Coney Islanders push back against planned shelter, citing land’s possible contamination

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Overlooked: Ronald Stewart claimed Women In Need showed a lack of respect for locals by not including them in the planning process until elected officals demanded a hearing on the Neptune Avenue shelter.
Packed: More than 200 locals packed into PS 329 in Coney Island to hear Women in Need and city officials spell out their plan to build a family shelter on Neptune Avenue between W. 22nd and W. 23rd streets.
Raucous reception: Coney Island residents presented a chorus of concerns to Christine Quinn, the head of Women in Need, at the Dec. 8 meeting.
Concerned: Coney Island residents raised a litany of concerns about the shelter project.
Enraged: Ida Sanoff slammed Women In Need and the Department of Homeless Services for their lack of concern for the hazards of placing a shelter in a flood zone near the heavily polluted Coney Island Creek.

The city must conduct full-scale environmental tests on the proposed site of a homeless shelter in Coney Island, locals are demanding.

Shelter operator Women In Need plans to build a four-story, 180-room home for women and children atop a former factory building on Neptune Avenue between W. 22nd and W. 23rd streets. But the structure’s industrial past could put future residents at risk, and locals are calling for a full safety review before the plan moves forward.

“This site use to be a dye factory that spilled contaminants into the soil and the creek. We have to research what used to be there, what’s down there, is it even safe for children and families to be there? We need to know more about the dangers,” said Councilman Mark Treyger, one of dozens of locals who critiqued the shelter plan at a Dec. 8 meeting.

The land once housed the Brooklyn Yarn Dye Company — which poured toxic aniline and hexavalent chromium (the Erin Brokovich chemical) into Coney Island Creek, according to area historian Charles Denson. Some of those chemicals may have seeped into ground soil on the site, critics are charging.

As a standard procedure, the City Planning Commission will conduct an environmental assessment, part of which gauges whether there might be contamination on the site and determines whether further investigation and remediation is necessary. The shelter operator is prepared to take any steps the city deems necessary to make the space safe, said a spokesman for Women in Need.

“We’re open to any processes we have to do to make this a safe and suitable site,” said Jeff Holmes. “I want to make it clear that if there are any findings that suggest this site could have any adverse health effects on any women or children who would be living in this facility, [Women In Need] will address these issues before starting constructi­on.”

The location was chosen because of the neighborhood’s lack of shelters, officials said.

The shelter will mainly house single mothers and their children, and priority will go to families who live in Coney Island. The shelter’s 180 apartments will house up to four people each, and each unit will feature its own bathroom, kitchen, and closets.

The shelter will also have a childcare room with separate spaces for infants and toddlers, recreation spaces, and a computer lab for job searches and educational programs, according to Holmes.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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