NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Ten businesses have organized themselves as New Rochelle United Against Eminent Domain, a group opposed to a plan to move the New Rochelle Public Works yard to East Place, near Flowers Park on Fifth Avenue. The group, led by Maria La Rocca of Flavio La Rocca and Sons, issued a statement raising various objections to the proposal.
The group issued a statement claiming there would be a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, December 2nd, at 7:30pm where the City Council would consider designating the City of New Rochelle lead agency for the project. There was no such hearing scheduled but there was a Citizens to be Heard session where several people spoke on the subject of moving the City Yard to East Place near City Park.
The various speakers made a variety of points which are summarized below:
IMPACT ON BUSINESSES ON EAST PLACE: The plan will force businesses out; the businesses will go bankrupt, relocation will damage businesses, family names, and reputation of 10 businesses, Development Commissioner told businesses to move to Mount Vernon; plan threatens the livelihoods of over 70 people.
IMPACT ON TRAFFIC IN THE AREA
A Public Works Yard at that location will cause a traffic nightmare, will create extreme traffic, will increase truck traffic on Pinebrook Boulevard, the exit for all of the city’s trucks would feed out onto Fifth Avenue, which is a narrow one-lane street already suffering from serious traffic issues.
IMPACT ON CHILDREN
A Public Works Yard at that location will cause a serious safety issue for students at Barnard School, one business owner has a sick daughter, kids play in the street.
ABUSE OF EMINENT DOMAIN
Eminent domain is supposed to be used for public uses that are actually necessary, not the right of the City to deprive people of their property, the move is unnecessary because other sites could be chosen, the plan to relocate the Public Works Yard is solely to clear space for a private developer at current Public Works Yard.
LACK OF GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY
The process has not been transparent, the City is not transparent, the public does not know what other sites were considered, the City should find an alternative, this is a "done deal" with City trying to sneak it through, some people were given just two days notice of meeting with City, one person only found out the day before about the hearing, there was an official visit to the Beechwood Association but Sunset Association did not get a visit.
IMPACT ON CITY PARK
A Public Works Yard at that location will ruin City park, the plan will eliminate the skate park and impinge on City Park.
IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
A Public Works Yard at that location will have a negative environmental impact on wetlands.
IMPACT ON QUALITY OF LIFE/REAL ESTATE VALUES
A Public Works Yard has no place on East Place, it will be situated directly between homeowners’ back yards and a well-utilized city park, DPW is a nuisance, it will have a negative impact on quality of life, it will reduce property values.
Some of the objections to the plan to move the Public Works Yard to East Place are valid and warranted while others are either erroneous, highly personal, or speculative and so unwarranted.
1. A Public Works Yard at that location will cause a traffic nightmare.
It is hard to see how the situation would be much different than it is now. There are already dozens of trucks moving in and out of East Place each day -- landscapers, arborists, and masons. The plan includes widening the intersection at Potter Avenue and Fifth Avenue. The impact on Pinebrook Boulevard -- raised by several people -- will be no impact at all. DPW vehicles will travel the exact same route as they do now but would start at a location closer to Pinebrook Boulevard than they do now.
2. A Public Works Yard at that location will be dangerous to children.
This is the same argument used everywhere in the City for every proposed change and is utter nonsense. The proposal would have absolutely no impact on any school. The idea that children are supposedly playing in the street raises more question about their parents than it does about the DPW.
3. A Public Works Yard at that location will ruin City Park.
While it is true that the plan will eliminate the skate park, that is a lightly used facility and small enough to be relocated if demand warranted. The plan in no way impinges on City Park.
4. A Public Works Yard at that location will have a negative environmental impact on wetlands.
The current use of the entire area is industrial and so any negative environmental impact on wetlands already exists. There is currently no documentation supporting this claim.
5. A Public Works Yard at that location will reduce property values and have a negative impact on quality of life.
The plan appears far more likely to increase property values for the neighborhood, even those whose backyards face into the property, maybe even especially so. The current industrial use of the location is a far messier, louder use of the location than the proposed DPW facility. Locating the proposed DPW garage along the west property line will block the neighborhood from the property and serve to reduce sounds coming into the neighborhood.
1. A Public Works Yard at that location will force businesses out of the location.
Significantly disrupting 10 existing businesses which employ 70 people is a serious matter and needs to be given due consideration by the Development Commissioner. Reports that Luiz Aragon told these businesses to move to Mount Vernon is disturbing and, if true, he should address that. The City is proposing to dramatically alter people's lives, people who have been in New Rochelle a lot longer than Commissioner Aragon (and who will be here long after he has moved on to greener pastures). That said, it is not necessarily the case that these businesses will go bankrupt or have their reputations damaged -- these last two points are speculative and not compelling arguments against the plan.
2. There is a lack of transparency in the City of New Rochelle government.
There can be no doubt that the City of New Rochelle has a long-history of back-room deals, attempts to sneak through major changes, withholding information from the public or otherwise attempting to deceive residents and businesses. Any criticism of the City in this regard is warranted for any proposed project because the demonstrated fact is that the City of New Rochelle has routinely operated in secrecy and, in some cases, flat out lied to residents. To that extent, City officials are reaping the distrust they have sown over the years.
That may or not be the case with the Public Works Yard in this instance but there is no reason that any resident should ever take the word of any City official in New Rochelle about anything. To that extent we should all be Missourians -- "show me!"
In this case, there is one glaring transparency issue -- that residents have not been told why this particular location has been chosen as opposed to others. This has led many to believe the location was chosen without consideration at all.
Based on discussions with City officials and City Council members, Talk of the Sound can report that other locations were considered but they are not being disclosed because if the East Place location is deemed unsuitable for the proposed Public Works Yard those other locations may come back into play and the City does not want to drive up the price of those properties. This might be more compelling if the City government did not leak like a sieve and if there was not a history of sweet-heart real estate deals.
Despite claims to the contrary, there are few locations in New Rochelle for a new Public Works Yard -- no "empty" locations. New Rochelle is an older, heavily-developed City. There are no vacant 4-acre plots of land waiting to house a new Public Works Yard. As a result, the City would have to buy land with existing structures, paying for the cost of both, and then tear down the structures. A review of various options has, according to City officials, shown this to be prohibitively expensive.
Based on past reporting and the analysis done to locate a new home for the Public Works Yard about 15 years ago, there are several sites that have been discussed, considered and, in one case, acquired over the years.
A. Several possible areas between Fifth Avenue and I-95, basically the area where IKEA wanted to build. Any combination of parcels to create a Public Works Yard of sufficient size would require paying many millions to buy up not just the land but large buildings sitting on the land.
B. The old Tuck-Tape property, often touted by former Assemblyman Ron Tocci, is mostly in a flood plane and owned by a car dealer that is looking to expand in that area and can do so "by right".
C. Beechwood Avenue site, this property was acquired in one of the poorer decisions of the City government. After years of arguing otherwise, the City now contends that the Public Works Yard at East Place is necessary because the Beechwood Avenue site is too small and access ways to confined -- a point made many times by Council Member Louis Trangucci and others. That the City touted this location as an appropriate site for many years and has now reversed itself is one more reason that residents cannot simply take the word of City officials. In fairness, Commissioner Aragon was not involved in the decision to purchase the Beechwood Avenue location.
D. Charles Sadek Import Company, is a complex of industrial buildings a block from the City's Beechwood Avenue site. It was on the market but recently sold. It was determined not to be sufficient for the City's needs.
E. Building across from Beechwood Avenue site, the company at the site is leaving New Rochelle but the building is old and not built to be a garage.
There may have been others but these are the "known" sites that have been considered over the years (if you know others let us know). To say that other sites were not considered is incorrect.
2. A Public Works Yard at that location will require the use of Eminent Domain.
The use of eminent domain to clear land for the construction of a Public Works Yard is precisely the sort of use envisioned under the law. And if that is all that was happening in this instance this would not then be a warranted objection. It is not that simple, however, because there is no requirement that the existing Public Works Yard be relocated (e.g. new federal regulations require closing such a facility on the waterfront). This is a choice the City is making because they want to free up the current Public Works Yard location for development. To that extent the use of Eminent Domain in this sort of two-step dance amounts to eminent domain for the benefit of a private developer (Twinings).
So, where does this leave things?
Opponents of the plan need to dispense with overly emotional appeals based on hyperbole, personal interests and incorrect information. They need to constantly press the City of New Rochelle to be transparent at every turn -- and need to use New York State's Sunshine Laws to make sure of it. The City of New Rochelle needs to be transparent about their process to determine if the East Place location is a suitable location.
Opponents have two strong arguments, which are really one argument:
Does the relocation of the Public Works Yard to East Place permit the use of eminent domain to force New Rochelle businesses off property they own?
For those who take it as a given that the current Public Works Yard must be moved, that it is only a question of where, then the use of eminent domain would appear warranted and lawful. For those who see moving the current Public Works Yard as a concession to a private developer and thus unnecessary the use of eminent domain would appear unwarranted and unlawful.
And then there is the possibility of stepping back from the entire debate altogether and considering a third option -- privatizing the municipal sanitation operation as was once proposed by Mayor Bramson long ago. Such a move would largely eliminate the need for a Public Works Yard altogether, both freeing up the current location and obviating the need for the East Place plan.