.

“If it’s within our budget, we can do it,” said Benjamin Lam, project manager at Waterfront Resorts. “If it’s a considerable amount, I need to make sure that my books can handle it.”

The books for the project have been of constant concern for Lam and his company, since they have been trying to finance the project since 2008.

In fact, they purchased the property from another developer that year, just as the financial crisis made it exceedingly difficult to get investors to commit to capital spending for the development.

Many aspects of the project carried over, including the rough plans for how the building would look. But it was uncertain whether Lam and the company would honor the contract to build wetlands signed by the previous developer, Silvio Spallone.

Funding for the project is still far from complete and the permission sought from the city is merely an extension of an initial 2005 request. But should the project come to fruition, a College Point environmentalist contends that the wetlands would not only be a bonus for the environment, but could also make a modest contribution to protecting the city from weather events like Superstorm Sandy.

“Small projects like this — tackling inch by inch and taking back the shoreline kilometer by kilometer — will eventually help stabilize the coastline,” said College Point marine scientist James Cervino, who chairs Community Board 7’s Environmental Committee. “It will save millions of tax dollars.”

Cervino was involved in the previous contract, where his team also promised to help with the removal of contaminated materials from the soil, which like many areas in College Point, occurred after decades of the dumping of construction materials and by-products from industrial factories.

In a 2005 report, a real estate appraiser estimated the environmental cleanup costs at $1.5 million, although that number has likely grown.

According to a 2009 report from the city, about 85 percent of coastal wetlands and more than 90 percent of freshwater wetlands in New York City have been replaced largely with development and hardened shore lines like seawalls.

Yet those wetlands served a valuable function aside from serving as a teeming ecosystem that helps keep the waters surrounding the city cleaner.

“Wetlands also buffer the shore from oceanic storm surges and dissipate the destructive energy of local floods,” the report said. “The expected sea-level rise and increased storm frequency associated with climate change will make this function even more important in the future.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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