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New Rochelle Planning Board Raises Concerns over Echo Bay Proposal

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New Rochelle Planning Board Raises Concerns over Echo Bay Proposal

July 09, 2013 - 03:08
7 comments

NEW ROCHELLE, NY – The New Rochelle Planning Board unanimously approved a resolution on March 19, 2013, to recommend that the City Council approve the Echo Bay Draft Environmental Impact Statement as long as certain considerations were addressed.

NewRochellePlanning-EchoBayDEIS

Their concerns, filed with the City on March 28th, include the following (emphasis added):

The design in general is inadequate in its architectural finish and its planning. The massing of the buildings is simplistic and does not represent a positive solution to its scale. It is a big box without enough formal articulation to break down the scale. The design treats all the facades the same; Main Street is very different then the water and the design should reflect the difference. The current project massing does not step down to the water; the water side of the project is taller than the Main Street side.

• There is no integration of the retail environment and the public right-of-way. Main Street should be considered a strong retail corridor and the current plan appears to indicate a shallow retail depth and possibly too little retail. While the developer should be commended for the addition of a public waterfront promenade, the entry to that walkway is not adequately designed to invite the public into the space and the proposal "walls off' the development to the public. This is a key public portal to the water and should be designed accordingly.

• Considering what is on the site now, this project should have's positive impact on its neighboring properties and on the view shed from the sound.

The public "Echo Bay Walk" appears to occur 'In Phase 3; It should be manifested in Phase 1 with a bond from the developer to ensure it is built.

• Out of 524 new residents, 22 children seem low. Population trends appear to take into account only what was, the numbers should be scrutinized to make sure they don't limit the project's impact on, New Rochelle.

Is New Rochelle verifying the fiscal benefits and costs that are suggested in the DEIS?

The section on Hazardous Materials seems vague. Who is responsible for cleaning the site up and who pays for the cleanup?

• The development is on the right track with the parking, burying it within the development. It is unclear from the ground floor plan where the parking is above grade. Is the parking count commensurate with current Transit Oriented Development (TOD) thinking? If it's a true TOD development does New Rochelle have an alternate parking count in mind?

• Does New Rochelle know how this development fits in with the larger vision of the waterfront?

• Is there a long term plan to have a continuous public walkway along the waterfront?

• Should New Rochelle consider upgrading the sidewalks between this project and the train station? Should New Rochelle consider a bike lane between this project and the train station?

It doesn't appear that the current plan takes into consideration the current FEMA recommendations for floodplain and freeboard? This could have an impact on shoreline protection. The plans don't indicate any of the baseline mechanical systems that need to be located above the FEMA flood plain or the life safety issues that are being addressed related to flooding.

With respect to additional stress on New Rochelle infrastructure; the Planning Board trusts that New Rochelle city staff is verifying Forest City's baseline assumptions for use. Has the City's Traffic Engineer commented on the impact of this proposed development?

• Appendix IX-1 mentions a sustainable benchmark goal of LEED Silver. This Is a good thing but depending on which version of LEED it doesn't mean a whole lot. A higher level or using the current version of LEED would yield a much greater benefit to New Rochelle and to this project. The impact of this project should be measured in both population and in infrastructure.

• A higher LEED goal would have a positive benefit on both.

There are 7 Comments

Robert Cox's picture

Maybe I missed this but this is the first I am hearing that the New Rochelle Planning Board raised so many concerns about the Echo Bay Project.

What makes this more significant is that the Planning Board is appointed by the Mayor and every single person on the board was appointed specifically by Noam Bramson. These are his supporters and contributors.

You have now have the Westchester County Planning Board and the New Rochelle Planning Board raises a lot of doubt about this project. You have near unanimous opposition from the neighborhoods who are most directly impacted (and, tellingly, would stand to benefit the most from a good project that would increase their property values). You have a North End group (EchoBayFacts.org). I can add that in off the record conversations City staff and even Commissioners scoff at this project.

Noam keeps saying there are so many people who support the development of Echo Bay but based on what those supporters said during the DEIS hearing, they are talking about a plan that no longer exists -- a 26 acre development with hotels and 150,000 square feet of retail.

Noam can sugarcoat it all they want but to say they endorse the plan "as long as certain considerations were addressed" when they are laying out considerations of this scope and magnitude is basically to say they do NOT support the Echo Bay Plan.

That Noam buried this document until this past weekend tells you all you need to know; if it were a positive statement Noam would have trumpeted it long and loud.

To me, this is how a body of hand-picked Bramson supporters try to tell the Mayor they do not support his pet project.

These are not minor points:

"no integration of the retail environment"

How many times do we need to hear that the retail in this project is unacceptable.

"the proposal "walls off' the development to the public"

This contradicts Noam's number one selling point and suggests this tiny park will not be accessible; another point about WHEN the park would be built (in phase 3) suggest the park may never be built at all.

"Out of 524 new residents, 22 children seem low"

On that last point there have been changes but recall that Noam and Forest City were adamant that 22 was a good number right up until they caved on this issue. Talk of the Sound led the charge on this point.

For those who recall the NYS Comptroller report which excoriated the NR IDA for not doing a single cost-benefit analysis on ANY of the projects evaluated by the OSC Audit, these two questions should be alarming:

"the Planning Board trusts that New Rochelle city staff is verifying Forest City's baseline assumptions for use."

"Is New Rochelle verifying the fiscal benefits and costs that are suggested in the DEIS?"

There is no reason to believe that the City staff is doing this work or, at least, doing it with any integrity. The history is that the development staff, under direction from above, either does not run numbers (even when provided the numbers by the developer) or do any sort of independent analysis.

The City Council should spend a good deal of time on this report and determine which of the questions have been addressed and, if so, how.

Bramson Yes
Fertel Yes
Rice Yes
Trangucci No
Tarantino No
Hayden No but waivering Yes if Rackman votes No

Rackman Yes but waivering No to the pressure of constituents.

You are paying attention Bob, to the Guy behind the curtain When the Wizard has spoken.
I think this is criminal that they can burden the tax payers for a project with zero value except for Bramson's political window dressing. Like the window dressing that has since fallen down at #5 Andersen.

Clearly, the New Rochelle City Council views the entire approval process as a necessary evil that must be endured before eventually--and inevitably--approving their project. The input of their constituents is eloquently ignored, the input of the Westchester Planning Board is demonized as political, and the input of their own hand-picked Planning Board is buried deep within a legislative agenda--lucky to see the light of day months later.

As the City Council will be voting this evening on whether or not to release the Echo Bay FEIS to the public, I am curious if all of the Planning Board's concerns have been addressed? Or, like so many of the other concerns that have been raised, dismissed. If so, we can only conclude that the project does not have the New Rochelle Planning Board's recommendation to proceed. But why should that stop this project; soliciting their opinion was only ever a necessary evil.

Forest City Echo Bay needs to go back to the drawing board. Clearly the plan is incomplete, flawed and needs to be delayed, if not canceled.

No matter what, it is folly to move City Yard to Beechwood. It is best off staying where it is. If moved, City Yard should be located further north, more central to New Rochelle, such as the site IKEA almost moved to near City Park.

Has the Planning Board at all, considered and reported on the associated, proposed move of City Yard to Beechwood?

It is pretty evident from the lack of response by city staff that they are not doing their due diligence. Here's but one example of flawed analysis in Forest City's DEIS. Hope the same lack of thoroughness doesn't apply to the FEIS (unless this was intentional).

On page II-7 under Section 7 - Socioeconomic and Fiscal of the DEIS, FC represents that the city has a net benefit of $818,738 per year. A no-brainer of a project! However, let's look a little closer. They state an annual cost of $819,069 in municipal and education costs. That's the first year cost estimate only. They compare that to an annual revenue of $1.22 million. That number however is NOT the first year tax revenue number. It is the average revenue of the project over 27 years. Why 27 years? Because the abatement runs out in 20 years, so to boost up the average, they added the 7 additional years. Oh, and one more thing. They divided the total revenue projections over 27 by 26, jacking up the average even more. This can be verified by looking at Table 32 in Socioeconomic addendum for the DEIS.

So if our city staff that is suppose to be looking out for our interest didn't spot this, how can we be sure that they have validated the impact to municipal services from this development, traffic analysis, or additional revenue generated from the project (like sales tax)?

Mayor Bramson has failed to make the case for this development. His projections are based on flimsy and unsound economic models. Strangely, he rationalizes these projections as "facts". Tell me when is a forecast a fact ! Even his own hand selected Planning Board has serious reservations on this development. Tells one all they need to know.

I would like to thank Mr. Stevens for his courage in posting this article. It is refreshing that someone, who was appointed by a politiciancan, can be objective for the betterment of New Rochelle as opposed towing the line. Not only are the concerns raised by the Planning Board relevant, they expose a ho-hum project for what it is: second rate. There should be a new Request For Proposals distributed for the entire 26 acre development that includes relocation of the city yard. Anything less will do a disservice to the taxpayers of New Rochelle.

Bravo Mr. Stevens

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