Will a Grant Hasten Waterfront Development in New Rochelle?

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While three areas for development were presented at the March 11, 2014 New Rochelle City Council meeting, emphasis by Commissioner of Development, Luiz Aragon, was placed on the development of the waterfront area. A power point presentation was given: (1) transit oriented development, (2) downtown development and (3) waterfront development., "Development opportunities," Aragon said, were highlighted.

The City of New Rochelle recently had severed the relationship with Forest City Residential, the company that had been given permission by the City Council to develop the waterfront area in Echo Bay, by not renewing their contract in February 2014. A key reason according to Aragon for the urgency for selecting a new waterfront plan was the Consolidated Funding $1.5 million grant awarded to the City of New Rochelle for waterfront infrastructure work. Aragon cautioned the council members they could lose this money if they did not make a decision for a developer for this area in a timely fashion.

Several options were given. The council could return to the original proposals submitted for Echo Bay when Forest City had been selected. A proposal made previously by the Twining Company was suggested a good alternative. They had proposed 70,000 square feet of retail and 270,000 square feet of residential and a hotel on 45,000 square feet. Forest City Residential's final plan had 25,000 square feet of retail and 285 residential units. The Twining Company is willing to resubmit the proposal to council. Corporation Counsel Brian Powers advised the council that while this company can make small changes, but if too many changes are made the council would have to issue a new request for proposals.

The other two choices Aragon presented were to expand the Armory Design Award winning proposals and add the city yard. (There are presently three winners of this design competition but City Council has never heard any of their plans originally scheduled for last December's council meeting.) A hotel, low density residential, and a restaurant would be possible to combine with a winning Armory proposal. The time frame according to Aragon was important and an August or September selection date was sought for a development choice. Aragon was concerned that if no developer was selected the city could lose the Consolidated Funding grant.

Mayor Noam Bramson was very impressed by the presentation and felt it was a culmination of Aragon's efforts to date. Council members reacted. Both Councilmen Jared Rice and Ivar Hyden asked about the master developer concept. There were concerns, for example, about getting private owners "on board" for a proposal and about the other possibility of getting bogged down on one site for other reasons. If the city was unable to generate inquiries for a master developer, a "Plan B" could be presented as an alternative, according Aragon. Councilman Lou Trangucci said he supported the idea to "see what we get," but he had concerns about the Armory in these plans and he wanted to know how the four (now three) selected Armory Design Award plan finalists would be included. These selected finalists' plans for the Armory were never given a chance to present their plans to Council. Strome now said, "all four" plans would require changes because of deed restrictions for the Armory. This was disputed by Trangucci who felt the Save Our Armory proposal met the deed requirements.

Bramson shared the excitement but warned that there are "hard choices" that must be made and flexibility may be needed. Hyden after some discussion of options suggested seeing if the city could move this process ahead. When Aragon suggested the larger area ;(which included the Mancuso Marina, Nelstad property, and Armory site), he said a new request for proposals would be needed. Bramson said he felt he always thought Council wanted to use the "larger vision." But Councilwoman Shari Rackman felt the use of a master developer who might be used for the larger vision would give less freedom for decisions which council would have to make. Bramson added he could live with any choice, but no choice was a bad choice. Tarantino, referring to the large parcels, said many neighborhoods would be impacted and perhaps make the effort "impossible." He asked why a master developer would be needed and said "biting off more than we can chew" can set the city back.

After a lengthy discussion about whether the council should request an updated proposal from Twining or issue a new request for proposals, Bramson asked if Council agrees that they have to make a decision soon. Strome added this item would be put on the council agenda soon.

At the March 18 City Council meeting the council decided to ask Twining and the Armory contestants for updated proposals. A two month deadline was set.

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