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.
For almost two generations, Davids Island has both enchanted and bedeviled New Rochelle. It is easy to understand why. There is nothing quite like it: a nearly eighty-acre blank canvas, situated within the largest and most densely populated metropolitan area in America, visible from nearly every portion of our coastline, and owned by the people of New Rochelle.
But while Davids Island has inspired grand plans, all have faltered in the face of economic, environmental, or political obstacles. Today, half a century after the closure of Fort Slocum, the island’s future remains unsettled — its potential for public enjoyment and benefit, like the island itself, just out of reach.
In my State of the City Address last year, I proposed a fresh, proactive look at Davids Island. Shortly thereafter, the City appointed a volunteer Task Force composed of neighborhood representatives, development experts, environmental advocates, and public officials from various levels of government, including myself and City Council Member Albert Tarantino.
The Task Force assembled a huge amount of information, held a public meeting, and conducted numerous frank and open discussions. Finally, yesterday, after a year of labor, the Task Force submitted its full report and summary to the City Council.
The report is fantastic. If that sounds like an exaggeration (how can a planning report be “fantastic”?), then please read it for yourself, especially if you are interested in this subject or recall past battles over Davids Island’s future. This is the most rigorous, comprehensive, and useful examination of re-use options for Davids Island that has ever existed, and it will be invaluable as we consider next steps.
The report’s findings and conclusions are those of the Task Force, but we must credit the pro bono assistance of KPF, ARUP, and SBI for the report’s design and framework. These are some of the best planning professionals in the world, and their invaluable services were donated to us through the efforts of Doug Hocking, a Principal at KPF, who, in addition to being a member of the Task Force, also Chairs the New Rochelle Planning Board, and Wajdi Atallah, another New Rochelle resident, who serves as President of SBI. What a great example of enlisting local talent for civic purposes.
To be clear, the Task Force has not recommended a single “plan” for Davids Island, but rather identified a spectrum of options along with metrics for assessing their viability. We are still closer to the beginning of this process than to the end, with lots of hard work to come. But I believe that New Rochelle’s consideration of Davids Island’s future is now on firmer footing, with a clearer path forward, than ever before in our history. And that’s exciting news.
As reported previously, the City has convened a Task Force to help shape a vision for the future of Davids Island. On Thursday, February 17th at 7:00pm, the Task Force will host a forum in the main council chamber of New Rochelle City Hall, during which the public will be invited to offer comments, feedback and suggestions.
As a basis for discussion, the Task Force has just released an Interim Report describing challenges and suggesting preliminary concepts for the Island’s re-use.
Note that the word preliminary is emphasized. The Interim Report is not intended to be a complete analysis or a finished product. Even if the Task Force’s general vision is embraced fully, a host of difficult questions will need to be addressed and resolved. So think of this as the beginning of a community conversation, facilitated by the experts, advocates, and neighborhood representatives who form the membership of the Task Force.
I hope very much that the forum on Thursday will attract attendance and constructive comment. If you have any interest in this subject, please come. And please also spread the word to neighbors and friends.
Davids Island is the kind of site that brings out the urban planner in everyone — an 80-acre blank canvas just off the New Rochelle coast. Since the closure of Fort Slocum almost fifty years ago, proposals for Davids Island have generated fierce debates and then faltered in the face of environmental, economic, or political obstacles. Mindful of this tortured history, but still determined to explore the Island’s potential, New Rochelle has convened a Task Force composed of residents, experts, and stakeholders to help frame a homegrown vision that is both realistic and broadly-supported.
Public input is essential to achieving this goal. In this spirit, the community is invited to offer comments and ideas at an outreach meeting convened by the Task Force on Thursday, February 17th at 7:00pm in the City Council Chamber of New Rochelle City Hall.
Prior to the meeting, the Task Force is likely to release its preliminary thoughts about Davids Island, so that citizens will have an opportunity to react to specific concepts. Once this document is completed, probably next week, I will post it to my website.
I am personally hopeful that sustainable design can resolve some of the historic tensions between environmental and economic objectives on the Island, but am eager to hear from the community and the Task Force before reaching any conclusions.
If this subject interests you, then please join us on February 17th. You can also submit comments to Suzanne Reider of the New Rochelle’s Department of Development at email@example.com.