The Rye YMCA wants to expand to the former Mrs. Green’s store, a prominent location across from City Hall outside of Rye’s main business district. But first, the nonprofit and its potential landlord must ask the city to lift what it said is a dated restriction on fitness facilities.
The Rye City Council is reviewing a proposal from the building’s landlord that would amend the city code to allow fitness facilities in certain downtown districts. The roughly 10,000-square-foot building at 1037 Boston Post Road has been vacant since Mrs. Green’s closed in November 2016, part of a companywide downsizing for the grocer.
Rye’s zoning allows for one-on-one fitness training facilities, but larger physical fitness facilities are not listed among the allowed commercial uses within city limits, according to an application filed by representatives of the property owner. The property is owned by 1037 Boston Post Road LLC, which lists an address in care of Bill Wolf Petroleum Corp., a Long Island company.
Rye is surrounded by mega-gyms, including LA Fitness in Port Chester and Life Time Athletic in Harrison. But within Rye, the YMCA is the only large fitness facility.
While the Rye Y will need the zoning change for its plan to move forward, the landlord’s legal team is also making the case that the city’s code is worth updating anyway.
“My view is that in 1956 or so, when the present code was codified, I don’t think physical fitness was on the minds of Rye’s citizenry the way it is today,” the landlord’s attorney Jonathan Kraut told the city council at a meeting Jan. 9. “The popularity of the Rye Y, I think, demonstrates that.”
Rye’s neighboring municipalities, he said, permit physical fitness operators. “This rising focus on physical fitness for health and well-being is something that really can’t be ignored.”
The landlord’s proposed change would allow physical fitness facilities in two zones, the B-1 and B-2, which cover the city’s main business district. Kraut grouped his client’s proposal with the increasing number of Westchester landlords repurposing office properties for new uses.
Since Mrs. Green’s moved out, Kraut said the landlord has engaged two separate brokerages to find a new tenant. The only viable interest the site received was for uses not permitted in Rye’s code. “As a land-use attorney, that is an indication that what the space wants to be, or what the marketplace wants it to be, is not the way the property is zoned,” he said.
Constructed in 1951, the property includes 42 parking spaces. The building was originally a grocery store when it was built. It has had separate lives since as a hardware store, a CVS and Lester’s clothing store. When CVS left in the early 2000s, the building was left vacant for several years. The city owned the property from 2006 to 2013, at one point considering the site for a new police station. The city sold the property to 1037 Boston Post Road LLC for $5.6 million in 2013.
The Rye YMCA isn’t revealing details of the programming it will host at the location at this point in the process, Executive Director Gregg Howells told the Business Journal.
The Rye Y traces its roots in the city to 1914, but it built the original gymnasium of its Locust Avenue property in 1929. The center has expanded since, including a new fitness center in the early ’90s. In 2003, the Y completed a 25,000-square-foot expansion and renovation that added a six-lane pool, new fitness center and gymnasium.
Kraut argued that the Rye Y represents something “near and dear” to the heart of Rye residents and would benefit from the change in zoning. Just as Mrs. Green’s was pressured by competition in the grocery industry, he said, the YMCA is being challenged by the growth in large fitness facilities.
“Since the YMCA has expanded, you’ve had Life Time … open up … Equinox take over a large facility in Armonk,” Kraut said. “You have these competitive pockets. You’ve also had … a lot of specialty fitness locations, whether SoulCycle or others like it, open. These are all competitive forces. The YMCA has a vision and is looking down range to try to maintain its position in Rye as being a wonderful place.”
The Rye City Council voted to send the proposal to the planning board for review.