Plans to improve the Echo Bay waterfront are back on track.

New Rochelle’s waterfront is an exceptional asset with unrealized potential. By reclaiming abandoned and semi-industrial waterfront property for public use and enjoyment, we can strengthen our local economy, improve our environment, create new recreational opportunities, and enhance property values.

For Echo Bay, a site that is presently contaminated and inaccessible, the City envisions a vital mixed-use community with a public waterfront promenade, parkland, and reasonably-scaled housing and shops. Private development is not the goal, but rather the mechanism for subsidizing public improvements and assets.

To help achieve this vision, New Rochelle selected Forest City Residential as our preferred development partner, and then entered into a formal agreement (called a Memorandum of Understanding or “MOU”) with Forest City in 2008. Since then, the deteriorating national economy has raised questions about the viability of Forest City’s original project conception and required a fresh examination of the site’s constraints and opportunities.

Last night, a bipartisan City Council majority voted to extend the MOU with Forest City for a full year. During this period, Forest City will complete a reexamination of its plans and propose an updated vision for the shoreline. Among the specific project changes under consideration are reduced overall density, reconfiguration of parking to minimize excavation costs, and adaptive reuse of the armory building on East Main Street.

In conjunction with this extension, Forest City has agreed to provide New Rochelle with up to $100,000 that the City will use to conduct an independent examination of planning options and an analysis of public costs and benefits associated with waterfront renewal. This will help us to better assess the merit of Forest City’s revised project. Aside from the practical value of the funding, this payment also offers tangible evidence of Forest City’s commitment to the site.

If the City and the developer agree on a revised project configuration during the coming year and on a strategy for proceeding, then the next step will be the preparation of a full-scale environmental impact statement, with associated public input and hearings.

We still have a long way to go, but this extended MOU and, more importantly, the planning exercise it will facilitate are important steps forward.