New Rochelle's Mayor Noam Bramson on November 22 answered residents' questions about crime, traffic, parking, taxes and overbuilding, especially in the southern part of the City. Citing City policies and City Council decisions, Bramson suggested residents call his office or use his email addresses for any further input. This "informal neighborhood meeting" was held in the offices of Cross Cultural Solutions on Clinton Place, New Rochelle.
Mayor Bramson's presentation to the crowd began with a review of the present local economic challenges, such as people who have lost their jobs, the loss of sales and mortgage tax revenue, and the increased pension costs. He cited ways to confront these economic challenges in the City Budget, including cutting expenses, scaling back the capital budget, a hotel tax, and the aggressive seeking of grants. At this time he said, the "range of options" are shrinking. The soft housing market in his view allows "time to plan", mentioning the Albanese development proposal for the Church-Division and Prospect lots. Transportation and regional planning as well as sustainability, education and other factors also impact the City's plans.
Resident Anne Almazar-Gerhard brought up concerns about traffic and parking in the downtown area. She felt that the problems on Main Street were caused by parking concerns and asked where she could park in her own neighborhood. She wanted to know where the promised cameras for the parking lots were, and added, "I feel like I'm going to be a prisoner in my home at night". She has to walk everywhere because there is "no parking for my building." Bramson answered that the zoning code parking requirements are now one parking space per apartment in downtown New Rochelle.
When Mayor Bramson was asked about the Westhab apartments on Clinton Place, he answered that "car ownership is less frequent in affordable housing." Continuing, he claimed that the problem is that many older complexes were built when parking was less rigorous and he felt the parking problem was largely associated with "older homes." The Albanese development proposal for the Church-Division Prospect area would eliminate a lot of parking, and this developer must introduce more parking at "alternative sites." Development should be beneficial for everyone in Bramson's view.
This was followed by resident Vincent Malfetano's comments that three taxing authorities in New Rochelle were not efficient. The Library Tax in his view should be eliminated and services should be privatized. He then related that men were smoking "pot" on his street and felt there was a need to change loitering laws. Malfetano continued, "I'm being driven out of my home," He also said that the building and overbuilding is occurring south of Eastchester Road so that "North End taxes can stay low."
Mayor Bramson answered that it is a "perception of crime" and residents should call the police who should respond. Adding, the "crime rate is at its lowest level in fifty years" and New Rochelle is the fourth or fifth lowest of fifty of the largest cities. With a population of 70,000 most crime is in the southern section of the City. High taxes were attributed to both School Taxes and State policies.
Accompanied by nine neighbors from Clinton Place, Patricia Zaffo spoke about the "filth" of nearby streets. In the last two months she stated 22 people have moved out of the Avalon Building. Her Board of Directors for Clinton Place had found the previous Church-Division development proposal "absurd", especially since it cut Clinton Place in half. Presently people in Westhab park their cars on the sidewalk day and night and when police are called they, the police, just tell the car owners to move and don't issue tickets. In answer Bramson said he will follow up with the police.
Addressing tax issues, Mayor Bramson felt New Rochelle had a "different tax structure" than other communities. He felt the City needed increased aid from Albany. Bramson spoke also about the proposed Main Street-Echo Bay development.
As the meeting was drawing to a close, another resident, Diane Moore, summed up the feelings of many who attended. She stressed the density of population in the southern part of New Rochelle and how this increased population has impacted our environment: garbage, noise, busing and public safety. "Our quality of life has been reduced severely by this increase in population." She added: "We are over-saturated. Build the buildings in another location. We have had enough."
[In the December 2 issue of the Westchester Guardian]