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Archives for January 7, 2016

View: Memorial Field’s dirty secrets serve as warning

Memorial Field in Mount Vernon has been called various things: a civic treasure, a glorious wreck, a potential tennis stadium, an eyesore, a historic inspiration and a diamond in the sporting rough.

Now we know of another name: a toxic waste site.

Inspectors for the state Department of Environmental Conservation came to this conclusion in December after two rounds of soil testing, which revealed large concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This hazardous contaminant is apparently the legacy of construction dumping.

The future of the 1920s-era stadium is now caught in a political squabble between newly-elected Mayor Richard Thomas and his predecessors, but what shouldn’t get lost is the overriding lesson for Westchester County about historic properties in transition. What often matters most about a particular site is the invisible quality of what lies under the ground.

Many U.S. cities have an industrial-era footprint firmly stamped on their urban soil, with a cocktail of toxins due to human activities. Contaminated soils often occur disproportionately in low-income inner-city minority communities characterized by a high numbers of vacant lots, some of which are being converted to community gardens and farms, even as historic properties are being renovated by creative young architects.

These well-meaning efforts — such as the one proposed by former Mayor Ernie Davis for Memorial Field — can present a health risk. Such is the case in Chicago’s predominantly Latino Pilsen neighborhood, where the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to spend up to $4 million to clean up residential yards near a now-shuttered industrial scrap metal smelter. Soil testing is the only reliable method of ferreting out these hidden dangers.

This becomes crucial when buying a home, which is already one of the most emotional (and expensive) purchases the average citizen will ever undertake. We expend tremendous energy fretting about such acoutrements as stainless appliances, granite counter tops, wood floors and landscaping. But did we research the past land use of the property? This is particularly critical in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification. Was the property formerly occupied or close to a factory that belched contaminants into the soil? Do we even think about the soil on which our home sits, particularly if we planned to establish a vegetable garden or sandbox for our children?

The fate of Memorial Field is on a different scale: it has millions of dollars of tax revenue, the scrutiny of state regulators and the political energies of at least three mayoralities to ensure the soil gets a close look before anything happens. Not so for average homeowners, who would do well to spend $100 to have their soil tested by a laboratory for lead and other contaminants as well as for vital plant nutrients.

Lead testing should not be restricted just to a home’s interior, but also to soil found in exterior play areas and yards. Discovering “dirty dirt” in your backyard doesn’t mean you have to sell the house. It may only involve a rethinking of where the garden is planted or where the children play.

Most of us take preventive measures to ensure our good health and wellness. We eat our vegetables and hopefully get regular checkups from our physician. Likewise, we must take preventive measures to ensure the health of our soil by checking on its vital signs. Soil health is the foundation of human and environmental health. Sick soil equals sick people.

Memorial Field served the city of Mount Vernon well as a place of education and recreation for more than eight decades. This latest discovery might be seen as yet one more lesson this place has to teach us.

The writer is an associate professor of environmental sciences and Studies at DePaul University in Chicago and a 2015 Public Voices Fellow of The Oped Project.

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Pros and cons aired during hearing for Grillo landscaping operation

Residents had to wait until the new year to comment on a proposed Grillo Services landscaping products operation at 553 West Ave., but when they had their turn at the microphone, they had plenty to say at a nearly four hour Jan. 5 Planning and Zoning Board (PZ) public hearing attended by about 75 people.

The 13 people who spoke in favor of the Grillo plan on West Avenue said Milford should support a local business, which is attempting to remain in Milford, works with natural products and has supported community organizations with donations.

The 14 people who opposed the plan said they are concerned about the volume of truck traffic passing through a residential neighborhood in close proximity to JFK School and the noise that would be generated by the processing machines.

Speaking in favor, Mary Pedwano of 12 Sharon Court said, “They have been a great asset to the city for 20 years.” She said the company has donated its products to the Boy Scouts, schools and community gardens.

Anthony Paiva of 1107 Naugatuck Ave., said he has been a Grillo customer since the company opened 20 years ago. Paiva also cited Grillo’s community donations, including $500 in ticket purchases for the Jonathan Law community to see the movie Heaven is for Real, following the death of Maren Sanchez.

Paiva said the state has mandated leaf recycling since 1990. Prior to Grillo’s operation, he said the city had to ship its leaves to Lebanon. He said Grillo would plant trees and shrubs, which would offset the carbon dioxide generated by the leaf composting.

Earl Dancy of 1277 Naugatuck Ave., said he is the business manager at Kingdom Life Church. He said he has used Grillo products on a few occasions. Dancy urged the board to support a small business that pays taxes.

“I am not sure why we would create hurdles and obstacles for an existing business in the city.”

Brett Doran of 64 Harvest Lane said he lives within 2,000 feet of the current site. Doran said, “They have been excellent neighbors.” He said Grillo’s hours are early, the company donates to local school and sport programs, and asked, “Think about what else could be there.”

Mark Bernier, owner of Country Meadow Tree and Landscaping, said he is one of many small businesses that uses Grillo’s products. Bernier said, “I have a big problem with where to dispose of logs and leaves, a big problem. I looked into other places and there is no other place to go.” He said the Grillos “are easy to work with” and he purchases mulch and soil from them. “A lot of container companies won’t take what they take. It is not economical to truck it three towns over,” said Bernier.

Traffic, Noise Raise Concerns

The first to speak in opposition was James Trowbridge of 18 Audubon Close, who said he represents the 58-unit condominium association, located at the corner of Naugatuck Avenue and Grinnell Street. He presented a petition opposing the plan, signed by 135 residents of West Avenue, Kendall Green and Audubon Manor.

Trowbridge said the plan would introduce heavy truck traffic to West Avenue with 168 trucks per day coming by JFK School. He said teachers would be competing with the noise generated by truck traffic.

Trowbridge complained about the routes currently taken by Grillo drivers, saying they would use Grinnell Street, Plains Road, and Naugatuck Avenue, despite a city ordinance prohibiting through trucks on these roads.

Trowbridge questioned why Grillo needs to duplicate having a stump grinder and rock screener on the West Avenue site “unless they are planning on moving that whole operation up there.”

Mary San Marco of 27 Lucius Court, located at Gloria Commons condominiums on West Avenue on the west side of I-95, said, “This is not the right location for this project.” She said Grillo’s equipment would be noisy, the piles of materials and the Quonset hut would be unsightly, and there would be smells from compost and diesel fumes.

San Marco said the condominium already has a considerable amount of truck noise and trash from I-95, which borders the property. She said the adjacent city-operated sewer pump station makes a humming noise and can have a strong sewage smell on a bad day.

“West Avenue is mainly a residential area. We already have many speeding vehicles,” said San Marco.

Joseph Bogdan of 3 Audubon Close said he was a Milford police officer for 25 years, 20 of them in the traffic division. Bogdan said there are five condominium complexes within half a mile of the Grillo property.

“The residents of Caswell Cove have long complained to the city about the odors and smells from decaying materials,” he said.

Bogdan said the Grillos were cited in 2009 for expanding their operations beyond the approved 3.7 acres to 11 acres on the current site. “Will this behavior repeat itself on West Avenue?” asked Bogdan.

Bogdan said he has seen Grillo trucks as early as 6:30 a.m. and they are operating daily at 7:30 a.m. Based on 168 trucks per day, this would mean a truck every three to three and a half minutes on West Avenue, he said.

“Grillo is not a bad operation. It is a bad location for this type of business,” said Bogdan.

Luther Reinhold of 1433 Naugatuck Ave. said he is a retired professional engineer and a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Reinhold said despite signs on Plains Road and Naugatuck Avenue warning of a $100 fine for trucks using these roads, trucks exit I-95 at Plains Road as a shortcut to Bic Drive and Oronoque Road. He said he did a traffic count at the intersection of Plains Road and Naugatuck Avenue on July 10 from 7:25 to 9:55 a.m. He said he counted 16 trucks, 11 of which were going to and from Grillo.

Clifford Mason of 1427 Naugatuck Ave. said the uses proposed by Grillo fall into the category of heavy industry, which he said is not suitable for the West Avenue site, and are not permitted in the current zone.

“You have to protect the citizens of the city of Milford by simply enforcing the zone in the area,” said Mason.

Pat O’Brien of 80 Audubon Close said she is a licensed arborist who had a tree service and landscaping company, and was a customer of Grillo for many years.

“I would hate to see them leave Milford,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien said that she would ask her drivers why they were late in getting back and they told her they were lined up at Grillo waiting to drop off materials.

“The worst time of day at their facility is after 3 p.m. when school kids are getting out,” said O’Brien, who also commented, “It does not belong in a residential area.

Applicant Rebuts Concerns

Responding to public concerns, Stone made reference to a remark made in conjunction with the failed re-election campaign of George H.W. Bush saying, “It sounds like, “It’s the traffic, stupid,” said Grillo’s attorney Brian M. Stone. Stone said Audubon Close is on the other side of I-95 from the Grillo property, commenting, “They wouldn’t do that route. It doesn’t make sense.”

Stone said any comments about traffic on West Avenue being dangerous or congested are “speculation,” saying the traffic report showed, “Traffic levels are an A. This site produces a very modest amount of traffic, lower traffic than a DO zone.” He said the police department did not have any concerns with traffic.

Stone said the Inland-Wetlands Agency, working with wetlands scientist Dr. Michael Klemens, supported the proposal, which includes a site clean-up, followed by landscaping with native plant species.

“Nobody in the surrounding neighborhood will hear noise due to the distance from this property,” said Stone.

Also responding to concerns was company co-owner Michael Grillo who said, “We will not be using Grinnell Street for truck traffic.” He said he has directed his drivers to use Bic Drive and not Plains Road, which he said should result in “a large reduction in my large trucks” and if that does not work, he will again sit down with his drivers to remind them of this.

Grillo said the company might generate 168 truck trips per day in its peak season of April and May. However, he said the company had seven truck trips the day of the public hearing and 12 on a day the week before the hearing. He said Gloria Commons is 300 feet away from the proposed entrance. Grillo said he met with the condominium board members at Gloria Commons and twice invited them to the Oronoque Road site to see the operation.

“They never showed up,” said Grillo. “They didn’t want to be proven wrong. There’s no smell. The smell dissipates within an hour.”

He said it would take a five-year period to have the West Avenue site fully operational, and the Oronoque Road site would remain open. He said there is no way Grillo can move its process facility from an 18-acre site on Oronoque Road to an 8-acre site on West Avenue.

Grillo said, “We have a massive landscaping plan with thousands of trees and shrubs.” He said the operation would be 250 feet from West Avenue and would not be visible. He said the wetlands have 12 feet of silt from I-95, which Grillo would remove. He said Grillo would dedicate $20,000 over a four-year period under DEEP supervision to spray and mow the 40 acres of phragmites, until they are “totally eradicated”, which would create a better wildlife habitat.

“Our benefits to being there far outweigh not being there,” said Grillo, who said the company paid $60,000 in local taxes in 2015 and would pay $30,000 annually on the West Avenue property.

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G’town workshop on sustainable landscape open to public

Germantown created a partnership with Strawberry Plains Audubon Center two years ago to give residents a resource for learning about plants native to the region and tips for altering their own yards to attract wildlife.

Last year, Germantown branched out by planting two parcels along its green-
way with edible, native plants. It also offered a workshop on choosing native plants for homeowners, taught by Kristin Lamberson, a native plant specialist at Strawberry Plains, a preserve in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

“Forty people showed up for the first session,” Lamberson said. “We were overwhelmed.”

Germantown is offering the two-session workshop — Living Landscape Design Lab — again this year from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 30 and Feb. 6 at the Pickering Center, 7771 Poplar Pike. The sessions are $40 and include a continental breakfast both days. While the public is invited, space is limited.

“The purpose is to introduce homeowners or people interested in home landscape to some alternative methods of design and maintenance for home gardens and landscaping,” Pam Beasley, director of Germantown Parks and Recreation Department, said.

“We talk about sustainable landscape management in the home setting, enhancing or enriching soil, forms of irrigation or not, picking the right plant for the right place and looking at hardy, native and drought-tolerant varieties that do well in our climate zone but can give you a punch of color.”

Participants also will learn how to choose native plants that attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

“People have heard about the plight of the monarch butterfly and are feeling accountable for the landscapes we have that are dead zones,” Lamberson said. “They also want sanctuary within their yards, to be able to walk out their door and have wildlife and things blooming in the fall and winter and also to be able to see butterflies without having to go anywhere.

“The news in the world is so daunting, it’s nice to know if you put a native plant in your yard, you are going to benefit some creature,” she said. “If several neighbors do that, it creates a corridor, and wow, that is powerful.”

Preregistration is required. Visit or call 901-757-7375

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Cottonwood Heights looks at creating Main Street feel along Fort Union Boulevard

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Can Fort Union Boulevard be improved in ways that will decrease traffic, invite pedestrians and bikes, and include beautiful landscaping? According to the Fort Union working group, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

Over the course of several weeks, nearly 40 Cottonwood Heights residents and property owners met with officials from the city’s Community and Economic Development Department to discuss ways to make the Fort Union corridor more appealing and functional for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Participants were divided into three groups and tasked with re-creating a section of the heavily used road that runs from Union Park Avenue to the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The group spent time walking along the corridor, noting its strengths, weaknesses and dangers — but they also noticed its potential.

“When I first started looking closely at Fort Union, I noticed electric poles on both sides of the street, small sidewalks, a number of driveways and a lack of shade or trees,” Nancy Hardy, a participant in the work group, said in a statement.

The groups discussed pedestrian-friendly features such as benches, streetlights, wider sidewalks, offset crosswalks, landscaped medians and painted bike lanes.

At the end of the discussions, each group presented their ideas. Surprisingly, the results were all very similar. Each group’s design included 5-foot bike lanes, as well as plans for medians and wider sidewalks. A couple of plans incorporated on-street parking, and all proposals called for a reduction in speed along the corridor.

“We have been a little unhappy about the status of Fort Union for quite some time,” resident Jim Butterfield said. “We felt like there wasn’t much that could be done, and there wasn’t much will in the city to change things. Through our participation, we have found confidence that there are answers and there is a willingness in the city to improve and beautify one of our main streets.”

Many participants hope that by slowing the traffic on Fort Union, drivers using the corridor as a pass-through to Big Cottonwood Canyon would instead choose to travel along I-215, leaving Fort Union for people who live, dine and shop in the city.

“With plans for more development coming to the city, we know traffic is going to increase. What we wanted to do with this group is determine ways we can get ahead of that increase, and plan for it,” said Brain Berndt, director of Community and Economic Development. “We heard over and over again that the residents want Fort Union to be a visually pleasing corridor that invites all kinds of uses, something that increases safety and creates a place where people want to be.”

“At the completion of the focus group, (we all wanted to see) improved beautification along Fort Union and a creation of a destination place with local restaurants, unique shops and a local gathering area,” Hardy added.

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GAB: Gardening events held by Pike Nurseries

Gardening events held by Pike Nurseries

Every month, all Pike Nurseries locations hold classes and events to educate gardeners with tips and tricks on maintaining their homes and gardens.

The first event of the month is a class on decorating with houseplants at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 9. The seminar will provide guests with tips on how to select the right houseplant for their home, combine houseplants and ensure a long life for the indoor plants.

For those who love seeing brightly colored birds in their garden, a class on how to attract birds to your area will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16. Bird lovers will learn how to attract birds, what type of bird food is best for each species and how to create a birdhouse as a refuge from the winter months.

The last event of the month will cover landscaping basics at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30. Attendees will learn a variety of basic landscaping techniques, including designing colorful flower beds and caring for trees and shrubs.

Each class is free and available at all Pike locations. For more information, visit

Local church holds march in honor of MLK

New Jerusalem Baptist Church will hold its 5th annual march and luncheon in honor of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideas that he stood for on Jan. 18.

Line up will begin at 10:30 a.m., and the march will start at 11 a.m. at New Jerusalem Baptist Church. The church is located at 1958 Dogwood Road in Snellville.

Participants will walk about two miles to South Gwinnett High School, where there will be choir performances and a free lunch served to all in attendance. In addition, a clothing closet will also be open where gently used clothes will be available for all.

Families, civic groups and businesses are all invited to the march. Volunteers are needed to prepare and serve the meal, manage the clothing closet and clean up. Performers are also invited to sign up to share their talents.

All participants should register by calling the church office at 770-972-2324.

‘The Way of the Cross’ production seeking actors

Mountain Park United Methodist will present a re-enactment of the last hours of Jesus’ life based on the Stations of the Cross. The presentation is interactive, and will be presented in both an indoor and outdoor setting.

50 actors are needed to participate in the performance, and Mountain Park UMC will hold auditions in the sanctuary from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 9 and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10. The roles to be auditioned for include Jesus, Judas Iscariot, the Twelve Apostles, Temple Police, Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary the Mother of Jesus and many others.

Cold reading from the script will be required. Auditions will take place in the sanctuary of the church, located at 1405 Rockbridge Road in Stone Mountain.

Performances of “The Way of the Cross” will take place in the evenings of March 24 and 25 in honor of Easter weekend.

For more information, email

Gwinnett Gab appears on Thursdays and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post. To submit an item to Gwinnett Gab, email

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Katy’s large home and garden community awaits 10th anniversary of local show

  • The 10th anniversary Katy Home amp; Garden Show will be Jan. 30-31 at the Merrell Center and Robinson Pavilion.The 10th anniversary Katy Home amp; Garden Show will be Jan. 30-31 at the Merrell Center and Robinson Pavilion. Photo: Katy Home And Garden Show



Nancy Jackson, a resident of Katy’s Nottingham Country community, visits the local home and garden show every year it fills the space of the Merrell Center and Robinson Pavilion, 6301 S. Stadium Lane.

Each time is different for Jackson and her husband, Steve. Some years, the couple attend seeking fresh landscaping ideas. On others, they are there shopping for windows and bathroom remodeling to upgrade their one-story, 2,800-square-foot home.

Though each year is different, it’s also the same, said Jackson. There’s always flower arrangements to examine, home décor styles to look into, pool designs to inspect and the familiar hometown sensation the event provides.

“(This show) is way more convenient to go to than others in Houston, and there’s a lot more local vendors,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of people in our community that enjoy the whole home improvement thing … whether they just bought a new home or have an older one like ours. We make it a point to go every year.”

Jackson will be in attendance again at this year’s 10th anniversary show Jan. 30-31 at the center, where up to 8,000 people are expected between both days. The event has become central to many in the Katy area community, which continues to abundantly grow in both its number of homes and older residents.

More Information

Want to go?

What: 10th annual Katy Home Garden Show

Where: Merrell Center and Robinson Pavilion, 6301 S. Stadium Lane

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Jan. 30 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 31


The home and garden show is the only of its kind in the area. The show normally features 250-300 exhibits but will surpass 300 this year because of its 10th anniversary, according to Robyn Cade, founder of the show. Per tradition, a home and garden personality will be present. This year DIY (Do it Yourself) Network’s Matt Muenster from the television show “Bath Crashers” will make the appearance.

Exhibit booths will line each corner of the facility. Customers will be able to inspect garden options in one area while being able to turn a corner and look at booths of companies for cabinets, windows, doors and many other vendors.

In celebration of its milestone anniversary, the show will hand every 100th customer tickets to a screening of the upcoming “National Parks Adventure 3D” at Houston’s Museum of Natural Science.

In Katy, the median age is 34.4 years, according to the Katy Area Economic Development Council. The figure is greater than the median age of Houston residents, which is 32.3.

The area in-between Texas 6 and Sealy, which encompasses the Katy area, will have 44.7 more adults at age 65 or older in the next five years, according to data from Katy’s Memorial Herman hospital. The same data shows a significant increase also coming for the 55-64 age population.

With those statistics, as well as hundreds of houses being constructed in planned communities such as Cane Island, the show is tapping into one of Houston’s most affluent home and garden markets, especially with other areas seeing a slowdown in home buying.

“Katy, of course, is a very well-known community in Houston, and a lot of residents (here) have pride of home ownership and want to keep their communities looking beautiful,” said Kathy Brock, owner of Superior Window Co., a sponsor and vendor at the show. “(The show) gets Katy consumers more comfortable because they are able to meet with local, reputable companies face-to-face.”

Entrance prices range from $9 for adults to $8 for seniors, $5 for military personnel and free admission to those 12 and under. Funding to host the event comes mostly through the booths vendors’ purchase, which can range from $745 for a minute square space to as much as $5,000 for a 30-by 40-foot area, according to Cade.

When it began 10 years ago, the show had fewer vendors lined inside the center, according to Jackson. Since then, she said it keeps expanding as the suburb does.

Local companies such as Budget Blinds and Dream Landscape Design will be present, with many greater Houston area companies also scheduled to have a booth.

The show prides itself in having different sets of vendors and home and garden personalities each year, said Cade, as opposed to some shows in Houston that don’t diversify each year.

In the greater Houston area, various home and garden shows happen throughout the year, with exhibits in other suburbs such as The Woodlands taking place and massive Houston area shows also being hosted at NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans.

To Jackson, the short drive to Katy’s local show and smaller venue will continue to be one of reasons this event has become tradition to her and other community members that share a passion for home improvement.

“To us, it offers what we’re looking for for our homes and is so easy to go to and not overwhelming,” she said. “It’s a comforting feeling when you’re shopping for your house.”


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