Hawthorne testing shows contamination

April 24, 2012
By Chris Stevens/The Daily Item

Soil testing from the parking lot of Anthony’s Hawthorne shows there is contamination consistent with chemicals that would have been used at Whyte’s Laundry, according to Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Director James Cowdell.

“We sent the results to the Athanases telling them that the contamination existed,” Cowdell said Monday. “There was off-site migration onto the Hawthorne property.”

Soil from the parking lot of Anthony’s Hawthorne is contaminated with chemicals, a recent study revealed.
Soil from the parking lot of Anthony’s Hawthorne is contaminated with chemicals, a recent study revealed. (Item File Photo)

The Athanas family, which owns the 32,000 square foot restaurant space on Washington Street, allowed the EDIC to conduct soil testing in its adjacent parking lot in March. Cowdell has been pressuring the Athanases to either develop or sell the property that has stood idle since 2003. There has long been a concern that the restaurant’s parking lot, which is still in use, suffered from contamination due to its proximity to the defunct Whyte’s Laundry. Whyte’s was located on Willow Street next door to the U.S. Post Office. The parking lot sits directly across the street and slightly downhill from the former Whyte’s site.

Past test results of the parking lot turned up among other chemicals, extremely high levels of vinyl chloride, which is dangerous if disturbed, according to Cowdell. The latest round of tests also showed more of the same, he said.

Despite where the chemicals came from, Cowdell said it is the responsibility of the property owner to clean up the contamination.

Cowdell called the testing, which cost EDIC $28,000, going above and beyond.

“We did what they should have done, we did the testing,” Cowdell said. “Now what will they do with it? The ball is in their court.”

Calls to the Athanases’ family attorney, Theodore Tedeschi, were not immediately returned.

Ward 5 City Councilor Brendan Crighton said he is frustrated by the lack of progress with the property. He said Tedeschi will appear before City Council during its May 7 meeting to give an update on the property, but he’s baffled why it took the family more than three weeks to respond to his simple request.

“I have concerns with the stability of the structure, I have environmental concerns … and I have concerns about the future of the property,” he said. “There are a lot of positive actions taking place downtown and this is very frustrating.”

Worries about structural soundness began after a portion of the building’s facade came crashing on the sidewalk in March.

Cowdell said he is interested in hearing what the family has planned for the property.

“Because my position is allowing them to do nothing is not an option,” Cowdell said.

Cowdell started the process to take the property by eminent domain more than a year ago. That plan was put on hold when the Athanas family agreed with work with Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy on plans to develop the land. Cowdell said if the property continues to sit idle, he is not averse to starting down that road again.

“Having a 37,000 square foot parking lot sit empty in the middle of downtown is unacceptable,” he said.

Crighton agreed, noting that a lot of changes are taking place downtown. D’Amici’s Bakery will be opening on Sutton within the next year, a new retail/residential development is in the planning stages for Andrew Street, renovations should begin on 33 Central St. before the summer is out, and both Crighton and Cowdell said they don’t want to see Anthony’s Hawthorne sitting empty amid these changes.

“We will not have progress impeded by this property,” Crighton said.

Chris Stevens may be reached at cstevens@itemlive.com.

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