Just in time for Earth Day, Talk of the Sound has reviewed the Local Agenda 21 plan for New Rochelle, NY created under an ICLEI program first announced in 2009 and analyzed changes to the document made after the New Rochelle City Council voted to adopt the plan in 2011. Earth Day falls each year on April 22nd. It is the two-year anniversary of the release of the original GreeNR plan.
Talk of the Sound conducted a similar analysis when GreeNR was released in 2010 and many of the concerns we raised were raised at Council. In some cases, items we identified -- requiring homeowners to pay to upgrade the lateral lines from their house to the City sewer system when selling their home, displaying private information from Con Edison on electricity usage -- were removed from the revised GreeNR plan. Others however, such as the GreeNR Seal and the "Green Lien" programs, remain.
The linked document provides a side by side analysis of the document as presented to the City Council in April 2010 and the document created on March 17, 2012. The two documents contain insertions and deletions of images, section dividers and other cosmetic changes that make a side by side comparison difficult. Talk of the Sound inserted blank pages or removed cosmetic pages so that the content pages matched up and could be run through the software to identify changes. The mark up key uses yellow highlights, red rectangles and red ovals: sections, sentences or words "of interest" are highlighted in yellow; changes between the two documents are marked with a red rectangle; sections, sentences or words that suggest mandates are marked with a red oval.
Although certain sections have been updated to reflect data from 2010 to 2009 or 2011 to 2010, the title is not updated. The title is "New Rochelle Sustainability Plan 2010 - 2030" but the plan was not adopted until 2011. Title should read "New Rochelle Sustainability Plan 2011 - 2031". Which data was updated in the document is inconsistent and appears to be random.
During the Public Hearing on GreeNR in 2010, New Rochelle Sustainability Coordinator Deborah Newborn stated that GreeNR contained recommendations for mandates. When she was asked about mandates during City Council meetings she said there were no recommendations for mandates. In fact, there are recommendations for mandates and, in one case, according to the updated GreeNR document, Residential Recycling the City has already moved on from voluntarily recycling to mandatory recycling; the plan states that the City may now issue summonses. In another example, there is now a mandate on idling and summonses can be issued. There are other mandates regarding building codes. According to Newborn, the overall intent of GreeNR is to try the voluntary compliance route first and then move to mandatory mandatory if the voluntary route fails which is another way of saying the plan contains "mandates" even though she and the Mayor later claimed there were no mandates in the plan.
Comments on Side by Side Analysis
Page 11) Added goal "increase recycling rate to 50%", previously the goal page did not indicate this goal at all.
Page 14) The goal to provide universal access to physical fitness has been removed fron the Ecology, Biodversity & Public Health section.
Page 24) Initiative 1.1: Green Building Standards added a new Past Action "New Rochelle has also adopted a density bonus that awards additional FAR to new construction with LEED silver, gold and platinum certification" and a new goal "Adopt a penalty provision or require a bond to ensure the enforceability of LEED density bonuses in the New Rochelle zoning code."
Page 26) Initiative 1.2: Exterior Lighting Efficiency added a new Past Action "The City has conducted pilot tests to evaluate energy efficient lighting around the City as well as at the New Roc and Intermodal parking garages."
Page 28) Initiative 1.3: Municipal Building Efficiency added a new Past Action "Utilizing federal funds, the City has completed an audit of City Hall, the Police-Court facility and Fire Station One, and is currently beginning implementation of the audit’s recommendations at City Hall and the Police-Court facility" and changed a Current Status from "The City has received funding through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, with $25,000 dedicated to an energy audit, and $535,000 dedicated to energy efficiency improvements" to "The City has received funding through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, with $42,000 dedicated to an energy audit, and $643,000 dedicated to energy efficiency improvements." [emphasis added]
Also changed was Short-Term Recommendations from "Complete a comprehensive energy audit of at least two City buildings to identify energy consumption patterns and identify specific options for improvement, coupled with cost-benefit analyses for each; determine whether to implement audit recommendations through an overall performance contract or through direct City action; Design and prepare to implement efficiency measures identified through audit." to "Implement audit recommendations." On Progress Track Municipal Buildings Audited has changes from 0 to 3.
Page 30) Initiative 1.4: Green Fleet states "The Department of Public Works has converted one sanitation truck to hybrid electric operation". A report was supposed to have been done in 2009 and 2010 on the results of the conversion. That report was never presented to City Council or made public. (guess why). The section also refers to the City owning 4 Segways. Where are those?
Page 34) Initiative 1.6: GreeNR Seal was exposed as a seriously flawed idea by the late Council Member James Stowe during the Council discussion on this item. City Manager Chuck Strome dismissed the idea as impractical due to a lack of manpower after Newborn told Stowe that building inspectors would certify if a house had earned a GreeNR Seal. Rather than remove it this section now contains a new goal "Such a mechanism should be structured to minimize City administrative oversight and rely to the degree practical on the submission of affidavits from contractors and/or property owners". The plan now calls for contractors, who are notorious for being scrupulously honest, and homeowners who have a direct self-interest in the outcome, testifying that the house met the GreeNR criteria for a GreeNR seal.
Not addressed at all is a key question raised by Stowe: "What is the City's liability?" Stowe wanted to know what would happen if the City issued a GreeNR seal and it was later determined the house had asbestos. The plan ignores this question entirely.
Page 36) Initiative 1.7: Mid & High-Rise Building Campaign added a new Past Action "The City has launched a “Green Supers” training program in conjunction with Local Union 32BJ, to provide training and certification to building superintendents in energy efficiency and waste reduction measures. Under Current Status a sentence reading "While some building owners and operators have undertaken efficiency improvements, there has been no coordinated effort to encourage such action" has been removed.
Page 38) Initiative 1.8: Efficiency & Conservation Loans was exposed another seriously flawed idea. Under this program a homeowner would borrow money to make their house more "green" and the loan would be folded into their property taxes. When the homeowner sells the home, the new homeowner would pay the resulting higher taxes. A sentence has been added which reads "the PACE program has been challenged by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and, depending upon the legal outcome of this matter and subsequent changes in State law, it may be necessary to revise or delete this initiative." This change to GreeNR was made in 2012. Here is a New York Times article from 2010:
Many homeowners who participated in a program that let them repay the cost of solar panels and other energy improvements through an annual surcharge on their property taxes must pay off the loans before they can refinance their mortgages, two government-chartered mortgage companies said on Tuesday.
The guidance came from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as efforts to resolve a dispute over the program — called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE — have failed.
Approved by 22 states, the programs let municipalities sell bonds to finance improvements in energy efficiency. Homeowners typically pay back the loans over 20 years through an annual property tax assessment. As is the case with other property tax assessments, a lien is placed on the home that has priority over the mortgage if the homeowner defaults.
In July, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, effectively derailed the program when it issued guidance to lenders stating that the liens violated the agency’s underwriting standards. Fannie and Freddie buy and sell most of the nation’s home mortgages.
That guidance led to the halt of most PACE programs and left in limbo those homeowners who had already taken out energy improvement loans.
It is not simply that the PACE program has been "challenged" by Fannie and Freddie, they have rejected it outright. There is no "challenge". This is not a court case. The federal agency in charge of home lending will not approve a mortgage that has a second lien on the property.
This GreeNR Initiative was dead on arrival and yet remains in the plan. It should have been removed before the original plan was even presented let alone a year after the plan was adopted by Council.
Page 46) Initiative 2.10: Residential Recycling Campaign changes Past Actions from "New Rochelle has begun to issue “oops”
stickers for observed failures to recycle household waste: to "New Rochelle has begun to issue “oops” stickers for observed failures to recycle household waste and may issue violations for failure to comply with recycling rules" and "Concentrate enforcement efforts on routes with low compliance levels." Those areas, by the way, or lower-income neighborhoods. The short-term goals are to "increase the frequency and consistency with which warning notices are issued to homeowners who fail to recycle" and "begin to issue violations to homeowners who have already received warning notices, but failed to modify behavior". The City intends to identify violators by projecting an expected rate of recycling in an area and then investigating those areas that fall below the projected level of recycling. The plan states "Establish a process for better measuring recycling rates by sanitation route, in order to better target ongoing education and enforcement activity."
The section on Current Status has been changed from In 2009, New Rochelle recycled 22,830 tons of waste and disposed of 28,446 tons of non-recyclable waste, for a recycling rate of 44.5%. Excluding leaves, which are considered to In 2010, New Rochelle recycled 20,046 tons of waste and disposed of 29,932 tons of non-recyclable waste, for a recycling rate of 40.0%. In other words, the recycling rate has actually dropped about 10% since the the Mayor's Local Agenda 21 Plan was first announced. The total amount recycled has dropped from 22,830 tons to 20,046 tons or a drop of about 13%.
Also, Current Status now includes "In June 2011, Westchester County’s recycling program was expanded to accept plastics with numbers one though seven."
Page 51) Initiative 2.12: Municipal Green Purchasing. Short-Term Recommendations have been changed from "Convene administrative personnel and green design professionals to review comprehensively the City’s purchasing and supply needs and to evaluate desirable and cost-effective alternatives" and "Development and, within financial constraints, begin implementing administrative regulations based on findings" to "Adopt green purchasing standards on a phased basis, beginning with products and services with easily-identified and implemented alternatives" and "Implement such standards and commence purchase of green products and services, provided that the cost differential, if any, for such products and services is deemed reasonable by the City Administration". There is no explanation of what "green purchasing standards" are.
Page 52) Initiative 2.13: Water Use & Wastewater Reduction. This is the initiative that talks about lateral lines on private property including "Continue evaluation and repair of lateral sewer lines on private property" and "Continue the inspection and repair of lateral sewer lines on private property through developer contributions, public funding, and, if adopted, property sale requirements." The "property sale" component was removed after Council Member Trangucci raised concerns about the added cost to a homeowner which he estimated to be $10,000 to $15,000 dollars. There is also a recommendation to adopt a law to require high water consumption businesses (laundromats, car washes) to convert to low-flow fixtures. This section also proposes encouraging United Water to raise prices during peak times and lower them during off-peak times. The water company has already doubled water rates in New Rochelle over the past few years at all times without prodding from the City.
Page 55) Initiative 2.14: Household Composting. A new goal has been added to "Encourage local landscapers and gardeners to provide composting as an option to customers."
Page 57) Initiative 2.15: Regional Composting Study is recommending consideration of a "permanent yard waste transfer site".
Page 60) Initiative 3.16: Sound, Lake & Stream Water Quality. Current Status was changed to include "Troublesome Brook" to the list of watersheds in New Rochelle. It now reads "New Rochelle is located within four watersheds (from west to east: Hutchinson River, Burling Brook, Stephenson Brook, and Sheldrake River, as well as a fifth, Troublesome Brook, now entirely underground) which drain to Long Island Sound."
Page 65) Initiative 3.18: Urban Forestry. Short-Term Recommendations now include "Evaluate tree selections to ensure suitability for intended locations and to maximize the use of native tree species, including New Rochelle native varieties such as the Lawton Blackberry and the Parsonage Pear." This is noteworthy mostly due to the degree of specificity. Where most sections are vague, this sections gets into the details of precisely what species of trees should be planted.
Page 68) Initiative 3.20: Rain Gardens Past Actions has been changed to remove "New Rochelle does not employ herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers to maintain public grounds, with the sole exception of City Hall.
Page 70) Initiative 3.21: Green Lawn & Garden Care. Past Actions has been changed to remove "The City has discontinued the use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers on municipal properties."
Given the changes to Page 68 and Page 70, it would appear the City does still use herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.
Page 72) Initiative 3.22: Idling Prevention. The goal of "In conjunction with project-related traffic analyses or signal installation and timing, strive to minimize traffic stoppages that result in idling at intersections" has been added to Medium-Term Recommendations schools.
Also, Past Actions contains a Past Action, "Westchester County has adopted a three-minute limit on voluntary vehicle idling, exempting hybrid and electric vehicles. New Rochelle has its own five-minute limit on vehicle idling." and a Short-Term goal to ""Bring New Rochelle’s anti-idling law into conformity with Westchester County’s to establish a clear, uniform standard." which, if achieved, would result in increasing the permitted idle time in New Rochelle by 66%.
There is also another mandate here, "Evaluate anti-idling restrictions and penalties for possible amendment."
Page 74) Initiative 3.23: GreenNR Walking Guides. A short-term goal has been changed in order to establish a New Rochelle Walking Committee. There does not appear to be a goal to create a New Rochelle Gum Chewing Committee, for obvious reasons.
Page 76) Initiative 3.24: Local Agriculture & Fresh Food Current Status has replaced "The New Rochelle Farmers Market, recently reorganized under the auspices of Community Markets, has lower than optimal participation levels from buyers and sellers alike" to "The New Rochelle Farmers Market, recently reorganized under the auspices of Community Markets, now has a permanent and visible home at Library Green." [Emphasis Added]
Also, a Short-Term Goal to "Identify a permanent and appropriate location for the New Rochelle Farmers Market" has been removed. The location is at the New Rochelle Public Library.
Page 80) Initiative 4.25: Transit-Oriented Smart Growth. The Past Actions now include "New Rochelle has taken a lead role in a regional Consortium to promote sustainable growth and has received funding through this Consortium to examine enhanced multi-modal connectivity to the downtown transit center." Several Short-Term Goals have been changed.
"Create an updated inventory of built space within various radii of the New Rochelle Transit Center, including subcategories for residential, office, and retail space, and employing relevant metrics, such as units, square footage, aggregate density, percentage of potential build-out, and occupancy rates. Maintain this inventory on an ongoing basis, and utilize this analysis to better guide land use, zoning, and development initiatives" is now "Update New Rochelle’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect changes in the community and to better articulate a civic vision for future land use and resource allocation".
"Identify sites and potential aggregations of property most suitable to transit oriented development, including the Main Street Core and Transit Central, and then market these sites through planning analysis, followed by issuance of RFQs and/or RFPs. Select developer(s) for site(s)" is now "Identify sites and potential aggregations of property most suitable to transit-oriented developments and then market these sites aggressively to potential builders. When appropriate, work in conjunction with private property owners through option agreements."
"Through observation and data collection, evaluate the adequacy of current parking requirements and, if necessary, modify such requirements to conform to parking demand and use patterns. As an alternative, explore mechanisms for reducing car ownership among residents in the transit district, through incentives, requirements, or physical design of new structures" is now "Through observation and data collection, evaluate the adequacy of current parking requirements and, if necessary, modify such requirements to conform to parking demand and use patterns. As an alternative, explore mechanisms for reducing car ownership among residents in the transit district, through incentives, requirements, or physical design of new structures."
An entirely new goal has been added:
"Continue to align New Rochelle’s plans with regional transportation, housing and sustainability goals through active participation in regional planning organizations."
Page 87) Initiative 4.27: Peripheral Node Planning Standards contains several recommendations for mandates. A Short-Term Goal is "Prepare recommendations for requirements, incentives, and/or guidelines related to scale, density, design, historic preservation, use, and other qualities, tailored to the degree practical and legal to the contextual character and planning goals for each target area". A Medium-Term Goal is to "Adopt recommended amendments to the New Rochelle Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Code, Zoning Map, and Building Code."
Page 88) Initiative 4.28: Green Business & Job Creation. A Past Action has been removed: "New Rochelle has committed almost $125,000 of its 2009 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EEBCG) to fund green job training." A related Short-Term Goal has also been removed "Employ EECBG funds to facilitate access to green skills for New Rochelle residents and issue an RFP for the provision of such training."
Page 97) Initiative 5.31: Pedestrian Safety & Mobility. A Short-Term Goal has been changed from "Develop and adopt changes in planning and design standards, based on a Complete Streets model, to incorporate pedestrian safety and mobility features in future public and private developments. Possibilities include the provision of sidewalk and street trees, establishment of off-road internal pathway systems, and entrances to retail and restaurant establishments directly from sidewalks" to "Develop and adopt changes in planning and design standards, based on a Complete Streets model, to incorporate pedestrian safety and mobility features in future public and private developments."
Development Commissioner Michael Freimuth has previously stated that Complete Streets will rarely, if ever, apply to New Rochelle but this does imply a new mandate for developers.
Page 100) Initiative 5.33: Downtown Access. Past Actions has been changed to include "Through a regional planning Consortium, the City has been awarded $100,000 to study means of improving connectivity to the New Rochelle Train Station". Current Status has been changes to include "New Rochelle is the only stop in Westchester County for Amtrak northeast corridor service."
Page 104) Initiative 5.35: Green Commuting. There are no changes but it is worth noting that the biggest "offender" in this section is the City School District of New Rochelle, in particular the pedagogic staff. The District is the largest employer in New Rochelle with pedagogic staff compromising the largest component of that staff. Most drive to work in a single-occupancy vehicle.
Page 113) Initiative 6.38: Informed Social Competition. The Short-Term Goal to "Investigate legal and/or operational impediments to public display of private resource consumption" has been removed.
Page 114) Initiative 6.39: Civic Communication . A Current Status has been changed from "The City website received approximately 26,000 page hits per day, including 1,100 hits to the home page, a statistic which may better represent the number of daily visitors to the site" to "The City website receives approximately 30,000 visits per month". Talk of the Sound raised questions about the original traffic claims in GreeNR. The figure of 30,000 visits per month is about half the traffic to Talk of the Sound, the biggest web site in New Rochelle.
Also, the goal to "Consider expanding communication efforts to encompass current and emerging technologies and social networking services, such as Facebook and Twitter" was changed from a Medium-Term Goal to a Short-Term Goal.
Page 126) Acknowledgements. The name "Sadie McKeown" was added.
Page 127) GreeNR Authors & Participants. The name "Sadie McKeown, Community Preservation Corporation" was added.
Page 128) GreeNR History, Creation & Adoption. The last paragraph was changed.
From: "On April 20, 2010, a draft of GreeNR was presented to the City Council, and then on April 22 – Earth Day – the draft was posted on the City’s website for public review and comment. REMAINDER TO BE FINALIZED AFTER ADOPTION. POSSIBLE TEXT: The City Council conducted a public hearing on May 11, 2010, and then discussed GreeNR’s contents [and adopted amendments to the plan] during May and June of 2010. On June 15, 2010, the City Council formally adopted GreeNR as a policy statement and directed the City Manager to produce a strategy for implementing GreeNR’s recommendations."
To: "On April 20, 2010, a draft of GreeNR was presented to the City Council, and then on April 22 – Earth Day – the draft was posted on the City’s website for public review and comment. The City Council conducted a public hearing in May 2010, and then discussed GreeNR’s contents in detail during the subsequent ten months. In March 2011, the City Council approved amendments to the GreeNR draft, voted formally to support GreeNR as a statement of the community’s sustainability objectives, and directed the City Manager to produce a strategy for implementing GreeNR’s recommendations."
Page 132) Chart of Initiatives. A chart summarizing a random set of bullet points from each section of the Action Plan was added, there are 7 pages of charts.
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you see any changes we did not mark with yellow highlights in the above linked PDF file please let us know and we will update the document.