For almost two generations, Davids Island has both enchanted and bedeviled New Rochelle. It is easy to understand why. There is nothing quite like it: a nearly eighty-acre blank canvas, situated within the largest and most densely populated metropolitan area in America, visible from nearly every portion of our coastline, and owned by the people of New Rochelle.
But while Davids Island has inspired grand plans, all have faltered in the face of economic, environmental, or political obstacles. Today, half a century after the closure of Fort Slocum, the island’s future remains unsettled — its potential for public enjoyment and benefit, like the island itself, just out of reach.
In my State of the City Address last year, I proposed a fresh, proactive look at Davids Island. Shortly thereafter, the City appointed a volunteer Task Force composed of neighborhood representatives, development experts, environmental advocates, and public officials from various levels of government, including myself and City Council Member Albert Tarantino.
The Task Force assembled a huge amount of information, held a public meeting, and conducted numerous frank and open discussions. Finally, yesterday, after a year of labor, the Task Force submitted its full report and summary to the City Council.
The report is fantastic. If that sounds like an exaggeration (how can a planning report be “fantastic”?), then please read it for yourself, especially if you are interested in this subject or recall past battles over Davids Island’s future. This is the most rigorous, comprehensive, and useful examination of re-use options for Davids Island that has ever existed, and it will be invaluable as we consider next steps.
The report’s findings and conclusions are those of the Task Force, but we must credit the pro bono assistance of KPF, ARUP, and SBI for the report’s design and framework. These are some of the best planning professionals in the world, and their invaluable services were donated to us through the efforts of Doug Hocking, a Principal at KPF, who, in addition to being a member of the Task Force, also Chairs the New Rochelle Planning Board, and Wajdi Atallah, another New Rochelle resident, who serves as President of SBI. What a great example of enlisting local talent for civic purposes.
To be clear, the Task Force has not recommended a single “plan” for Davids Island, but rather identified a spectrum of options along with metrics for assessing their viability. We are still closer to the beginning of this process than to the end, with lots of hard work to come. But I believe that New Rochelle’s consideration of Davids Island’s future is now on firmer footing, with a clearer path forward, than ever before in our history. And that’s exciting news.