The water tower stands as a forlorn reminder of Hastings’ industrial past | Photos by Frank Roberts
As waterfronts develop across Westchester County, Hastings awaits a decision on how to restore and revitalize the shoreline.
Hastings is a village beautifully described by Trustee Morgen Fleisig as “positive, energetic, intellectual, artistic, with deep roots in manufacturing history and strongly committed to a functioning government and proud emergency services.” It is also a village that has been entangled in a prolonged debate over the divisive issue of how to restore and revitalize the shoreline, which was once home to an array of industries.
The construction of the Croton Aqueduct in 1837–1842 and then the completion of the Hudson railroad line was instrumental in transforming Hastings-on-Hudson from an agrarian village to a popular residential and thriving manufacturing center. Industries from sugar refining to chemical plants dotted the waterfront, as its proximity to New York City made it an especially desirable location to establish a business and benefit from the influx of recent immigrants. Toward the end of the 1800s into the early 1900s, the area was expanded by adding fill to the landscape. On 28 acres of the site, Anaconda Wire and Cable Company housed its factory, comprising the northernmost parcel of the waterfront lot. The business produced insulated wires that were coated in PCBs, a known carcinogen that leached into the soil and water. The plant closed in 1975, leaving the village with a tax deficit and higher unemployment. The site earned the dubious distinction of being a Class 2 Inactive Waste site and garnered a place on the Superfund list, which puts it alongside the infamous Love Canal as a contaminated area with great risk to human health.
In 2013, Peter Swiderski, the mayor of Hastings at the time, was quoted as saying, “We can boast unique varieties of PCBs not found anywhere else in the county.… Some of our soil is contaminated literally hundreds of thousands of times beyond the acceptable standard.” A second parcel, known as The Tappan Terminal site, is divided into two lots, each about seven acres. Uhlich was a company that processed dyes and pigments on its seven-acre site, and Exxon Mobil distributed petroleum from its lot. Once these businesses closed, the property was deemed unusable and uninhabitable due to severe pollution and the obvious health hazards.
The parcels have changed hands several times, and you would need Ancestry.com to truly follow the family tree of ownership. The Anaconda parcel was recently acquired by National Resources, which purchased it from BP-Arco. Remediation of the 28 acres, which must be handled by BP despite no longer owning the property, has not fully commenced and will probably take about seven years to complete. Uhlich sold its seven acres to Argent Ventures, best known for its real estate investment in Grand Central Station, and Exxon Mobil sold its seven acres to Broadway Stages, which operates 53 studios across New York City and hopes to utilize Hastings for future movie and TV productions. The 14 acres of the southernmost parcels were the first to remediate. By 2021, they received a Certificate of Completion from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), clearing the way for that portion to move forward with revitalization plans.
Riverkeeper, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to keeping New York’s waterways clean, was instrumental in the move to clean up the Hastings shoreline. “While no one can get everything they want,” says Legal Director Richard Webster, “we believe there is a wonderful opportunity to produce a win-win design that creates habitat and recreational opportunities in addition to cleaning up the PCBs on the site.”
Discussions on how to restore the shoreline and bring much needed revenue to the village are ongoing. According to Natalie Barry, president of the Hastings Historical Society, the local library is filled with shelves of documents and proposals relating to the site, and there are several challenges. First, the Village of Hastings does not own the parcels, so while it can make proposals, it is not the deciding vote. Fleisig says the priority of business is to get the three companies that now own the land to agree to a plan. Another challenge is getting villagers, who all want to see their shoreline best utilized, to agree on the best course.
It is the goal of the current mayor, Nicola Armacost, and the four elected members of the Board of Trustees to find a way to represent all the views presented. They have issued requests for proposals (RFPs) for interested parties to submit their concepts for revitalization, so they can present plans to the community for review. Barry sees the revitalization as “a tug of war.” While villagers have gotten accustomed to seeing the wide-open space, the three property owners are certainly going to want a return on their investment, so it is realistic to assume there will be a combination land use encompassing revenue-generating and recreational.
Fleisig, an architect by profession, agrees: “In a perfect world, the waterfront would have a mixed-use vision, residential and retail, as well as open public space.” He stresses that the board is “committed to an open, transparent public process in rezoning this in a way that achieves the greatest degree of consensus.”
Hastings enjoys magnificent views up and down the Hudson River, the Palisades, and the New York skyline. Officials are looking for a plan that will take best advantage of the shoreline’s position while remaining committed to stabilizing the area and protecting it from flood waters.
Hastings enjoys magnificent views up and down the Hudson River, the Palisades, and the New York skyline. Officials are looking for a plan that will take best advantage of the shoreline’s position while remaining committed to stabilizing the area and protecting it from flood waters. They hope to maximize the area for recreation, including picnicking, boating, and nature trails. A hybrid of community activities could be enjoyed in the open space, and the infrastructure should allow for flexibility and growth.
One thing villagers have overwhelmingly agreed on is that the area must show respect for Hastings’ rich industrial history. A symbol of that is the water tower that now stands on the land. While it must be brought down to clean the rusted exterior, a vote taken several years ago affirmed that the residents want it reconstructed. Barry feels that the water tower “is a symbol of our industrial past” and carries an emotional aspect for residents. The Historical Society asked residents to photograph what they feel defines the village, and Barry noted that the water tower was among the most iconic images captured. One thing that Barry feels is a given is the creation of historical interpretive panels, which would be placed on-site, like those that were created for the Revolutionary Walk, commemorating the Battle of Edgards Lane. These panels will educate, inform, and honor Hastings’ rich past.
An interesting annual assignment for the second graders at Hillside School is to reimagine what the waterfront should look like. The students have suggested everything from a boathouse with kayaks to a museum, playgrounds, and an In-N-Out Burger restaurant. Their ideas certainly seem to carry vision, historical context, and a pragmatic approach. Perhaps the powers that be should let these creative kids help direct the future of their shoreline. One thing is for certain: This is far from over and might not be decided until these second graders have driver’s licenses.