Rebuilding New Rochelle

Infrastructure ImageThe text of this memo may be a little dull, but the effect of its recommendations would be pretty exciting: rebuilding New Rochelle’s infrastructure (or at least starting to.)

While New Rochelle’s budget and workforce are lean across the board, infrastructure is the City’s most severely and chronically underfunded municipal priority.  Our deteriorating physical condition impacts everything from public safety, to property values, to our ability to attract economic development.

In this recent blog post, I reported on the Council’s decision to increase the City’s road paving budget.  That was a positive step, but a one-time allocation to a single need is insufficient.  What’s really needed is a comprehensive and consistent policy of investment.

With such a policy, we’ll be in a better position to fix existing assets from pavement to sewer lines.  And we’ll be in a better position to shape the city of the future, from road redesigns to park enhancements.  That’s the intent of my memo.

To be honest, even with these recommendations implemented, our infrastructure resources will still cover only a small fraction of need, but I’ll take incremental progress any day of the week, and this would be a big step toward giving New Rochelle a stronger physical foundation over time.

The City Council discussed this subject during our meeting last night, and I was very pleased by the broad, positive support that was offered.  There is a growing consensus among City leaders (and, I think, in our community as a whole) that current levels of infrastructure investment are simply unsustainable, and it’s time now to do something about it.

Read the whole memo for more.


Hutch Flood Relief Gets Boost from State Grant

Flood copyAssemblywoman Amy Paulin has come through for residents of New Rochelle, Scarsdale, and Eastchester by securing a $1 million State grant to help pay for flood mitigation at the Hutchinson River.  This press release has more.

The neighborhoods surrounding the Hutch experience some of the worst flooding in our region, but addressing the problem isn’t easy or cheap – culverts need to be replaced, and the carrying capacity of the Hutch itself (which is little more than a creek at this point) needs to be restored.  Making things more even more complicated: the Hutch is technically private property, divided up among the adjoining homeowners.

The total cost of a comprehensive flood mitigation project is estimated to be about $5 million, half of which would be covered by the County.  With the State’s $1 million, the local share should be around $1.5 million.  That’s still a big chunk of change, but more realistic.  Preliminary engineering was completed a few years ago.  The next step is detailed design.

Assemblywoman Paulin deserves thanks for her great advocacy on this priority.



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.



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.




LED Street Light Replacements Begin

Mayor Noam Bramson launches street light replacement

Mayor Noam Bramson launches energy-efficient street light upgrade.

This morning, I joined DPW officials and the City’s lighting contractor as we together replaced a conventional street light on Hamilton Avenue with a new energy-efficient LED.  That’s 1 down;  6,912 to go.  Because during the next few months, all of New Rochelle’s street lights will be upgraded.

The new lights use about 65% less electricity and will cut the City’s energy use by almost 2.8 million kwh every year.

Of course, that also means lower expenses, with estimated annual savings of about $639,000.  (Our net savings in the first seven years will be less, about $150,000 to $200,000, as we pay back the $2.95 million cost of equipment and installation.)

Upgrading our exterior lighting was one of the recommendations in New Rochelle’s sustainability plan, GreeNR, and it is good to see this initiative underway.



Taxpayers Win in Downtown Development Plan

GEIS ImageReaching another milestone in New Rochelle’s downtown revitalization efforts, this week our development team presented a Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) that evaluates and addresses the effects of a proposed downtown overlay zone.  This new document adds considerable specificity and detail to the Draft GEIS released in September, while also addressing public comments posed in response to the Draft.

The FGEIS is particularly strong in its analysis of fiscal costs and benefits, making clear that various revenue streams associated with the plan will far exceed anticipated capital and service needs.  In addition to traditional revenue sources such as property taxes, PILOTS, sales taxes, and permit fees, new downtown development will also have to contribute to a “Fair Share” mitigation fund that will cover infrastructure expenses for both the City and School District.  The bottom line: taxpayers will come out ahead – a standard we have insisted upon from the very beginning of this entire venture.

The FGEIS also outlines a community benefit framework that will link development height bonuses to public goods such as open space, preservation of historic buildings, or affordable housing beyond the 10% baseline requirement.

Although the word “Final” implies a conclusive action, the acceptance of the FGEIS is, in fact, not the last step in the environmental review process.  Still to come: a “findings” statement that will contain the City Council’s conclusions and spell out in even greater detail the requirements and expectations associated with new development.

You can read the full FGEIS here.  Here is the proposed overlay zone itself, with much more information about design standards.   Finally, here is a powerpoint summarizing fiscal impacts.  A public hearing on the FGEIS is scheduled for 7:30pm on November 24th.