City Council Views Computer Projections for New Rochelle's Downtown

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City Council Views Computer Projections for New Rochelle's Downtown

January 31, 2014 - 16:15

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Consultant Skip Smallridge asserted his Transit Oriented Development (TOD) study was proposed as a “beginning of a dialogue.” This study was a planned exercise to bring a vision of what “growth” of the area near the New Rochelle Metro North train station would bring to downtown New Rochelle.

It was prepared with respect to Housing and Urban Renewal (HUD) grant focused on the premise of transit oriented development.

A brief historical perspective of Main and Huguenot Streets area within a ½ mile radius using the train station as its center point was presented.

Existing zoning and land use near the train station were broken down into present use percent values. The circles drawn about the station included 22.8% retail, 18.6% residential and mixed use, parking 8.3%, and vacant land at 5.1%. The overreaching “concept” was to provide a “vibrant, safe and pleasant access to the New Rochelle Transportation Center”.

Smallridge suggests only areas not recently redeveloped should be considered, noting high-rise buildings and parcel consolidation was needed. A high-rise tower in the vicinity of the train station could be linked to the present parking garage. Two options were expressed: a high-rise with a pedestrian bridge or a more ambitious expanded train station fronting on North Avenue, possibly with elevators. Stamford’s present train station was given as a model worthy of being emulated.

The consultant erroneously referred to Maple and North Avenues as Maple and North Streets. “Maple Street”, he said, “could contain a five-story housing structure and a five-story garage. Ancillary to those suggested plans were bicycle lanes running between the New Rochelle Transmodal (train station) and Iona College. A general reduction of parking spaces in the present city’s zoning codes was also suggested.

Recommendations also include public outreach. Meetings in the summer and fall of 2013 “done in conjunction with the city’s comprehensive plan update” were mentioned.

Their findings included criticism of the “existing zoning” restrictions of 2-3 floors and “allowable auto-oriented uses” because greater densities are required. What may be viewed as very controversial is the “conclusions” that “parcel consolidation” is needed for the more dense and high-rise buildings projected. Perhaps the items that will create the most controversy in the conjectured projections is that a new development can potentially create 2,242 residential units.

Development Commissioner Luiz Aragon suggested a new school could be built in one of the proposed new buildings. Mayor Noam Bramson alluded to undefined “difficulties posed” while admonishing the assembled that “open eyes are needed”. Even so, Bramson offered the 2017 target date an “unlikely completion date.”

Several New Rochelle Councilmembers, along with Bramson and Aragon, appeared to be favorably disposed to the consultant’s extremely bold view for New Rochelle. Both Councilwoman Shari Rackman and Councilman Ivar Hyden expressed positive reactions to the study.

Councilman Jared Rice felt the report was “upbeat” and Councilman Lou Trangucci “liked what he saw” in the plan, especially the part which was in conjunction with the hospital. Aragon suggested while we are finishing the comprehensive plan this is the right time to implement the TOD study. Bramson suggested the advanced TOD study has the potential to enhance the downtown.

Juxtaposed to the majority New Rochelle Councilmembers, Councilman Barry Fertel was the lone voice seriously questioning the integrity and prognosis of the TOD report. Fertel notes recent city historical outcomes go to underwrite his cautious view of the TOD study. At a previous meeting Fertel questioned why the only developer seemingly interested in the Garden Street area was desirous to build housing. After the TOD consultant had given his vision for the area, Fertel again questioned the lack of interest in developing the area. Aragon’s responded by noting the the undefined vision for the city was curtailing interest. Fertel persisted in asking what the city would have to do to follow the concepts promoted in the TOD report.

While he expressed cautious optimism, he emphasized the grandiose plans appended to recent projects went toward diminishing the concepts and thwarting interest in deference to the lack of past commitments.

Fertel asked, “what can the city council do to eliminate running into a brick wall?

Aragon insisted it was important to have a vision “to tell a story,” and nothing would happen if the community is not involved. He characterized this as a “bumpy road.”

Councilman Al Tarantino who had not expressed his perspective during the meeting later said the TOD study had been paid for by HUD and was a computer generated study based on information available about the city. He said this is a conceptual model of what you can do on building sites in the transit district.

It does not mean that it will happen today, tomorrow or next year. What it does do is give one an idea of what can be done.

Computers can analyze data but residents, having learned from the past, use a historical barometer by which to gauge to substantiate prospective plans for future considerations. Residents may justifiably question why the TOD study ignored the recent rezoning definitions, the still unapproved comprehensive plan, or even the overlay zone permitted in the downtown now. At issue is how residents will come to view the computer generated models.

Originally published in The Westchester Guardian, January 23, 2014

There is 1 Comment

What a pipe dream. Judging by how long it took to build the few high rises we have, and the fact that after 20 years, we still have no meaningful retail, this plan would, at best, take a 100 tears to complete. And who can predict where this country will be in a 100 years? The city would do much better by developing a shorter range plan with more meaningful, realistic goals--like achieving a retail hub that could generate some tax revenue. Or bringing some industrial or corporate development to the city that would create jobs, and spur the need for housing and retail.

No where in history has a civilization focused first on building housing and then hoped the jobs would follow. In fact, with no jobs, there is no need for housing. Just look at Detroit following the crash of the automakers. And then there is China, where the government built thousands of apartments that nobody can afford and they remain empty to this day.

This notion Bramson has is based on fulfilling Agenda 21 and it is designed to get people out of the suburbs and into the city in the hopes of reducing automobile travel and therefore cutting carbon emissions. What Bramson doesn't tell anyone is that first, virtually every fossil fueled car on the planet would have to be eliminated in order for it to have even a slight effect on global warming. Secondly, to achieve pipe dreams like this, billions of taxpayer dollars would have to be forked over to private developers for it to take shape and governments are already in significant financial dilemmas. Hence, there is no money to turn this fantasy into reality.

An example, the Chinese what to build a mega complex in Ulster County called China City. To do it, they want $65 million in taxpayer dollars to bring it to fruition. For the people of Ulster, they will pay higher taxes, deal with more congestion, and more carbon emissions for many years to came. The $65 million will likely never be recouped.

The same holds true for when the US government bailed out GM. They brought $50 billion dollars of stock in the company which nobody wanted and then sold it last year for $40 billion. In exchange, GM added jobs that paid half of what they used to--jobs that didn't pay a living wage--and Detroit lost more than half its population and it is now bankrupt.

Somebody in government ought to get off the dime and stop chasing these pipe dreams and develop a real plan that brings industry back to the US and restores wages in this country so that people can afford to live. Invest in America's future. Not the future of the Chinese government or the future of rich developers and politicians.