GEIS ImageWhen the City Council approved New Rochelle’s ambitious downtown plan last December, there were a few loose ends that still needed a little more attention.  Although small in number, some of them were pretty important.  So I was very pleased this week when the City’s Development staff presented to the Council a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at getting these loose ends tied up.  Here’s a quick run-down:

Architectural Review:  To ensure that new downtown construction meets the highest architectural standards, we will beef up the City’s existing process of architectural peer review.  Charging a slightly higher fee to developers will permit us to engage a wider range of architects for a more extended period.  In addition, peer review will occur earlier in project design, when changes are easier to accomplish.

Parking Strategy:  Parking is a tricky subject.  Require too little of developers and you end up with a parking shortage.  Require too much and you obstruct development or waste resources better spent on other public goods.  And, of course, from a broader planning perspective, we want to be less dependent on cars, taking advantage of New Rochelle’s walkability and transit access.  To get the balance right, the City will move away from a one-size-fits-all approach and focus on customized parking plans; developers will be able to buy-down a percentage of their normal on-site parking obligations, provided that they have sensible alternatives, like zip cars or shared parking.  Dollars raised through the buy-out (up to $10,000 per parking space, plus an annual fee of $1,000) will enable the City to invest in public parking facilities or other transportation services.

Affordable Housing:  The City already requires 10% of new housing units to be affordable.  As an alternative to building affordable housing directly, developers are permitted to make contributions to a City-administered affordable housing fund.  While the latter is OK, we much prefer housing to be built on an inclusive basis – that is, for affordable units to be incorporated into primarily market-rate buildings.  To help ensure that developers have a real economic incentive to construct the optimal form of housing, the City will significantly increase the affordable housing buy-out fee, which will range from $90,000 for studio apartments up to $200,000 for three-bedrooms.

Green Building Design:  The downtown plan provides height bonuses in exchange for various public goods, one of which is green building design, but how to evaluate green building features had been an open question.  Here’s the answer.  The City will use a widely accepted LEED checklist (v4 BD+C for green building geeks), with credit given to projects that attain the equivalent of LEED Gold or Platinum status.  Official LEED certification itself will not be required, but the City will retain outside expertise to evaluate and confirm green building claims.

Opportunity & Equity:  Providing meaningful economic opportunity was among the core objectives of our downtown plan.  To make good on this commitment, the City will engage a not-for-profit partner to establish a First Source Referral Center — essentially a user-friendly pipeline to training and employment.  At the same time, we will update the City’s non-discrimination policies with enforceable standards to encourage fair, local hiring.  Finally, we will establish a relocation assistance program to help residents or businesses that might be displaced by development.  These various efforts were led by Council Member Jared Rice and guided by a national-caliber expert retained by the City.

Whew, that’s a lot!

While Council discussion is ongoing and public hearings are required in a couple of instances, it is highly likely, based on the Council’s positive response this week, that all these measures will be adopted either in March or April.

With development interest in New Rochelle growing by the day, it was important to tie up these loose ends quickly, so I am grateful for our staff’s continuing good work.