2001-08-23 / Front Page

Borough seeks remedy for lost ratable Unknown factors hinder progress at abandoned gas station

Staff Writer
By linda denicola

Borough seeks remedy for lost ratable
Unknown factors hinder progress at abandoned gas station


JERRY WOLKOWITZ An abandoned gas station on Route 571 in Roosevelt has been sitting there unused for more than 10 years.JERRY WOLKOWITZ An abandoned gas station on Route 571 in Roosevelt has been sitting there unused for more than 10 years.

In a town with few ratables, the abandoned gas station on the main thoroughfare in Roosevelt is more than unsightly. Officials believe it is a wasted resource, an environmental hazard and an invitation for trouble. The unsightly building sits on Route 571 surrounded by weeds and woods.

According to Mayor Michael Hamilton, it is time something is done with the property.

"The council is moving ahead in trying to get some action from the owners of the station," he said last week.

The owners bought the service station, then known as Roosevelt Auto and Truck Service Inc., around 1982 and stopped selling gasoline in 1990. They discontinued the auto repair services shortly after that. The structure has been vacant ever since.

Last week, Ed Goetzmann, the borough’s new construction code enforcement officer, was asked by Borough Council Attorney Doug Kovats to see what it will take to secure the building.

Goetzmann said he has inspected it and spoken with the owners, John and Margaret Guyette, about boarding up the windows and doors.

"The side door is wide open and just kind of swings in the breeze. The front door is made of glass which is smashed. There’s a small wooden shed in back of building that would be a good place to start a fire," he said.

In addition, Goetzmann said, the office area is full of papers as though files were just spilled on the floor. "But worst of all is what looks to be friable asbestos," which he explained is loose asbestos with fibers that can float in the air.

"The insulation in the roof is falling down and a big swatch of it is hanging between the ceiling and the floor," Goetzmann said, adding that he isn’t sure if it is friable asbestos or not. "If it is friable asbestos, it makes the building uninhabitable," he said.

"I feel that all of the windows should be covered with plywood, but the owners don’t agree," Goetzmann said.

"They feel that because the windows have multiple panes that are too small for anyone to climb through, it is unnecessary to cover them. They have said they would secure the two doors," he added.

According to Hamilton, although the site is unattractive, the immediate concern is health and safety.

He said, "We’re getting some motion in trying to get it into safer condition."

The abandoned gas station had been plagued by contamination in its soil and groundwater. For a while nobody took responsibility for cleaning up the chemicals on the property. Several underground storage tanks, defunct since the early 1990s, were pumped out about two years ago by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

According to Hamilton, there has been some contamination, but it’s not in wells. "Nobody has to worry about it being in drinking water," he said. "Whatever it is, it’s relatively limited."

The abandoned station has just been sitting there for over 10 years.

Hamilton said, "We want movement on it fairly quickly. The owners had been waiting for the borough to board it up because the previous borough attorney said that we would, but it’s not our responsibility. We think the safety issues will be resolved near term. Then we’ll see if it can become a viable property in town."

He added that a lot of back taxes are owed, but the borough does not want to take over the property because of liability issues.

According to a February 1999 article in the Examiner, former Councilwoman Rose Murphy said that the cost of cleaning it up may be too much for the borough to take on regardless of the threat of liability. Fuel-related chemicals such benzene, toluene and xylenes were found to be in the property’s soil and groundwater during a state-funded investigation two years ago.

She added that it could be anyone’s guess what it would cost to clean it up.

But things have changed a bit since 1999, and there may be a way to take the guesswork out of the equation. There is a fairly new state program run through the Economic Development Authority that provides grants for the study of properties like the abandoned station.

According to Health Officer Lester Jargowsky, "Brown Fields is a state program where a town, or individual can secure a grant from the Economic Development Authority in Trenton and retain their own engineer to do an engineering study to work toward remediating the site and bringing it up to industrial standards."

Jargowsky cited as an example the Trenton waterfront. "They had brown fields on a grand scale along the waterfront. There used to be old manufacturing buildings there. They’ve turned that around. Now there are ball fields, like the Trenton Thunder home stadium, and a series of corporate offices."

Hamilton agrees that applying for grant money may be the way to go. "We’re starting to think of it as a potential site for development or something. Because of the contamination at the site, it is eligible for Green Acres Brown Fields money.

"We’ve done some investigation with the DEP. There are all kinds of programs with the state where they will work with Brown Fields developers. Although it’s not a large property, maybe 4 or 5 acres, developers are interested in taking a site like this and getting grants and loans. That could be something we might want to move forward on in the future."

Jargowsky said that although the borough does not own the property, it could still apply for the grant. The town could do it, pending takeover. It could apply to the Economic Development Authority to secure the grant money and have an engineer do the study.

Then the town could bring it up to Brown Fields standards and either sell the property or do something with it. Jargowsky feels that it would be hard to interest someone in purchasing the property with all of the unknowns. But with the study, unknowns like the cleanup costs would become known.

Right now there are no ordinances on the books about abandoned property, so it just sits there, according to Goetzmann.

He added, "It’s recognized as one of the worst sites in New Jersey. The owners are very nice people, but they don’t have the money to do anything about it."

Jargowsky explained that Roosevelt is not the only community dealing with this kind of problem.

He said, "A lot of municipalities are in the same boat with abandoned properties that are on the contaminated sites list. They are all trying to develop strategies on how to take that site."


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