Echo Bay Plans Advance

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.

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City Plans Next Steps for Davids Island

Last year, the City received an outstanding report that carefully evaluated a range of options for the development of Davids Island. Produced by a Task Force of citizens and experts, the report will be an invaluable guide for our community as we consider the best means of realizing the Island’s environmental, economic, and civic potential.

This month, our staff presented to the Council a general framework for phasing Island improvements and for implementing an environmental clean-up plan. As this charmingly hand-drawn map illustrates:

  • Phase I would focus on the central portion of the Island, including the former parade grounds, an area that requires relatively light environmental remediation. It would feature open space, parkland, and small watercraft access.
  • Phase II would cover the western portion of the Island, including the western shoreline. This area would also feature open space and parkland, as well as interpretive signage and a more substantial dock. The Phase II zone would require somewhat greater environmental clean-up.
  • Phase III would cover the northern and eastern portions of the Island. This is where any commercial development could be concentrated. It would also require environmental remediation.
  • Lastly, Phase IV would cover the southeastern portion of the Island. This is the most heavily contaminated area — a former incinerator zone — and it is likely that the overall remediation plan would transfer contaminants to the southeast and then cap them. Once capped, this would be an ideal site for renewable energy generation, perhaps photo-voltaic cells.

As for the nature of commercial development, the Task Force Report suggested that the most viable and appropriate option would be a research and conference facility, paired with a hotel, with employees housed on-site. Access would be water-borne. Sustainable design and operation would govern any construction. While far from making firm commitments, the City Council has endorsed this concept as a preliminary working plan.

Achieving the potential of Davids Island will take a long time, but I am excited to have a community-based plan of action that points a promising way forward.

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Geoff Porter Talks About Post-Revolutionary Libya

New Rochelle has lots of very impressive and accomplished residents, and one of the really nice things about my job is that it gives me an opportunity to meet at least a few of them. But I am still sometimes surprised by the breadth of knowledge and expertise in our city. Here’s one great example:

New Rochelle resident Geoff Porter is among the nation’s foremost experts on northern Africa, with a special focus on the political and economic ramifications of the Arab Spring. He had an op-ed recently in the New York Times and was just interviewed by Kai Ryssdal for Marketplace on NPR.

You can hear the full interview at Marketplace.org. (Geoff’s portion of the show begins at 17:10.) And you can learn more about Geoff at geoffdporter.com.

This has nothing to do with City government, but I think it is neat to learn about the interesting things our neighbors are doing in the wider world.

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Wanna Go For A Run On Sunday?

On Sunday, April 15th, I’ll be participating in the annual Stride 5K, which raises funds for diabetes care at Sound Shore Medical Center. You can enter the race as a runner or walker, or just come by and cheer us all on.

(Being a terrible runner myself, I typically end this race feeling as though immediate medical attention is needed. The opportunity to have a good laugh at my expense is another reason to drop by.)

Hope to see you on Sunday.

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Beechmont Neighborhood Lauded by Westchester Magazine

When most people think of New Rochelle’s Beechmont area, they envision gracious old homes lining gently curved roads. Our little 1950s split-level on Pinebrook Boulevard doesn’t exactly fit the Beechmont mold. But my family and I are still technically residents of the neighborhood, and so we couldn’t help but be pleased when Westchester Magazine named Beechmont “one of the most kid-centric places in Westchester.” The article makes specific reference to the Huguenot Children’s Library, Beechmont Lake, the Colonial Greenway, the Barnard Early Childhood Center, and Amy’s Greenhouse, all of which are nearby. Of course, Beechmont is only one of many neighborhoods in New Rochelle that are family-friendly and filled with personality, and it’s nice to have these qualities recognized on a regional basis.

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GreeNR Receives NY State Planning Honors

What American youngster, growing up here in our great nation and thinking about his or her future, doesn’t dream of one day winning a Heissenbuttel Award?

Well, OK, maybe not. And I’ll admit that, until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of the Heissenbuttel. But, it turns out to be a pretty big deal.

The Heissenbuttel Award is one of a handful of honors given annually by the New York Planning Federation for outstanding accomplishment in the planning field. And this year’s Heissenbuttel goes to . . . GreeNR, the New Rochelle Sustainability Plan.

GreeNR was produced through an outstanding partnership among citizen volunteers and municipal staff. Since its approval last year by the Council, it has helped shape City action on multiple fronts, and it will continue serving as a useful framework for local policy-making over the next twenty years.

Achieving positive outcomes for our environment, economy, and community is its own reward, but it is certainly nice to see this terrific collaborative effort recognized by experts in the field at a state-wide level. So congratulations to all who were responsible for this accomplishment.

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