Beckwith Pointe condos could spell demise of beach clubs

By Bill Heltzel

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The conversion of Beckwith Pointe from beach club to luxury condominiums could signal the end of an era on New Rochelle’s Davenport Neck.

Ever since the Siwanoy Indians relinquished a huge swath of land along Long Island Sound in 1654, wealth and economic forces have shaped the uses of the highly-prized waterfront lands. Davenport Neck, a promontory that juts into New Rochelle Harbor, is one such prize.

The peninsula has been the site of Indian encampments that have given way to settlers’ farms that have yielded to grand mansions that made way for beach clubs and marinas surrounded by expensive houses. Summer beach clubs have expanded into year-round banquet facilities that have hosted countless weddings, club luncheons, fundraising galas and political functions.

“The beach clubs are very much a part of New Rochelle and our culture,” said city historian Barbara Davis. “We’ve all benefited from the gorgeous views of Long Island Sound.”

Access to those vistas could become more scarce.

The city’s pending waterfront plan calls for transitioning Davenport Neck from beach clubs to multifamily residences.

Previously, houses could be built there. Now new zoning allows developers to replace private clubs with condominiums.

That’s the plan with Beckwith Pointe at the southern tip of Davenport Neck. Zinrock Resources L.P. plans to build luxury condominiums and pay the city $720,000 for the right to privatize the beach.

The city planning board in late June approved the developer’s site plan for the project.

Zinrock shares an address with National Realty & Development Corp., an owner and developer of shopping centers and business parks, based in Purchase. The two principals in Zinrock, according to city officials, are Robert Baker, head of NRDC, and his son Richard Baker, governor and executive chairman of Hudson’s Bay Co., a $3 billion Canadian company that owns Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.

“The original zoning was not working,” said Albert Tarantino, a city council member and a resident of the Sans Souci neighborhood on Davenport Neck.

Single family homes are no longer in demand, he said. Furthermore, Beckwith Pointe would have to make major renovations to continue drawing customers.

Hurricane Sandy in 2012 exposed the peninsula’s vulnerability to flooding and highlighted the need for stricter regulation.

Davenport Neck has seen several transformations.

Siwanoy encampments have been found there. Huguenots who settled the peninsula in the late 1600s farmed the land and built mills to make products from their crops.

In the late 1700s, Newberry Davenport built a mansion, Sans Souci, on the grounds that now comprise the neighborhood of that name. By the mid-1800s, wealthy New Yorkers were buying farmland and building summer homes and estates designed by the leading architects of the day.

With the Great Depression, Davis said, the estates were gradually sold and the beach clubs and marinas were developed.

Charles Beckwith bought the southern tip of Davenport Neck in 1929. By the 1940s it was being operated as the Beach and Tennis club.

Sal Cassara bought Beach and Tennis in 1986 and renamed it Beckwith Pointe. He died in 2004 and his family continues to operate it.

Other clubs that have opened over the years include Davenport Yacht Club, Greentree Country Club, Surf Club on the Sound and V.I.P. Country Club. They may have started out serving specific groups, such as Jews, Irish Catholics or Italians, Davis said, but over the years the ethnic boundaries collapsed.

Beach clubs were operated mostly for middle class incomes. They featured swimming pools and tennis courts, tiki bars and barbecues, cabanas and clubhouses. Clubs touted their chefs and fine dining. Eventually, they branched out to the banquet business.

Beckwith Pointe has about 500 seasonal members, but it holds about 200 events a year serving up to 600 people at a time. “One of the biggest issues down there,” Tarantino said, “is that they are operating more as catering facilities than beach clubs.”

Strictly speaking, the clubs may cater only to members or for member-sponsored events, and only during the winter months. Tarantino said events are held throughout the year and enforcing the rules is problematic. That creates traffic congestion and noise and irritated neighbors.

Zinrock’s plan prompted officials to review the city’s zoning and local waterfront revitalization program.

Development is now restricted to high ground, as shown on a post-Sandy federal flood map. Developers can build four to 7.5 units per acre, from two to five stories, or 35 to 60 feet high, depending on location, plus another five feet if needed to get above flood level. Lots must be at least 150 feet from single family homes, roads and parks.

Land must be set aside for open space. Beaches can be kept private by paying $10,000 per residential unit into a fund that will be used for public parks.

Beckwith Pointe has 14.7 acres but only 1.5 acres are outside the flood zone.

Single family homes and beach clubs are no longer desirable or feasible for this location, according to Zinrock’s zoning petition.

Zinrock wanted to build 140 units but settled on 72 in discussions with city officials. They will build a gatehouse, clubhouse and nine residential buildings with eight units each.

Every apartment will have three bedrooms and from 3,000 to 3,500 square feet, according to New Rochelle Commissioner of Development Luiz Aragon. Units will sell for around $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

Beckwith Pointe will remain open until next spring and then construction could begin.

Some Davenport residents are unhappy, Tarantino said, some are not.

“It’s outrageous,” said Laura Falb, who lives nearby.

She thinks the condos will create more traffic, overwhelm the environmentally sensitive waterfront and stress emergency services. She is appalled by the prospect of Beckwith Pointe motivating other beach clubs to sell out.

Tarantino said some clubs do not have enough high ground or space to build multifamily residences. He thinks the project will enable club owners to sell their properties at a fair price, create more property tax revenue, generate less traffic and increase the value of everyone’s property.

“This is progress,” he said. “If we never moved forward we’d still have hitching posts and we’d be riding horses.”

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About the author

Bill Heltzel
Bill Heltzel has covered criminal justice, courts, government and sports – as a beat reporter and investigative reporter – for daily newspapers in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He worked for Bloomberg LP in training and sales. He joined The Business Journal in 2016.
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