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Toxic Ridgewood junkyard to transform into city-mandated animal shelter

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The new haven for four-legged New Yorker is slated for 2022

A former auto junkyard will be cleaned up and turned into an animal shelter in Ridgewood, Queens.
Christopher Bride/PropertyShark

A Ridgewood junkyard contaminated with noxious chemicals and metals will be cleaned up and converted into an animal shelter.

The 151 Woodward Avenue lot is slated for an Animal Care Centers of NYC (AAC) shelter that will become Queens’ full-service shelter mandated by a New York City Council bill passed last June. If accepted into the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, the lot will be the first in the state to go from a wasteland into a haven for four-legged New Yorkers, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

A scrapyard run by Aalba Auto Salvage, Inc., currently occupies the one-acre parcel where AAC has signed a contract and is in the midst of closing a sale for the manufacturing land, said a spokesperson with the city-affiliated nonprofit.

“The full-service, state-of-the-art shelter will be designed, built, and owned by Animal Care Centers of NYC and will fulfill Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to have a fully operational animal shelter in each borough,” Katy Hansen, a spokesperson for ACC, said in a statement.

Since 1902, automotive shops, housing, and restaurants have all resided on the lot. By 1962, it was used to pick apart cars and has operated as such until 2005 when a smattering of auto parts, tire, and glass retail shops joined the mix. It’s that legacy of manufacturing that has caused environmental contamination on the land with a slew of hazardous compounds, including arsenic, barium, and mercury, according to DEC.

That is why before the site is turned into a shelter for furry locals, ACC has opted to apply for inclusion in the Brownfield program—which is meant to incentivize private-sector cleanups of toxic land—headed by DEC. Once the land has been remediated, ACC will raze the existing one-story structures and build a new 50,000-square-foot animal care center with space for 70 dogs, 110 cats, and for small critters such as guinea pigs and rabbits, according to Hansen.

Most Brownfield sites are remediated and turned into housing to help revitalize gritty, industrial areas, according to DEC. The fact that an animal shelter could rise on land that was once blighted with dangerous chemicals raised a few locals’ eyebrows, but those who live near the junkyard are mostly glad to see the dilapidated lot put to a public purpose.

“I pass by that place all the time—there’s fluid leaking from automotive uses there—it’s highly contaminated. Anyone can see that just from walking by,” said Christina Wilkerson, a Ridgewood resident whose husband helps manage the neighborhood’s stray cat population with trap-neuter-return (TNR). “I’m just glad it’ll finally be cleaned and something useful that will benefit the community will go there.”

But some skeptical animal lovers say the new shelter should be placed in a Queens neighborhood with the highest need, such as Jamaica, Rockaway, or Astoria, said one advocate who is a registered rescue partner with ACC.

“The location they’re selecting doesn’t make sense,” said Phyllis Taiano, who has run an animal rescue in Middle Village for at least 15 years. “It’s just not a convenient location for people in the outer borough of Queens and where the need is greatest.”

The shelter, which will give homeless animals on death row more time to find a home, also comes with programs and features such as behavioral training courses, groomers who often volunteer to groom pets, and vaccine clinics that Taiano fears some Queens residents could miss out on because the space isn’t centrally located in the borough.

Queens City Council member Paul Vallone’s office, who proposed the 2018 bill mandating full-service shelters in each borough, is in talks with ACC and will be meeting with the group in the coming weeks for an update on the project.

“Last year’s legislation finally put us on the right course and now, we are taking the final steps to seeing a full-service animal shelter in Queens become a reality,” said Vallone. “Having animal shelters in every borough reflects our belief that all animals should be protected and given the opportunity to find a home.”

New details on the shelter, which is expected to open in 2022, will be announced later this year, according to Vallone’s office. Locals have until March 1 to comment on the lot’s Brownfield application.