Earlier version of article that was printed in Soundview Rising, November 21-28, 2014
After listening to a presentation which would transform downtown, an obviously confident New Rochelle city council voted unanimously to approve RDRXR as the master developer. This mixed-use development proposal includes the train station and the New Rochelle Public Library as well as downtown areas, retail stores and medical offices. The train station was labeled a front door to the community. Vibrant activity was sought to bring people to downtown. The new library proposal is slated to connect people to downtown. Garden Street was cited as a potential area for medical offices.
Councilman Albert Tarantino felt there were a number of issues in this process and asked what the next step was. He was answered that this was the beginning and that RDRXR would "be good partners" and they wanted to get the shovels in the ground as soon as possible. Further, he was told that they would not be working with a master plan, but would work "collaboratively" with private property owners, possibly creating an overlay zone and use density bonuses.
Next comments were made that the proposed company was not a planning firm. Councilwoman Shari Rackman said she was "confused" and asked if the development plan was to be executed for municipal properties because there was no guarantee private development would follow. Councilman Ivar Hyden reminded everyone that this proposal was in his district. He liked the "mix of uses" and was encouraged by the proposal.
Councilman Lou Trangucci wanted to know what the company's reaction would be if there was community resistance. The answer was that this company had not had resistance to any of their plans. Donald Monti, Chief Executive of Renaissance Downtown (RD) said if their plan "doesn't work, we'll pack our bags and leave." But he attributed lack of information as the reason why a project would be killed.
However the way the City Council discussed and voted unanimously with no opportunity for citizen input raises questions about the integrity and public interest of council members who had few objections, and more troubling, little interest in public opinion before voting.
For example, as a practical matter there has been and still is a serious parking problem in New Rochelle's downtown. Either the need to charge for overnight parking because Avalon residents did not want to park in their buildings' parking lots, or the daytime parking needed to sustain businesses must be factored into the equation.
In spite of this, on the surface, this collaboration of the city with RDRXR appears to be a noble goal. However, the most troubling aspect of this unanimous vote on Council is that many residents were unable to even see council vote at the 3:45 p.m. meeting or to express their objections or approval to their council representative.