FINANCIAL DISTRICT, NY — Parents at the Peck Slip School in the Financial District are fearful of their children’s safety amid a developer’s plan to clean-up mercury at a parking lot right next to the school’s play area.
Howard Hughes Corporation is in the midst of applying for a state program known as the Brownfield Cleanup Program to clean up mercury at 250 Water St., where a thermometer factory, gas station, among other facilities have been located in the past. Currently, the property, which the developer bought last summer, is a parking lot that sits across from Peck Slip School PS 343.
The cobblestone street between the lot and the school is currently the kids’ play area.
"It’s three feet from where these kids play," said Megan Malvern, co-president of the school’s parent-teacher association. "They play on the street next to this thing."
Malvern, who’s kids are 6- and 9-years-old is worried that there isn’t a precedent for mercury clean-up near a school under the Brownfield program through the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation — particularly one in which the site abuts the kids’ recess area.
"Kids are much more susceptible to any of those toxins," said Malvern. "I need to be reassured and understand how they believe it can be done safely."
A spokeswoman for the Howard Hughes Corporation said Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, the consultant for the developer, has noted a previous environmental clean-up near a school across from Hudson Yards along Tenth Ave. was remediated safely. At that site, said the spokeswoman, mercury levels were six times that of the highest concentration tested at 250 Water St.
"The safety and well-being of our community and the public is of the utmost concern to us," Howard Hughes Corporation said in a statement. "We hear and respect the concerns of local parents and are addressing them through ongoing and proactive community outreach including briefings and presentations to Peck Slip School, Manhattan Community Board 1, and other local stakeholders."
But at Community Board 1 land use committee meeting Monday night, parents and board members emphasized the community’s particular sensitivity to air quality issues — particularly after the federal government said the air was safe to breathe in the days following the September 11th attacks.
"You have to understand the sensitivity to those of us who have lived through [9/11]," said Wendy Chapman, a CB 1 member.
In January, Curbed reported that the developer announced details to Community Board 1 regarding the clean-up application — like a release of liability from the state under the Brownfield program, versus a city-level clean-up program through the Officer of Environmental Remediation. Last week, parents handed out fliers about the environmental clean-up near Peck Slip School’s entrance, Curbed wrote.
Monday night, the CB 1 committee voted to ask Howard Hughes to detail its plans for the site at 250 Water St. before going forward with any type of remediation under the Brownfield program.
CB 1 has no official word of the plans Howard Hughes has for the site, but last August, company’s executive vice president, Saul Scherl, detailed possible trade-offs the developer could make with the community to get support for a variance to change current zoning restrictions for a taller tower, Tribeca Tribune reported.
Currently, 250 Water St.’s height would be limited to 120 feet under a downzoning led by CB 1 back in the early 2000s in a historic part of the Seaport District.
The Howard Hughes Corporation declined to provide details on plans for 250 Water St., saying its current focus is the Brownfield clean-up program.
The environmental remediation would be independent from future development, the company said.
Another parent was worried both digging up toxic materials and future construction on the site could jeopardize his kids’ health and ability to focus.
"My kids are trying to study — two young kids just trying to study, and the building has windows that look outside," said Matt Cowan, who’s sons are 7- and 9-years-old. "They have a hard enough time focusing on the schoolwork as it is. To compete with the construction right across the street just feels like it could have some impact as well."
Cowan and Malvern echoed the CB 1 committee’s concerns about the lack of clarity about the future of 250 Water St.
"We just want it done safely, and if it is done safely, we want it built to scale," said Malvern, referencing current the 120-foot height limit.
A public meeting with the developer will be held next Wed., March 20 at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of Pier 17.