10,000-Year-Old Legacy Of Biodiversity Endangered By Queens Development Project

A wild post-industrial woodlands grows on the banks of the Flushing Creek in 2016.

The Special Flushing Waterfront District is divided into four sites, according to the developer’s Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) report . Each has its own history and ecology. Site 1 is located between Roosevelt Avenue and 39th Avenue on Janet Place, a lot that’s been vacant of buildings since 2008.

Site 1 was first developed circa 1917 as a lumber yard and coal company. In the 1930s, it became home to the J & I O’Rourke concrete company. Today, it is partially flooded and is turning into a wetlands.

Site 1, in 2014, during a greener month. Left unused for several years, most of the site quickly became a meadow habitat, filled with saplings and wildflowers.

Site 1 was once home to the Spectrum Maintenance Corporation, which is still listed as a hazardous waste site by the EPA. While investigating an oil spill at this site in 1998, the EPA found 40 to 50 corroded barrels of toxic waste, which were in danger of igniting.

Site 1 in 2014, looking toward the Flushing Creek and Citi Field, which is in Willets Point. The Special Flushing Waterfront District would build four towers on this site, up to 18 stories high.

The waterfront of Site 1 is covered with abandoned wharves that are crumbling into the water. Dozens of trees have taken root here, along with several species of grasses and moss. This would become a 40-foot wide public walkway if developed.

Site 2 of the Special Flushing Waterfront District was formerly home to the Assi Plaza supermarket, which was demolished between 2017 and 2018. It has been used by commercial and industrial businesses since the 1960s, including a post office, according to the EAS.

Site 2 is currently part of the NY State Brownfield Cleanup Program and is contaminated with a host of toxins, including heavy metals, VOCs and petroleum, according to a report filed by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Special Flushing Waterfront District would build two towers here; both are 19-stories tall.

Site 3 of the Special Flushing Waterfront District is the former home of the Flushing Terminal, which housed a collection of underground fuel oil storage tanks. The site is next to the U-Haul storage facility, originally the W & J. Sloane Furniture Company.

Remnants of the Flushing Terminal are hidden in these two-acre woodlands, behind a parking lot on College Point Boulevard. The forest has been growing here since at least 1996, and the parking lot has been active since at least 2001.

Site 3 in 2016, when Assi Plaza was still standing. Dozens of new trees have taken root in this field since then, which is also home to “the biggest mimosa tree I have ever seen,” according to Daniel Atha, who estimates its age at 30 or 40 years old. A century ago, this site were filled with willow trees growing around the Willow Bank estate.

Daniel Atha, Director of Conservation Outreach at the New York Botanical Garden, stands in the woodlands of Site 3, not far from where the Willow Bank mansion once stood. There are hundreds of trees in this area and along the waterfront, which would all be destroyed to make way for the Special Flushing Waterfront District. Four towers would be constructed here, ranging from 11 to 20 stories high.

Site 4 of the Special Flushing Waterfront District is located just to the north of the U-Haul storage facility. This site was once home to the Commonwealth Fuel Company coal yard, dating back to the 1920s. It also once housed an asphalt plant and scrap recycler, according to the EAS.

The same site, in 2014, during a greener month. This stretch of Flushing shoreline is one of the only places where you can get down to the edge of the water. A small patch of saltmarsh cordgrass is growing here today.