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New Rochelle Community -- Planning Past Should be Prologue

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New Rochelle Community -- Planning Past Should be Prologue

July 02, 2012 - 22:41
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I want to share with you some points I intend to make on July 10 to the Council regarding planning in general and the 1996 Comprehensive Plan in particular.

Today is yet another sad and all too familiar day regarding the Hastie situation in the School Board. I bring this up only from the point of view that the greater majority of citizens have delegated their rights and responsibilities to a small number of community members and this has not turned out well for us as a rule.

It is particularly fitting as we approach Independence Day to recall the sacrifices made by so many Americans in the service of our country. It doesn't end there -- so many members of our community have more than a passing knowledge or involvement in the horrors brought about by the holocaust, the Pearl Harbor aggression, and more recently, the horrific affront caused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and elsewhere.

But life goes on, doesn't it. It has become more of an accelerated dialectic. The powerless seek power and if successful, abuse power. Is this relevant here in New Rochelle.... yes, of course, but in a much more benign form and if you are at all interested in seeing it, just keep your eyes and ears open and think.

In 1996 a skilled consultant team called Saccardi and Schiff led a team in the development of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan. I've done a few of these in my lifetime and have read many more and used a few in some planning and business policy workshops. The 1996 Plan is of exceptional quality and you really should make it a point to read it. Yes it is long, but sometimes bigger is better.

When I became aware of the 2012-2013 initiative, I was pleased to sign up to participate although recognizing it was half a decade or so behind the normal ten year renewal cycle.

I was not disappointed in what I experienced thereafter only somewhat saddened by an insufficient reference to the 1996 document and frankly, some "tinkering" that was not at all needed. Worse, this tinkering replaced the eloquent simplicity of the order of the previous Plan. Worse yet, the in-house team was comprised of staff who had little understanding of comprehensive planning and less of working with community members who were knowledgable, motivated, and felt aggrieved by the imperious dismissal of the facilitators who really were not up to the task. Two University students with a smattering of text book knowledge supplemented a staff that had a tad more of background and experience.

I need to tell you a few things to make the aforementioned more transparent. This report was grounded on community values and land-use. Ostensibly the City Fathers would use this as a guiding document for subsequent action as well as the fact it was required in New York State.

The focus in the 1996 Plan concentrated on specific neighborhood areas, each clearly delineated, that had impact on land usage in New Rochelle. This logic was not followed in 2012. If it were, we could expect the same areas supplemented I should think by City Park and Wards Acres. You can check the EnviroNR documentation for this year's focus areas.

I was happy to see active Council notations on the plan but confused to see that these notations; often in the form of resolutions, stopped on or about July 2005. The question must be asked, "WHY"? The sitting Council today frankly lacks in-depth knowledge of Comprehensive Plan content and I see no evidence of a periodic annual review to check into its current state and progress. Again, why?

The assigned 2012 Planning Team violated good planning design and principle by cutting off any conversation dealing with leading role players in planning.... the IDA, LDC or BID. Again, a rather curious explanation saying, "this has nothing to do with land usage." This is like saying a rim has nothing to do with basketball. It is disingenuous and outrageous and it angered a number of respondents at several sessions I am aware of and has brought various comments ranging from over control orientation to pandering citizens in the community not involved.

So, lets save some time and effort, maybe money and reputation as well. If Planning, Zoning, IDA/LDC committees and the BID have nothing to do with land use planning or community value, then disband them and let the chlps fall where they may.

The Introductory Section of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan contains the following language.... "the manner in which land is used and controlled by the City." The appropriate people in NYS reaffirm this language.... I suppose land itself, transforms itself into a decision making organism and decides how it will be used, under what terms and so forth.

But, given my low readership batting average around 250 or so, perhaps I am tilting at windmills. But, folks, this important document is set up to represent the "values and priorities of the community." That is you.. all of you and no 2 hours in an occasional community-based planning meeting or a three minute monthly rant in front of the Council on a Tuesday evening will substitute for that. Justice Roberts put it squarely to all of us on the recent Affordable Care Act ruling indicating that, and I do not quote, that it is the people's responsibility to elect those representatives that enact, control and monitor what it is their interest. Or if you prefer, the people will ge the government we deserve.

I want to talk about a specific well into this 250+ page document. It is Section III-1. I will provide a copy to the City Council on July 10 after I return from Maine.

This specific area is the downtown business district. It is the number one listed item on the implementation list and one noteworthy based on the absence of handwritten resolutions or other statements. That fact defines the situation as it stands now. Downtown is a disgrace: it is undernourished, unloved, it belies any semblance of common sense as any developer or investor would tell you in terms of the two most sought after criteria for commercial and residential investment. The other is a flourishing and vibrant school district and read the lead story today for much more on that.

We have not provided security and safety. We have allowed Monroe almost carte blanche in known and speculated occupancy. We have all forms of non-profits and no occupied space by city agencies or departments; a baci di morte, for investor confidence.

Where is a police facility to add courage to the community. Why does Habitat have to find total acceptance in Mt Vernon, Yonkers, and White Plains? Killoran is modest, but the city fathers and community leaders are lavish in their praise and the poor man cannot even get the City to accept his offer of painting that eyesore on Division and Center, etal. No we would rather compound the violence done to te 1996 Plan and to the community by looking at yet another high rise with little prospect of any revenue, much promise of resource drain and infrastructure harm.

We need to rebuild and restore. We require to make our first providers and city workers in the field feel wanted and THAT DOES NOT mean a free ride or the absence of tough negotiation. It would not hurt, though, if we took a balanced view and critically examined headcount at 515 North Avenue. We are really overpaying for top management if we interpret the City Charter by simply applying common language meaning and usage.

So there we have it. I am asking that you read the Comprehensive Plan and THINK. If you are comfortable, you are either delusional or really don't care much about these things. Well, perhaps history and community sacrifice ended in the 1970s. I suppose the title, "Mad Men" was properly chosen for that massive AMC hit.

Please bow your heads on July 4th, question what is going on with Jeff Hastie, give the Armory RFP to deserving and centered community members, and restore and rebuild New Rochelle.

Start on page III-1 of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan.

There are 3 Comments

I invite everyone to sign up and participate on the Envision New Rochelle "MindMixer" website. It is designed to expand community participation on a variety of topics and issues that affect our City and the work of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Board 2020. There are 42 of us on the Board, all volunteers, representative of a cross section of the community. We are working within 6 different subcommittees, including Economic Development, Landuse & Environment, Mobility and Infrastructure, Neighborhoods and Housing, Open Space and Public Facilities, and Urban Design & Preservation. Share your ideas about how New Rochelle should grow and where we want to be in the years to come. This vision has to come from all of us. Thank you.

I am not sure whether our definitions of "volunteers" is in sync. Let me speculate that you and your 41 volunteers were identified by members of the City Administraton and they agreed to serve. There are others, quite a few who were not asked to "volunteer" and so are not serving. I would think the latter fulfills much more accurately the spirit and intent of true volunteerism.

I can also testify that a number of people with credentials; eager to serve the community they love, were turned down "behind closed doors" for the simple crime of not being, as someone in the admininstration hierarchy once so delicately put it, "one of us." From the viewpoint of proporational representation, I can further assure you that the representation on this and other "volunteer" committees is heavily skewed toward a certain geographical area that likely begins at New Rochelle Road and runs northward. Of course, a brief examination of voting roles, perhaps even campaign coffers, would yield interesting results.

This said, I do hope that people look at the subcommittes and share ideas. What I am saying to you now and above is not at all anti-community; it reflects the fact that people of talent have been systematically excluded and the process set up that it does not satisfy the most basic definition of a planning process which this purports to be.

The first thing you should examine is the 1996 Comprehensive Plan to see what the prevailing vision as you put it, was at the time. What you are going to be asked to deal with is vague, non-focused and not at all sufficient. Let me share the Communiity Based Future Visions of 1996 with you and you can judge for yourself the degree of pinpoint focus and the precision explicit in this Plan. It focuses on (1) downtown business district, (2) the Center City, (3) the waterfront and Pelham Road, (4) East Main Street/Echo Area, (5) West Main Street/Weyman Avenue and West New Rochelle, and (6) Fifth Avenue. Once these were identified, a set of so-called "communitiy based future visiions were prepared to support the above KEY FOCUS POINTS and grounded on the need to return New Rochelle to its previous stature and vitality. This proceeds along the path of dimensioning the aforementoned Focus Points --- a very clear example of the Downtown Business District was "downtown should be planned and redeveloped along a "specific theme."

So, what does a team of "volunteers" have to work with 16 years later.... areas or themes such as "economic development", "housing and neighborhoods", "mobility and infrastructure,", etc.
I have no idea of the volunteers capacity to do this, what prior documentatioin they have, what training they are receiving. But I can tell you what they need to have in order to proceed in a productive fashion and, sadly, there are people excluded from this process who, it is alleged, were sso excluded because they either "were not one of us" or "they think they know too much."

The horse is out of the barn and the major content areas of the plan have already been established. The way a strategic or urban or business plan is developed is always through a process of description followed by prescription. Simply, your base documents are the prior Comprehensive Plan plus and indepth assessment done via both hard data and experienced anecdotal contributions on the strengths of the city, the weaknesses of the city, the opportunities it faces and the threats it faces. All of these contain multiple areas of examination. Strengths and weaknesses looks at many tthings; financial systems, human resources policies, skills levels..... opportunities looks at business climate and organization, housing and residential markets, economic indicators at all levels, etc....... and threats also examine the external environment factors mentioned under opportunities plus legal and regulatory climate, mandates, labor market..... net net.... strenghts and weaknesses look at a broad variety of the same things internally; opportunities and threats a broad variety of the same things externally.

Have you done that? Is it being done for you? Or are you going to free associate via "brainstorming? things like .... we need more parking here. Are you aalso not going to be allowed to put faciliating or controlling structures like IDA or BID into your work because they are not descriptive of "land use."

After you finish with an exhaustive organizationial assessment which the above descriptive exercise is; only then can you legimiately go into a problem identification and solution mode. Like a good doctor you must describe before you can prescribe and you must deal with the most recent Comprehensive Plan FIRST.

Ok, so now someone or somebody of professionals develops a short and long range plan based on all of these outcomes.

You set it up as follows.... (1) where we are -- that is CURRENT STATE -- e.g. Strome says we are BRoke(describe please), (2) where we want to be --- what are we going to do and by when so we are less or not broke). and (3) how are we going to get there -- the actual action steps. ... cut staff 15%, raise property taxes 1.3%, etc.

Sorry if I seem to be both wordy and negative, but I am guilty of wordy, but I am very positive. Ask anyone. I want you to do well as if you do, we all prosper. And, Ms. Lobo interweaving in all of this is extensive outside best practices research to see what others are doing.

I am persona non grata in City Administration, but I am damn good at what I do and this is one thing I do.

Best of luck and hope lots of people pitch in. Better that, than closed doors and 6 or 7 folks.
w
arren

Warren,

What you said is right on target. We can plan and think all we want. As we have all stated, there are a lot of smart citizens like you in New Rochelle who would love to contribute to the process. They don’t want the input of people who know what is going on. The City relies on the fact that they load the deck with aces and kings and barely ever shows their hand. It is a game to them and our taxes are the poke chips. They bluff and raise but are rarely called so they don’t have to show their hands or experience. That is also why the people don’t want to play with the city anymore. Many are getting out of Dodge because they can’t afford the high stakes any longer. Of course some developers and business that have the inside track and know when to stay in the game and get out before the game starts are still around looking for their chance at the pot.

As I said in my post 7/1/12 POST TOTS “Iona College and City of New Rochelle on the Road Again” regarding the Iona/City Community Planning Committee, The concerns are the continual problem of poor planning; procedures, policies and past bad planning decisions on the part of Iona College, The City Council, City Management and City Staff of New Rochelle. They all have a bad habit of letting history repeat itself when it comes to planning and development. The point is not against Iona College itself but the bad practices of past City Councils along with the colleges and developers.

The City Council does not acknowledge nor does it follow The City Charter. The City Council does the same with the 1996 Comprehensive Plan. If they did they would see that there are better ways of doing things. No one here is saying anything that the 1996 Comprehensive Plan hasn’t stated already. That includes Downtown, Echo Bay, and even Iona College and the North Avenue Corridor. It is all in Section III-1 as you have stated. Even if you just read the Planning Issues section. It’s Dejavu all over again!

We don’t need any more studies and committees, we need the right people to follow the road maps and directions we already have first. Get back to following The City Charter and review The 1996 Comprehensive Plan. Use all the other tools we already have available to us from the County, State and Federal Government Agencies. Stop the duplication of service and save time and money. That is the point! It is time to change the habits and actions of the past. There is still time for re-birth for The City of New Rochelle and its City Council. Wake up New Rochelle.

“Common Sense for the Common Good”

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