Back in August of 2011, representatives from the City, Iona College and the neighborhood associations surrounding the Iona campus gathered in the rotunda of New Rochelle City Hall to launch a new community planning process.

At the time, we faced a host of difficult problems. The college had proposed a new dormitory that was received poorly by many neighbors, uncertainty clouded the occupancy levels of existing residence halls, and conflict seemed to surround every potential aspect of college development. The college’s interests and those of the city overlap significantly — Iona is an educational, employment, and planning pillar of New Rochelle — but it was hard to find a formula that met the legitimate needs of different stakeholders. And there was a history of mistrust that shaped every conversation.

The Committee convened some time later, with five college representatives, five neighborhood representatives, and participants from the City. The task proved just as hard as expected, with plenty of ups and downs, and moments when the Committee might have been tempted to give up.

But the members persevered, worked through the tough questions, forged a spirit of mutual understanding and trust … and last week were able to deliver to the City a final report that describes a new way forward.

The report’s chief recommendations include:

  1. amending the North Avenue zone to facilitate future college development through a special permitting process;
  2. extension of the occupancy limit for existing residence halls by five years; and
  3. the development of a new seven-story dormitory on North Avenue, together with the potential future development of a second five-story dormitory, conditioned on certain circumstances.

Taken together, these and other recommendations will establish a strong new foundation for college-community relations and will also bolster our efforts to improve the North Avenue corridor.

I am deeply grateful to all the Committee members for their outstanding service, and grateful also to Iona President Joe Nyre who took a leap of faith in partnering to launch this process.

Playing an absolutely vital role was Matt Fasciano, a New Rochelle resident who assumed — on a volunteer basis — the time-consuming, stressful, and demanding job of chairing the committee. Matt’s patience, clarity, fairness, and sense of duty helped guide the Committee around every obstacle. It is hard to imagine this process succeeding without Matt at the helm.

There is still more work to do. Zoning changes must be considered and adopted by the City Council, Iona must still negotiate the terms of any residence hall, and the public will, of course, have a chance to weigh in. But this is a giant step forward demonstrating a new consensus, and powerful evidence that it’s possible to transcend past disputes and set a positive course. For the Committee, it is mission accomplished!