Worth Watching (I Hope)

If you have a little spare time, please watch this half-hour interview with the League of Women Voters.

Most of our conversation focused on economic development, but we also touched on politics, roles and responsibilities in City Hall, and the nature of public service.

 

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State of the City Address on March 3rd – You’re Invited

SOTC 2016

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The annual State of the City Address is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, March 3rd.  It’s a great  opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments and, more importantly, look ahead to future challenges.  Please join me!

This event is sponsored by the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, which also hosts a cocktail hour and dinner starting at 6pm at a cost of $55 per person.  To make a reservation, please email the Chamber’s Jennifer Lanser at jlanser@newrochamber.org.

The speech alone is free, so if you want to skip dinner, plan to arrive at about 7:30pm – first-come, first-served for seating.

(And please note that the speech will be at a new location this year – Beckwith Pointe.)

Here are all the details.  You can also get more information from the Chamber at 914-632-5700.

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A Better Strategy for New Rochelle’s Roads

Paving MapRoadwork.  That’s a pretty boring topic.  But when you consider it, roads have a huge impact on – well – nearly everything about a community.  So when local roads are in bad shape or poorly designed, it’s a big problem.

Last year, with New Rochelle’s roads feeling the effects of two tough winters in a row,  we tripled our annual street paving budget.  That extra funding helped a lot, but a new comprehensive study shows that a single year of expanded paving operations isn’t enough.   What’s needed instead is a consistent, ongoing investment in local infrastructure, including an effective program of preventive maintenance.

The study, which was presented to the Council last night, rates the condition of each of our local roads on a 100-point scale, and gives an overall composite score of 71 to New Rochelle’s road network as a whole.  To keep that overall rating, the City will have to invest approximately $2.5 million per year in road surfacing and maintenance.

Historically, our road paving budget has been funded entirely by an annual State grant called CHIPS, which comes in at only around $1 million.  That means we’ll have to find an additional $1.5 million in local dollars every year to maintain status quo road conditions.

The conclusion is sobering, but not very surprising.  As I’ve written before, infrastructure has been chronically shortchanged here and in lots of other places.  This study just helps to quantify the challenge.

The good news is that the City Council and Administration agree that infrastructure needs to be a higher priority, so last night we approved a bond that will bring our 2016 road budget up to the recommended $2.5 million level, with an eye toward establishing this as a baseline in future budgets.

The Council also took another action that I consider equally important.   We directed our staff to take a city-wide look at roads suitable for redesign, with a special emphasis on walkability.

Take Palmer Avenue, as just one example.  Between Sun Haven and Cedar, it’s a six-lane highway, with way too much unnecessary traffic capacity, virtually no greenery, and nothing that invites you to get out of your car.  Wouldn’t it be better to convert one lane in each direction for walkers, cyclists, landscaping, and other features that make for a better experience all around?

New York City has done some great work of this kind, illustrating the benefits of a thoughtful approach to street design.  Even a heavily-trafficked arterial like the West Side Highway has been transformed by the inclusion of pedestrian and bike-friendly features.

With a road design plan in place for New Rochelle, we’ll be able to compete more effectively for grants or assign local capital dollars for specific projects.  We’ll also help ensure that our expanded road paving budget isn’t misspent doubling-down on past mistakes.

So, a major commitment to infrastructure funding, together with a major change in road design philosophy . . . not bad for one Council meeting.  Maybe roadwork isn’t so boring after all.

 

 

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Open for Business – New Ro Downtown Development Plan Approved

GEIS ImageThis is big news.  Very big news.

Last night, the City Council voted unanimously to give its final approval to a sweeping and ambitious downtown development plan for New Rochelle.

(If you are interested in tracing the evolution of this plan over many months of hard work and community discussion, then check out some links to prior blog entries on this subject at the very end of this post.)

Mayor Noam Bramson announces approval of the plan with City officials and the development team.

Mayor Noam Bramson announces approval of the plan with City officials and the development team.

While there are no guarantees, this plan gives New Rochelle our best opportunity ever to attract investment and vitality to the downtown area – and our entire community will benefit as a result.  It is likely that specific, significant projects will now come forward under this framework during the first quarter of next year.

In conjunction with the Council’s vote, I delivered the following speech.  I hope my words adequately convey the sense of satisfaction, optimism, and genuine emotion that surrounds this issue.  You can also download my remarks as a PDF.

 

Remarks of Mayor Noam Bramson – December 8, 2015

With this unanimous, bipartisan vote, the City Council gives its final approval to the most ambitious downtown development plan in New Rochelle’s history.  Together, we declare: “New Rochelle is open for business.”

Our plan lays out a comprehensive vision for a thriving city center where all of us – whatever our means and tastes, whatever our ideal – can find a place to shop, a place to work, a place to meet, or a place to live.  It’s a vision for sustainable growth that makes our region greener and more competitive.  Shaped from street-front to skyline by the best urban design.  And with financial terms that fund specific public benefits and put taxpayers ahead.  

But our plan is also more than just a vision; it’s also a detailed road-map for accomplishing that vision, because it provides developers with the clearest path ever for investing successfully in New Rochelle.  Every expectation and requirement is defined up front, the environmental review is already completed, the zoning provides for flexibility in response to the market, and the approval process places professionalism ahead of politics.  

What’s more, with our master developers at RDRXR prepared now to launch their own catalytic projects, we’re poised to ignite the local economy right away – giving every other investor the confidence that comes from knowing that our downtown is surging forward as a whole, and that no one is alone in placing bets.

Combine that with New Rochelle’s core assets – our unrivaled location and transit connections, our talented and diverse population, our great schools and libraries and neighborhoods – and there is no community in all of New York that offers a better opportunity today . . . or a bigger upside tomorrow.

It took months of hard work to reach this point, and there are many who have earned our thanks and recognition:

•    My colleagues on the City Council – Lou Trangucci, Al Tarantino, Jared Rice, Ivar Hyden, Barry Fertel, and Shari Rackman – who rose to this occasion and came together across all lines or party and geography to seize an opportunity bigger than any one of us.

•    The members of our City’s development, planning, and legal staffs, who worked with such intensity and focus.

•    Our consulting teams, who provided invaluable expertise and guidance from beginning to end.

•    New Rochelle’s master developers at RDRXR, with whom we have worked side-by-side – constructively, creatively, and efficiently – in an unprecedented public-private collaboration.

•    Finally, I want to thank the many residents who took the time to express a view or attend a meeting.  And I don’t mean just supporters.  I mean critics, too.  We heard every voice, we know that every comment was motivated by love for our city, and we recognize that this effort will succeed only if its benefits are shared equitably – and if the essential character of New Rochelle emerges whole and strong.

If today marks an important ending – the culmination of a rigorous, multi-stage process of negotiating and listening, of studying and writing, of debating and approving – then it also marks a beginning.  Because now that the plan is in place, it’s our job, together, to put shovels in the ground while the market is still strong and while the window of opportunity is open wide.

But if there had been any doubt about New Rochelle’s readiness to turn vision into reality, about our determination to compete and to win, then the unanimity, the speed, and the enthusiasm with which we have reached this milestone should put those doubts to rest, once and for all.  I repeat: New Rochelle is open for business.  

Let me conclude on a brief personal note.  

I grew up in New Rochelle.  One of my earliest memories is holding my mother’s hand in Bloomingdales just a few months before it closed.  I went to school in New Rochelle.  I dragged my wife from Providence to New Rochelle.  I am raising my children in New Rochelle.  I have never considered living anywhere other than New Rochelle.  I’ll probably die in New Rochelle.  So I’m a loyalist.  

Yet from the time of that memory in Bloomingdales and in all the years since, New Rochelle’s downtown has somehow underperformed, somehow disappointed, has never quite been worthy of a city that has everything else going for it.

It is the issue in our community.  The issue that connects to every other issue.  The issue we never stop debating.  Because we all believe that the heart of our city should be a source of pride.  

There have been achievements and setbacks in the past 25 years.  There will be more achievements and setbacks in the next 25.  Tonight’s action is only one step among many.  

But it’s the biggest step.

And by taking it, we cross over from an era of doubt and nostalgia to a new era of confidence and action.

I’ve never concluded a year with a greater sense of satisfaction.  I’ve never looked ahead to a New Year with greater optimism.  This is New Rochelle’s moment.  Together, let’s make the most of it.

 

Evolution of a Plan:  Prior Blog Entries

January 15, 2014 – TOD Study Presented to Council

May 30, 2014 – RFQ Released

October 7, 2014 – RDRXR Response to RFQ

December 16, 2014 – Selection of Master Developer

April 1, 2015 – CSPM Process Launches

August 19, 2015 – RAP Released

September 25, 2015 – DGEIS Released

October 6, 2015 – Planning Award

November 9, 2015 – Downtown Office Opens

November 13, 2015 – FGEIS Released

December 2, 2015 – SEQRA Findings Statement

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Thank You!

Check MarkYesterday, the people of New Rochelle voted overwhelming for constructive, forward-looking leadership, and expressed clear, unambiguous support for a vision of positive change in our city.

In the City elections, I am thrilled by the victories for my running mates in Council Districts 5 and 6, Barry Fertel and Liz Fried, both of whom emerged as winners in hard-fought campaigns.  And I am both humbled and gratified by the landslide margin in my own race for reelection.  Although he fell short, I also congratulate Luis Zepeda in Council District 1 for a valiant effort in a tough, uphill contest.  Here are the results from the Board of Elections, with all precincts reporting.

There are mixed results (from my perspective) in the County Legislative elections covering New Rochelle.  Catherine Parker won reelection by an unexpectedly wide margin, while Haina Just-Michael appears this morning to be trailing in a very tight contest.  (Haina racked up huge numbers in New Rochelle, yet trails overall because of bigger margins for Sheila Marcotte in Eastchester and Tuckahoe.)  Here are the full County results.

I congratulate all the winners, including Democrats Jared Rice and Ivar Hyden, who were reelected without opposition, and Republicans Lou Trangucci and Al Tarantino, who were returned to the City Council for new terms.

I also congratulate my opponent, James O’Toole, on his campaign.  James was gracious in reaching out to me last night to offer his concession, and I look forward to James’ continuing appearances at our Council meetings!

Finally, and most importantly, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who played a part in our local campaign this year.  Whether you posted a lawn sign, gave an endorsement, made a financial contribution, handed out literature, or simply took the time to vote, Catie and I together feel a deep, personal sense of gratitude for your help.

I look ahead to the coming term with great optimism — humbled to be entrusted again with leadership, but also refreshed by such a strong statement of support and determined to work my hardest alongside colleagues of both parties to justify your confidence.

This is an exciting moment for New Rochelle.  Let’s do everything possible to make the most of our opportunities.

P.S.  If you have a lawn sign on your property, please go ahead and dispose of it.

 

 

 

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