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Will Residents' Questions About Echo Bay Be Answered?

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Will Residents' Questions About Echo Bay Be Answered?

July 17, 2013 - 00:18
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In Westchester Guardian, July 11, 2013

Is the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Echo Bay in New Rochelle complete? Residents will soon have the opportunity to comment on this document proposed by Forest City Residential. But there was no doubt at the City Council meeting of July 9, 2013 that questions that have been raised by residents, Council members, the New Rochelle Planning Board and the County Department of Planning about this project were not answered in this Final Report.
When the discussion about the completeness of this FEIS for Echo Bay was raised, it was made very clear that there was no obligation to hold another hearing. However, Development Commissioner Luiz Aragon said it was a past practice in the city to hold one. It was suggested that the final hearing could be held in July or September. City Manager Chuck Strome felt August was not appropriate since Council does not meet that month.
When Mayor Bramson asked which Council members were not available on July 30 several council members indicated they were not available. That left July 23 or September open, and Bramson insisted on a vote for July 23 or September after the Council meeting break. The resulting vote was for July 23 with five Democrats in favor and two Republicans against that date. This now gives the public two weeks to examine the completed report. As of July ll a copy of the FEIS had not been received by the New Rochelle Public Library. On July l2 the FEIS was in the New Rochelle Public Library. Remember the Library is closed on Sundays during the summer. However it was stated that residents will have up to ten days after July 23 to further submit any comments on this FEIS. Bramson made particular note that the Land Disposition agreement must follow approval of this FEIS.
Questions raised by the New Rochelle City Council members before the vote was taken were far ranging. Councilman Lou Trangucci wanted to know about the sales tax projections in the proposed development, characterizing them as inflated. He also disputed the amount of sales tax that could be accomplished in such a small area. He was particularly concerned because sales tax was one source of income for the city. He suggested to Abe Naperstak, Forest City Residential's representative, that since they were asking for tax abatements, his company should guarantee the sales tax. Naperstak, referring to the risk involved, said he could not guarantee the sales tax.
Wanting to know if Forest City Residential had decided that each apartment's rent would include a parking space, Councilman Ivar Hyden asked Naperstak about this. The answer was sometimes this does happen at their developments and Naperstak acknowledged that otherwise cars may park in the neighborhood. Then Hyden asked about a Public Art Fund and how much would be expended in this area. Naperstak said this had never been discussed.
When Naperstak suggested the company would like to start construction he was told the new City Yard has to be built. Councilwoman Shari Rackman then expressed concern that the New Rochelle Planning Board comments (from last March) had not been answered, she was told all their comments were addressed in the FEIS. She continued that the building plan was "heavy to the left" and asked if it could be moved and was told this is not a final document.
Councilman Al Tarantino also wanted to know if the questions raised by the Planning Board had been answered. He was referred to comment 15 in the FEIS. Bramson added it was in section 3. Tarantino persisted asking where the answers were and inststed that he did not find the answer to his question in the FEIS. No specific answer was given to him and there was nothing in this final document that could be cited. Tarantino felt more retail was appropriate at the site, citing nearby successful shopping areas, especially across the street. Naperstak replied that putting more retail in this Echo Bay area would harm downtown retail.
After extended discussions separate votes for four hearings, three on zoning, on the Echo Bay area, and one on this FEIS were approved by Council members, along party lines, five Democrats in favor and 2 Republicans opposed. The hearings will be on the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Forest City Residential, the waterfront relating to the Echo Bay Center Project and zoning amendments. It was also learned that the New Rochelle Planning Board had posted a public hearing on July 23 on the alternatives to the proposed Main Echo Urban Renewal Plan. It seems strange that both public bodies can hold hearings on the same topic on the same evening.

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New Rochelle’s own A Midsummer Night's Dream the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors, who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest. Only we have six City Council Members and our forest is ECHO BAY.

Back in March an article written by Phil Reisman says it all. Somewhere there must be a school for government bureaucrats that features an advanced course on how to respond to questions at length and with gravitas, but also in such a way as to say absolutely nothing.

The desired effect, I mean, is to lull the questioner into a brief coma.

http://www.lohud.com/article/20120320/COLUMNIST08/303200030/Official-flu...

Back in March I asked the same questions of City Council about the DEIS. Here is the first paragraph that I repeated we seem to have the same problems with the process for the FEIS. The City Council, having voted to accept the document at the February 12th meeting, the next step in the process was for The City to make the Draft DEIS for the Echo Bay Project available to the public and hold a public hearing. The DEIS was not available until the afternoon of 2/22/13, again a Friday afternoon? If they are asking for a public hearing, where is the detail? Why is it always, to follow or will be posted on the city web site? Why is it that the content is produced several days later shortening the time for the public to review the details? If a public hearing is asked for then the information should already be in hand to distribute.

Here are my Comments from July 09, 2013 Citizens to be Heard.

Comments for July 09, 2013 Citizens to be Heard:
Council I watched the meeting today,
Don’t rush to approve the FEIS. Many still had questions and should take a better look. No more procedural votes.

Council had trouble with some of the dates. Think of the disadvantage this puts the citizens. Two weeks to review the FEIS is troublesome. Council, you went back and forth today looking for information in the responses and couldn’t find it. It took several days to access the DEIS information in March.

Responding to Council member Trangucci, Abe discussed the Risk of the project if taxes and projections fall short. F/C can write off these losses. We can’t, nor can we afford the risk as citizens or as a city.

Don’t vote to accept the FEIS. Give it the time necessary to get it right. Get it right, not fast. We only have one shot at this. I gave them a copy of my March comments for their review since nothing has changed. An RFI should be done for the entire area. Not just the Armory. You can look back at the DEIS Public hearing POST on TOTS:

Remarks to City Council by Bob McCaffrey on Echo Bay DEIS on Thu, 03/14/2013

http://www.newrochelletalk.com/content/remarks-city-council-bob-mccaffre...

“Common Sense for the Common Good”.

Obviously there was some confusion on my part that night and after. I sent a follow up e-mail to The City Council with regard to the vote and the way the July 09, 2013 Citizens to be Heard ended without the vote. Here again are the e-mails that were sent and response I got from the mayor:

E-Mail from 7/11/13:

Mr. Mayor and City Council Members,

I am writing because I need to understand something that happened Tuesday night 7/9/13 during the City Council Meeting regarding the Echo Bay FEIS approval vote. I spoke of the need to delay the vote during Citizens to be Heard because you were going to vote last night to accept the FEIS then hold a Public Hearing. Dates were not readily available at the time. At the end of the discussion, there was an agreement to check during break to confirm if July 23rd was good for everyone. Council was to meet at 7:15 p.m. before the Public Hearings and Citizens to be Heard. After this portion, council normally will adjourn to the board room for the completion of the night’s business. The meeting was closed and no further business was needed to be discussed.

At the end of the night there was no further discussion of the Echo Bay FEIS. I went back and reviewed the meetings thinking I may have missed something. What happened and why? Shouldn’t this have been done during open session on the record for the public to see and hear? Was there a vote to delay the approval or to continue the conversation at another time? The public does not know what happened. I don’t know what happened.

Mr. Mayor you corrected people and made comments during Citizens to be Heard. I thought that was not allowed, or is it? At the Citizens to be Heard on January 8, 2013, I asked about the By Laws for The City Council. I asked, where it states that no one on The City Council, except the mayor when he chooses, may not address the speaker. Is this a set protocol as head of The City Council that he is given these rights?

Since you have shown in the past and Tuesday night that you choose to speak at times during Public Hearings and Citizens to be Heard and a vote, a change or continuance was motioned by council was apparently made. Something was done. Since you made statements that night, then why wasn’t I informed along with the public of what took place regarding the FEIS discussion during the break? As I have stated, the systems by which we act and govern are flawed and need to be addressed. Regardless of what anyone says, Perception is everything. You are only as good as your last performance.

I spoke with City Manager Strome and Corporate Council Gill on Monday about The City Charter and several other topics. I appreciate their following up and reaching out to me about some of the issues related to my conversations from the Citizens to be Heard and e-mail from last month. We have begun conversation and dialog. I consider this a work in progress which is a valuable first step.

I look forward to continuing the conversation regarding the City Charter, North Avenue and the many issues involved in running a city as diverse as New Rochelle. I look forward to seeing and hearing more from all of the City Council Members going forward. You have begun to show some change. Perhaps a Town Hall style meeting would be good where the heads of the Neighborhood Associations can meet with council. Council, make this a discussion item. We cannot have division and disconnects because of politic or feelings. No one said this is going to be easy. But I truly believe if everyone pulls together we will develop a stronger City of New Rochelle and form stronger community bond and relationship.

“Common Sense for the Common Good”

Thank You for your time,

On 7/12/13 I received a response from Mayor Bramson:

Bob,

At approximately 7:15pm on Tuesday evening, the Council voted in public, televised session to set a July 23 date for the FEIS public hearing.

Council Members are permitted to address the public during hearings and have done so on many prior occasions. As a general practice, however, such comments usually entail a brief statement of fact, rather than extended debate or argumentation.

Noam

To which I responded on7/12/13:

Mr. Mayor and City Council Members,

Considering I was in the Council Chambers during this meeting I was not aware of it taking place. As I said, at the end of the night when there was no further discussion of the Echo Bay FEIS, I went back and reviewed the meetings thinking I may have missed something. After hearing that the vote did take place I watched the blank screen several more times and finally found the short portion with the vote on the Public Hearings. For that I am glad.

I just don't understand why Mr. Mayor that during the meeting, you corrected someone as to the meaning of cabaret, the Comprehensive Plan and several other comment items. With something as important as The ECHO Bay FEIS that I spoke of, don't the members of council and you think someone should have said something to the fact that the Public Hearings were scheduled just prior to the 7:30 p m session in chambers?

I have been attending meetings for some time now and rarely has anyone on council spoken, unless directed through the Mayor, to a citizen during the Public Hearings or Citizens to be Heard. As everyone is entitled to their beliefs and opinions, like many, I still feel the systems by which we act and govern are flawed and need to be addressed. All the members of The City Council need to step up and speak up for your districts and all of the citizens of New Rochelle. Why do our lives have to be law suits, Foil Requests, battles, lack of understanding, cooperation and disconnect. Stop these 5 - 2 votes on items of great concern. It is never too late; I truly believe if everyone pulls together we will develop a stronger City of New Rochelle and form stronger community bond and relationship.

Thank You for your time,

Dejavu all over again,

Look at all the projects that have been on the table over the years. They all follow the same path and methods towards approval, Iona Dorms, Avalon, Trump, New Roc, Monroe College, The Armory to name a few. Take Echo Bay, it dates back to 2008, multiple changes and at least three different development commissioners, Yet no new RFP Just extended MOU’s.

The process is flawed, The result of all these developments has been and continues to be that of confrontation, debate, petitions, hearings and a lack of true input by the community you represent. The community should be put first at all times.

This Paragraph is from my Comments for April 09, 2013 Citizens to be Heard. We keep saying the same thing over and over again. At some point and time The City Council, The City Manager, The City Staff and The City of New Rochelle need to step up!

“Common Sense for the Common Good”

For 20 years, no one ever bothered to include money in the budget for maintaining the armory or the city yard. No one in City Hall ever told council members how much would have to be spent each year to preserve the armory or the city yard. It wasn't an option-ever. Now that they have both deteriorated, the taxpayers have to foot the bill for relocating the city yard and may have to see the armory razed. This was a planned outcome by the Mayor. We weren't given a choice.

Here's my question: If the city had no money to maintain the existing city yard, where are they going to get the money to cover the bonded debt and the maintenance for the new one?

It's much cheaper to rebuild City Yard at its current site, than to relocate it.

There is no advantage to moving City Yard, and many disadvantages moving it to Beechwood.

You are absolutely right. The fact that the City did not maintain the facility and is now trying to declare that it is cheaper to relocated than to rebuild it disturbs me greatly. We are not getting all the facts. The City should do a detail evaluation of the current city yard and determine how much it will cost to improve it. It should determine what has to be done, and what would be nice to have done. Break the renovation up into stages and then submit the proposal to the people and council so we can make an informed decision as to what is best for NR. Too much is going on behind closed doors and we are not getting the whole story from city hall.

Right off the bat, if the city would leave the city yard where it is, it could sell the Beechwood property and recoup $7 million to invest in rebuild the current city yard. The city would also save because it would not have to buy additional properties on Beechwood Ave as proposed, and thus it would continue to generate the property tax revenue from those businesses. It would also not have to dredge Echo Bay--a cost that has yet to be outlined for the public. In all, it seems as if leaving the city yard where it is would be a much more financially sound investment both in the long and short terms.

What the city should be doing is finding a developer who will convert New Roc into retail and identifying sites in the city that can be used for commercial development.

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