The City Council has unanimously approved terms for a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Forest City Residential for the restoration of the Echo Bay waterfront. As reported last month, this long-awaited shoreline restoration project features about 4.5 acres of open space, continuous public access to the shoreline, approximately 250 rental apartment units, and 25,000 to 50,000 square feet of new retail space. The site is presently contaminated and inaccessible, so the positive transformation would be dramatic.

Precise financial terms cannot be settled at this stage of the process, but the MOU does establish a general formula — the developer would pay the City a fair market value for any public property as determined by an independent appraisal, with a credit for developer-financed investment in public improvements and infrastructure. The MOU also contains an important fiscal backstop: the cost of public services for the project during any tax incentive period shall not exceed the public revenues generated by the project, meaning that the development must offer a net benefit to taxpayers.

Approval of the MOU triggers an obligation on Forest City’s part to undertake a comprehensive environmental review that will explore every aspect of the project and provide residents with formal opportunities for input and comment. It is quite possible that components of the project will evolve as a consequence of this process.

The City Council also approved the key elements of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the former Naval Armory on East Main Street. The RFP, which is expected to be issued next month, invites applicants to articulate a vision for the adaptive reuse of the Armory building and to present a viable financial plan for both initial structural renovation and ongoing operations. Our goal is to encourage creative thought about how the Armory can best be activated for public benefit and integrated successfully into an overall waterfront plan.

After several years in which the weak national economy put us in a frustrating holding pattern, these are very significant steps toward realizing New Rochelle’s waterfront goals, but these are not the final steps. The Council will still need to approve the project’s environmental impact statement and adopt a land disposition agreement. The MOU is designed to provide a sensible framework for addressing unresolved questions and ensuring that complete and detailed information is available before any conclusive decisions are made.