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As New Rochelle Development Slows, Even a Bleak Cloud Has a Silver Lining

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As New Rochelle Development Slows, Even a Bleak Cloud Has a Silver Lining

February 12, 2009 - 07:18
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You might think the development in New Rochelle grinding to a halt is a bad thing, but some would say it’s a blessing in disguise. We have been given a rare opportunity to take a longer, closer look at just where things are headed. If you look at the existing downtown development and try to find how it has benefitted this city economically you wouldn’t find much. Yes, the old buildings where replaced with new ones, however, given the way the I.D.A.(Industrial Development Agency) hands out tax breaks and PILOT programs you would be hard pressed to see any ,if at all, economic boon to our local economy. The citizens have been subsidizing all of the development without any return on their investment. These grand projects just haven’t turned out to be as successful as they would have liked. Maybe it’s too much, too soon. Maybe things need to slow down and recalibrate to what makes sense for the city. Does the downtown really need more traffic and density or does it need to be smaller to be effective? Does Echo Bay really need to have 700 + housing units with large scale retail (Big Box) and a hotel at the cost of destroying an historical building? Getting things done is not the same as getting it right. Twenty six acres, on the waterfront, is a gold mine for any developer no matter how you look at it, but how does it truly benefit New Rochelle? This is the perfect time to rethink where things are going. The future of the Armory would have more effect on the public, and give back to the public, in any form far more than the 100 or so condo’s that would replace it. Would the city engage and support the Armory if it didn’t cost us anything? It can happen. For years the Save Our Armory organization has been trying to move forward with this concept, only to be met with indifference and misplaced priorities. They are ready to step up and help as soon as the city would agree to listen to them and allow them to bring forward some very good ideas.

Everyone is being asked to do more with less. Everywhere. Cut backs in every budget, paring down benefits, wage concessions. It’s bad. So why can’t we expect that from developers who come to town in pursuit of their own interests. New Rochelle’s location makes it a jewel and developers wouldn’t be coming around if they didn’t think it was worth it and it’s time for this city to focus more on being the best, not the biggest.

Things are bad. For many, it’s as bad as it will ever be in their lifetime. But, it will get better, and perhaps it will have more to do with what we do rather than what the politicians do.

There are 18 Comments

Exactly where do we go now in our city.
We are a City of Citizens, family's, school children ect. Why do we pretend to be a City of Stamford or a pseudo White Plains. More money should be invested in Parks. Why are we working so hard to build and develop especially providing tax abatements and Pilots for 50 year intervals.
Seems the City Council is in denial. They are debating the North avenue corridor like that is going to happen in their lifetime.
Echo Bay probably will remain a decayed inlet full of toxic chemicals! LeCount a virtual monument to poor planning, too grandious in nature with a developer who would love to build it with someone elses money, brownfeld money or tax abatements forever. New Roc Ice gone, Racing Cars, Space Shots and a facility manned by New Rochelle's police providing little tax revenue. Why is it a decaying venture?
Ah and parcel 1A the Trum Cappelli monument boy is this a raging success. And that art on the Bridge thats 200,000 dollars worth. Seems like someone is taking a huge Tax Writeoff as the thing looks like a bathroom applicated with blue tiles. You can't make this up. I must chaulk this off too a over Zealous Mayor looking to drive his political career over the backs of the residents.

You are so right. Looking at the Trump dump at night one wonders if everyone there works the night shift somewhere, 'cause there's never any lights on. City council is hellbent on cramming there own version of progress down our throats regardless of the concequences. This city would work fine at its present size if council would just focus on making things better instead of bigger. They chose to be at the council table. Let them work the details, acting in OUR interest, to make New Rochelle the kind of city people will flock to. Not because there's a overstock of failed high rises, but because there is a quality of life that precludes the mayhem of high density. Plenty of people and organizations have come forward to offer suggestions that are in keeping with the suburban model that N.R. is famous for only to be dissmissed as being out of touch with how things work these days, or not wanting to see any progress at all. These projects are better suited for White Plains or Yonkers or Buffalo. Is that what most want for N.R? They'll say that Avalon 1&2 and Trump are just victims of the economy but they weren't doing well when things were good. New Roc ? what can you say. Maybe managing the place with the focus on quality of life for the city instead quality of return for the developer would have a better outcome. Echo Bay, lets just hope the rumors are true and they're going to file for bankrupcy protection. Just beware citizens, pay attention what council does with the money from the feds stimulus package. They have already put together a package to submit for the request. They spoke abouy it at one of their council meetings. Can anyone get a copy of their wish list? Either way it's the perfect scenario for some creative accounting to help out the poor Capelli's and Forest City's of the world. Just remember, no matter where it comes from it's still our money so make yourself heard.

Not long ago a person could go to a movie in New Rochelle. Problem was the city was so alive that one had to pay to park in a lot a block away and even then hope to find a spot. There were generally lines to get in and afterwards coffee or pizza in crowded resturants at 12:00 midnight, then one could buy the Sunday paper. My friends lived in Eastchester and thought nothing about driving to New Rochelle for a movie. Everyone that had a boat wanted to keep it in New Rochelle, there was a 7 year waiting list for the Municipal Marina, but that was before everyone knew about how toxic Echo Bay was. What happened? What fools distroyed what was once really a Queen City? Must have been the men of vision, with their grandious plans and padded pockets.

Robert Cox's picture

Not long ago?

It's 2009. The downtown movie theaters were run down, dilapidated ruins when I first went to them around 1981. Some were closed. I remember one where the tiling would stick to my feet as I walked to my seat. It was pretty bad. At the time, the old mall was a mess and the theater there was closed down. Macy's was still there. So, you are talking maybe three or four decades ago, aren't you?

When I first moved to New Rochelle, in 1994, the downtown resembled Beirut.

As far as I can tell you can go see more than a dozen movies including IMAX films (the only IMAX in the area) at a very nice, state-of-the-art theater that draws up to 30,000 people a week. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance of the theater including some excellent places like Cholo's, Mo's Grill, MacMennamin's Grill, Mexican Corner, Red Lotus, Coromondel. There are family-oriented places like Appleby's and Wild Wings at New Roc. There are many other little places to eat within a few blocks of New Roc.

I am hardly an apologist for the leadership of New Rochelle but if you compare downtown New Rochelle to 15-30 years ago, the downtown is far better than it was back then. If you want to back 40 or 50 years ago, then maybe you can make the case that New Rochelle is not as nice as it once was but I think the more reasonable comparison is the more recent trend line since the low-point in the 1980's.

When I look at where New Rochelle was when I first came here as a student at Iona Prep between 1977 and 1981 and where it is today, I think there is reason to be optimistic. Is everything perfect no? Have there been some bad decisions made? Yes. Do the successes justify highly questionable or even downright unethical actions like allowing the Armory to fall into disrepair? No. There is some good and some bad like anywhere.

As for Echo Bay being "toxic", I've heard that before on this site but I spend time on Echo Bay regularly and while the water has good days and bad, I am not aware that the EPA or any other government agency has roped it off or desiginated it was a toxic waste site. I am worried to hear that someone says the water is toxic and if someone will show me some documentation to the effect I would read it with great interest but the claim alone is not sufficient for me. Can you provide a link to something that support this claim?

That you think downtown New Rochelle was a thriving city center "not long ago" when in fact it has been many decades since the time you describe makes me wonder if the toxicity issue is an issue that existed long ago but has since been resolved.

Let me add that if there is some way to obtain regular analysis of the water by some government agency - or even a "home testing kit" - it is something that we should know about, especially during the summer months. Does the Parks Department or County or State or EPA test the water regularly? For example, when they close the beaches, how do they make that decision?

Filtering the facts. It appears to be a confusing issue when we are told by some that the Echo Bay area is not unsafe, and by others that we need to consider how much money Forest City will be spending to mitigate the brownfield issues in that area thereby justifying the city's willingness to just hand over the prime waterfront property. After all, the developer will, in the end, own all of this real estate. As for downtown, yes it is better, but not because of the urban renewal. In fact, the downtown survives in spite of the city's poor planning. This downtown has struggled for years. Before the recent economic backslide, most places on Main Street were having a hard time, for many reasons I suppose, but struggling nonetheless. Why is that? Why have many businesses historicaly had a difficult time thriving on a main street like ours. You could make a case for inconvenient parking, and that's something that could be addressed like many of the other problems an expert could identify. There is something that could be thought of as disturbing. The zoning dept. task force that targeted some of the businesses at the height of business hours, to do spot inspections of cabaret violations and other issues that could be resolved with the business owners without scaring off the customers as they did. Who orders that kind of enforcement and expects the business owners not to ultimately see the climate as hostile. These weren't violations for underage drinking. I wasn't there, but I did see business owners complaining at a city council meeting about these "raids". So, it is confusing and I would like a way to sort out the facts from fiction and work towards making the area thrive again not like it was, but better than it was, be it 10 or 40 years ago because it's not hard to see the potential.

The proof of how toxic Echo Bay is rests in a room at DEC in New Paltz. There is a file about 4 feet thick. My 16 year lawsuit is the other proof. It has caused Con Edison to remove over one billion lbs. of toxic PCB's from the area. Unfortunatly the city and Con Edison have denied any toxic pollution has been found there thus no warning signes. There is curently a "Fraud on the Court" case pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for that very denial. As for the beach the county only tests for bacteria. I have positive PCB tests throughout the area. Your marina mud had to be removed and taken to a hazardous waste site a few years ago. By the way Lou Gerrig's the "Iron Horse" of baseball favorate food was Echo Bay eels, the most PCB toxic in the state, (they are technically hazardous waste 500Xs above the clean up levels for mud). Youre right about the movies, guess I'm showing my age. In the 60's and 70's those old movie houses were still in fashion. There is one like them left in Poughkeepsie that has been restored and packs em in.

Robert Cox's picture

Before responding let me explain something as background. This web site is not simply about an article appearing today and then gone tomorrow. It is about building an online, searchable archive of information. As far as I know there really is no good, freely available archive about New Rochelle on the web. The City Government web site is not simply badly designed but most documents are available in PDF format so not searchable via Google. The School District hides most of their information behind a firewall so only district employees can see it. The NRPD, NRFD, Public Library and other "official" sites contain very little information and what they have is often out of date (NRPL is actually the better of the official sites but relative to the info they possess to what they share they are keeping a great deal offline). Then think about the "paper of record". The Journal News takes stories offline after two weeks and puts them behind a pay-wall. The body of the stories is not searchable. What other sources are there online? None that I know of - and I've been looking for them.

Despite claims to the contrary, official New Rochelle has absolutely zero interest in making records and information freely and readily available on the web. The City has tons of information stories in Word docs and spreadsheets and hides almost all of it from the web.

You say there is a file four feet think sitting in a room in New Paltz. Not terribly useful to have that information tucked away in a box is it? Better to take all those documents and put them online. Every document that is in electronic format should be uploaded to the web (here or somewhere else). Every hard copy documents should be scanned into PDF (sub-optimal but better than nothing).

Next time you want to make a point about Echo Bay you can link the article - and I can read it and agree or disagree. The point is the information is out there for anyone who cares to look.

Google shows up on this site throughout the day (in fact, the more people contribute articles to this site the more they come). The "spider" the site, grabbing a copy of EVERYTHING and then load it into the Google Search database. If people like you will take their documents out of shoeboxes and file cabinets and put it on line then people cannot find it but RELATE it. By that I mean they can enter Google search terms and find EVERY doc that mentions a particular key word.

A search for "Echo Bay" + "New Rochelle + "PCB" turns up about 50 search results (maybe more, I did not count). Imagine if documents on this topic from a 16 year lawsuit were uploaded to the web. There would be hundreds if not thousands of search results.

It is hard for me to get this across to people but a major benefit of this site to the community - and something the powers-that-be do not like - is that we are very quickly aggregating a great deal of information about New Rochelle that is either never put on line or comes and goes quickly or is done in such a way as to make it very hard to find. We have been at it just a little bit for a few months but we already are one of the top "New Rochelle" web sites. Of course, you can chalk that up to me being a genius if you like but a large part of that is a function of the fact that there is virtually no competition. No one it seems wants an archive of New Rochelle information on the web. We do. The Internet is the greatest thing ever to happen for supporters of open government and transparency. To that extent this site is ultimately going to put all that hidden information online or force the hands of the people who have it to do it themselves.

Server space is relatively inexpensive so hosting thousands of pages of documents is not that big a deal. I would be more than happy to assist in uploading the documents to our web server. Then we can see for ourselves what you are referencing and come to our own conclusions.

BTW, if you could make the connection between Lou Gehrig's death and eating toxic eels from Echo Boy I am almost certain that is a story that would hold national interest. Very interested to work with you on THAT story.

We moved to New Rochelle in 1992 and it wasn't pretty. It was convenient for us, though, and affordable. We bought in 1995 and could afford a house.

While reading the March 2008 archives of the newrocnow.com website, I read this article about New Rochelle circa 1992 --

Here is the blog link:
http://newrocnow.com/2008/03/29/the-bad-old-days/#more-13

Here is a link to the article:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE4D91530F93AA25752C0A...

It is pretty enlightening and a good reference.

Robert Cox's picture

That 1992 story sounds just about right. It was pretty depressing. My view coming in to New Rochelle was basically "how much worse could it get?".

Noam Bramson talked about a "generational" change in the City. That sounds about right. The alternative to this sort of change is available to anyone who can hop in a car and drive 10 minutes to downtown Mount Vernon or Yonkers.

The fact is, I was wrong in 1994. It could have gotten much worse - and it didn't.

BTW, thanks for the tip on NewRocNow. I had seen that site once and thought it was abandon. I posted a comment there. I hope the person gets back to me as I would like to see about getting him over here as a contributor. He has some interesting and (the most recent one) amusing posts.

I venture to say that with school taxes rising every year this year 6.8%.
The Library Tax.....
The Garbage Tax....
and this years Tax increase voted by City Council in some of the worst economic times we have ever seen you would not have moved to New Rochelle in 2009...
Now some things have gotten better you are correct but the Mayor and City Council has moved the tax burden way over to the side of the home owner...
The retail built in the last 10 years has tax abatements for the next 25 years....
Not exactly a smart thing because it needs to be a jointly shared process.
With the amount of bitching by City commissioners this year I would not be suprised it they have a Snow removal tax, or a leaf removal tax. Yes there are things that have improved but I have found the City to operate in a manner that is somewhat out of touch. They hire consultants for everything but seem to still get so much wrong....
So I wonder if you would move here today because when you did move here Taxes were capped and they were forced to make some real decisions.

Robert Cox's picture

Don't forget the sewer tax. For those who have not been following it, New Rochelle homeowners are about to be slammed in order to pay for a massive unfunded federal mandate to pay for the cost of reducing the amount of nitrogen in Long Island Sound. Jim Maisano has been making the rounds to let people know what's coming. I did not get any exact numbers but it sure sounded like the cost to pay the roughly $200mm price tag for fixing the water treatment plants in our sewage district is going to translate into a "Net Present Value" of about $2,500 to $3,000 per home in New Rochelle. It also sounded like that tax is going to be disproportionately by home owners as opposed to apartment dwellers. The effective cost per flush for a resident of Avalon towers is going to be a fraction of a New Rochelle homeowner although the water treatment plant treats all "effluent" equally.

I think you also forgot the very high sales tax in New Rochelle, the tax on cell phones, etc.

The problem with some of these taxes is that they are not only self-defeating but even drive illegal behavior.

The higher you raise the sales tax in New Rochelle the more worthwhile it becomes for the consumer to shop in a jurisdiction with a lower sales tax and then not report the purchase. This is illegal but on a big ticket item can mean saving a lot of money (e.g. CT is 6%, New Ro is 8.75% so saving 2.75% on a 30,000 car is worth $875). When you add in the cost of insurance where registering a vehicle in say Vermont can save a ton more money, you get people buying their cars in other states and finding a way to use an out-of-state residence to register/insure their vehicle. Same with the brilliant plan to tax internet sales. How hard is it to have my Amazon orders shipped to a friend in CT or NJ. If the order is large enough, it is cheaper to ship to a friend and then have the boxes reshipped from a non-internet tax state.

The same applies to things like a high cigarette tax. The higher the tax the more worthwhile it becomes to purchase cigarettes in a state like North Carolina, drive them up to New York and sell them out your trunk. Everyone now agrees that prohibition did not work and made gangsters rich. How is building a huge profit margin on cartons of cigarettes any different?

In this context take one example here in New Rochelle - a garbage tax.

The City seems to have forgotten WHY the government provides things like garbage removal (or leaf removal or sewer systems or snow removal). The alternative is not between people paying an additional fee for these services and not paying them. It is between people avoiding taxes they can avoid and not avoiding them. Consumer's make rationale choices (at least, according to Gary Becker) and if you tell them that two cans of garbage are "free" but three cans of garbage are an extra $1 a month almost everyone will pay the extra $1. Raise that amount to $10 a month and some people will seek to avoid paying the tax. Up it to $100 and even more people will seek to avoid it. Bemoan it all you want, the fact is the more valuable it becomes to cheat.

Now, how does someone cheat on paying a garbage tax? Simple, they illegally dump their trash in unlocked dumpsters or in the woods or any other place they can. For commercial and residential landlords they hire companies that dispose of trash illegally.

The problem with things like a garbage tax is that it forgets that trash removal is about public health not a service. The problem with higher/new taxes is that the people proposing them always seem to forget that people can change behavior and that behavior will never be to find ways to pay more taxes.

The bigger problem is that these taxes tend to fall on the people who can afford them least. A person with a vacation home in Vermont is going to be able to exploit the system - buy the car out of state, register and insure it using their vacation home address, arrange shipping to avoid sales tax and all that. The lower-income person is going to be more likely to shop in the immediate area and not terribly like to have a weekend place in the White Mountains. So these taxes - garbage, cell phone, and others are incredibly regressive.

Other than that they're really smart and creative!

Mr. Cox.....
I know who I blame for this over zealous approach or panic to fix downtown at all costs. You however seem to give your neighbor on Pinebrook a pass.
Let me go over my list again...
Ikea debacle I will only hang partial on boy wonder for that as Tim Idoni needs to get that tail pinned on him but boy wonder did help push it along when he was Council member for district 5. That is until the North end came down heavy on it and then he did change tune.. Look how many years it took to start correcting that stupid Ikea Idea...
New Roc, they allow the building of a Amusement like facility. First sign of a problem off in another direction by allowint it to reconfigure adding in some 50 more years of PILOT tax abatements...
Parcel 1A handed over to Cappelli handed him additional height 39 stupid stories that are so out of scale, handed him additional footage for mechanicals on top of the building. Then that bridge that needed Council Approval! Most of us knew the structure was on site ahead of the approval. Exactly who is running the process here. And don't forget the 2.4 million United Water has been unable to collect from Cappelli for water infrastructure. Who do you think will be picking that up. Mr. Homeowner ofcourse in a rate increase....
LeCount, Boy Wonder helps Cappelli by threatening a bit of the old emminent Domain assuming those in line don't sell. Whats there now boarded buildings and temp. businesses. Now again during the panic Easter Sunday riot... They decided to go in another direction. Retail Retail Retail is the ticket....
Closing a Hockey rink which by the way was probably the only thing not attracting Police presence...
The hockey rink purposely run poorly discouraging business so Cappelli can bring the retail. And what retail were they to bring---- Target!!! Hello Target and Trump are in direct opposition. Ok lets take Target even though you can throw a softball and hit 3 others in our area.. Where is that Target. There is no Target nothing in site... With the economy now in the toilet it may be 10 years. So I am not so happy to give Noam a pass... I blame him for this hap hazzard approach and in the end its is us citizens and home owners picking up the pieces.Thus I do take a bit of exception to your giving the great Mayor a pass.

Robert Cox's picture

I am not giving Noam Bramson a "pass" and I am not sure what you mean about going over your list "again". When did you go over this list before?

Regardless, I do not think a list of undocumented criticisms is quite the same thing as a compelling argument for or against anything.

To make my point, let me just pick at random one item on your list:

"don't forget the 2.4 million United Water has been unable to collect from Cappelli for water infrastructure. Who do you think will be picking that up. Mr. Homeowner ofcourse in a rate increase...."

Is there some invoice somewhere?

Has United Water issued some sort of statements about this?

Is there a lawsuit on file somewhere?

Has Capelli issued some statement rejecting claims to make payment for water infrastructure?

I am not saying that you've written here is untrue but your claims here are not documented. Can you provide some documentation to support this? Is there more than one side to the issue? Is it even accurate?

Please understand that I am not writing this to cast doubt on this or any other item on your list but if you want to make your point in a compelling, effective way that actually changed undecided minds you need to make your case with some sort of evidence.

If you can provide it, we will HAPPILY publish it!

I remember seeing an article in the Journal News sometime Spring of 2007 where they claimed Apicella felt it absurd that United Water was billing Trump Cappelli parcel 1A LLC 2.4 million for water lines.
There was some back and forth and no word ever came back down about it. However it may have been settled.
If not someone might be picking up the cost of this.
There was at least 2 articles covering the dispute.
These kind of things usually get worked out ahead of a deal to make sure tax payers or the City don't get stuck with a bill. New Rochelle may have missed this detail. A guy who puts up a sign on public land in White Plains and then tells the City that they have to sell him the property for the sign and at what price is capable of almost anything you can admit. Check the Journal on the United Water issue.

More mismanagement over the sewer issue. The county ordered and paid for the Blasland, Bronk and Lee sewer study in the mid 90's. It cost the county $25,000,000. The executive summary stated every joint in the sewer system was broken or separated and the fix would cost $25,000,000. The county paid as much for the study as the fix but the municipalities felt $25,000,000 to fix the sewers was too much. Think about it because all the joints leaked much of the raw sewage seeps into the ground and not to the sewer treatment plant already over capacity even back then. Maybe that's the plan. The city you might say is one big septic system. On the subject of Lou Gerrig and the eels how do you prove such a thing? Except something made his cells sick. However if you Google the words Agent Orange alias PCB the Viet Nam veterans exposed to it during their one year tour of duty are compensated for Lou Gerrigs disease and other similar cell disorders as cancer because the government feels exposures to PCB's causes those diseases. PCB's are the only chemical ever band by an act of Congress. Thanks for giving us a place to vent. Too bad this site wasn't up years ago. People should have access to the unfiltered facts and make their own judgements. I'll try and scan some documents that you will find hard to believe about Echo Bay's pollution and add them. One comes to mind is a county document that states Echo Bay will be forever toxic.

The library tax is a complete waste of money! They should just close that dilapidated place. It's awful.

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