In the April 18 issue of Soundview Rising
Mayor Noam Bramson on the day of his State of the City Address quipped he was a strong mayor because the City Manager Chuck Strome was out of town. The New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce on March 20, 2014 sponsored this annual state of the city address. To a packed audience of obvious supporters Mayor Bramson delivered an address which was filled with a vision for development, especially for downtown, Echo Bay and Davids Island.
Bramson began this address by complimenting a number of residents and businesses such as the owners of Modern Pizza, and forty year veterans of the New Rochelle Police department. The first round of applause during this speech occurred when he noted that Jesse Sanchez, head of the New Rochelle Art Association, has "made New Rochelle his artistic home."
After praising the Finance Commissioner Howard Rattner's record of exemplary financial report for 21 years in the city, Bramson followed by saying "well done" on behalf of the taxpayers. Another round of applause occurred when Krystal Dixon was announced as the 2014 Boxing National Champion.
Next Bramson relayed his vision of "what New Rochelle can and should be:" a thriving downtown, vibrant waterfront, responsive government and a community that values every tradition and heritage." This was followed by another round of applause when he said "New Rochelle's best days are ahead."
In a section of the speech devoted to downtown, Bramson claimed "prospects had improved and developers and investors are looking for fresh opportunities." The downtown area is anchored" by Iona College, Montefiore, College of New Rochelle, Monroe and the Public Library. Smaller "anchors" were cited between Pintard and Echo, Sickles and Union Street," where he claimed "hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of people, and tens of millions in spending power" exist. To back this up he cited two comprehensive studies which included "transit-oriented development and improvements in traffic circulation and design." Bramson followed these plans with a statement that "at the Council's direction" there will be a Request for Qualifications by May, and a development team will be selected near the end of the summer.
Next Bramson suggested making the most of present New Rochelle including going to see the latest "Imax" movie. A new business ambassador can help entrepreneurs, and the development of a '"brand" describing New Rochelle can boost our economy and property values. He then called the not yet approved Sustainability Plan a way to reduce energy costs and waster.
Perhaps the most controversial part of Bramson's address was his statement about building workforce housing and live-work space, especially in downtown. He questioned the "tipping points" created by new housing which could require building new schools. But in spite of this statement, applause again greeted Bramson when he insisted; "Shrinking cities shrink, and healthy cities grow."
Bramson lamented the rejection of the Forest City proposal for the Echo Bay waterfront area, but alluded to the two months now being given for the new request for proposals including the four Armory finalists and the previous runnier up (developer) for Echo Bay. Although Bramson recognized his lack of support for the Forest City Plan, he forcefully concluded "the only truly bad choice here would be making no choice at all." Another round of applause occurred when he said he would be happy "if new and better possibilities emerge." Going further, he suggested the Local Waterfront Revitalization plan would be completed with an $80,000 state grant.
Residents are aware of the high cost of living in the city and area. Bramson felt New Rochelle "had a pretty good record" with its low tax rate, streamlined workforce, and relatively low debt levels. Interestingly he mentioned the removal of hydrant costs from the City's real estate taxes but did not mention that United Water (which the state legislators have not approved as yet) will need to bill customers directly for this fee. Citing the need for municipalities to share services to reduce costs he suggested some ways this could happen such as municipalities merging private contracts for outsourced services to lower the cost. He then emphasized the city has already done this for road paving. To significant applause he suggested that serving taxpayers is less important than "preserving fiefdoms."
Bramson focused on three areas: downtown, the waterfront and the city's budget, but did not explain how environmental problems in different parts of the community will be addressed. The budget has a fairly uniform impact on all of the city's residents. But the other two categories, downtown and the waterfront impact the southern part of the city's infrastructure, traffic, density and pollution. The Mancuso Marino. for example, is still polluted with PCB's which can potentially make any kind of development impossible. Similarly how can Davids Island be developed when the roads in the area already have heavy traffic which would increase. Empty storefronts in the downtown show how businesses come and then leave. Restaurants after business hours use valet parking because the city has traditionally not required enough parking spaces for restaurants. All parking spaces approved for various developments and businesses in the downtown need to be tallied and distributed to council for their analysis. Residential streets in the area feel the brunt of the lack of sufficient parking spaces in downtown and there have been no attempts to address this dilemma.
The proof is readily available. Councilman Ivar Hyden, when asked at a meeting, said the Costco and Home Depot development was the most successful in recent years. This area has free parking in a large parking lot. The prospect of 2000 more apartments near the train station is another example of over development which will cause the southern part of the city's quality of life to diminish further. This also says nothing about the overcrowding of both schools and trains which would result.
New Rochelle is an historic city which does not need to be overdeveloped. The existence of diversity speaks volumes about the city. The low crime rate and happy celebrations of its history and holiday parades make residents proud. A lot of dense and unwanted development is not the way to improve the city.