The revitalization of downtown New Rochelle, which the city shows as having 32 projects either complete or in various stages of development, received an endorsement with the Nov. 5 re-election of Noam Bramson to a fourth four-year term as mayor.
The downtown redevelopment could produce between 6,000 and 7,000 new housing units, add from 12,000 to 15,000 new residents, result in up to 12 million square feet of new construction, including up to 1 million square feet of retail space and 2.4 million square feet of prime office space and add up to 1,200 hotel rooms.
In 2015, the city selected RXR Realty and Renaissance Downtowns as master developer for the downtown. The city adopted a downtown overlay zoning plan and completed a generic environmental review for the downtown area, helping to streamline the process developers have to go through in order to get shovels in the ground. Luiz Aragon, the city’s commissioner of development, was outspoken in telling developers that New Rochelle would be able to approve their projects in two or three months versus the one or two years it can take in other municipalities.
“The pace of approvals is powerful evidence that the downtown development plan we adopted in 2015 is working as intended,” Bramson, a Democrat. told the Business Journal in an interview. “I think there may have been some initial skepticism on the part of developers but we have proven the value of our model through success over a period of years. And, I think investors now recognize that New Rochelle is in a unique position to foster well-planned development that’s consistent with our community’s vision of an economically and culturally thriving downtown.”
Brendan M. Conroy, who opposed Bramson on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines in the mayoral election, said there’s such a thing as being too quick to approve projects.
“The fast-track system that they have doesn’t give people an opportunity to consider these developments before they’re going up,” he said. “I don’t want to stop development. I just want to make sure that development is going to benefit the entire city.”
Conroy said many of the residents he met while on the campaign trail expressed skepticism regarding the pace of development.
Conroy has had experience in real estate as an appraiser, property tax consultant, real estate agent and former assistant city assessor for Rye.
Conroy expressed concern that residents will face future costs not being covered as a result of tax breaks given to developers and that projections of the number of new students who will be coming into the public schools as a result of new apartment construction are too low.
“I would like to see a greater effort made to attract retail and possibly businesses to bring in offices. Those are projects that you could give a tax abatement to and it really doesn’t cost because there’s no impact on the school system,” he said.
Bramson said he understands and respects the concerns of critics.
“Any time a community goes through significant change it is reasonable to expect there will be robust debate,” he said.
Bramson said prior to adopting the downtown plan, there was extensive community discussion and potential impacts were analyzed “so that we could plan for growth, make sure there’s adequate infrastructure, make sure that our services are equipped and make sure that the taxpayers come out ahead with new revenue generation that far exceeds any public costs.”
Bramson said being about a half-hour out of Grand Central Terminal on Metro-North is significant for the city.
“Access to mass transit is one of our most important assets and the completion of Penn (Pennsylvania Station) access in a few years will give New Rochelle the closest station to Manhattan with direct service to the East and West sides. We are able to offer both residential and commercial space with access to the center of the metropolitan area that’s as good or better than many parts of the five boroughs but at a small fraction of the cost.”
Approved by the New Rochelle Planning Board at its Oct. 22 meeting was a 24-story building at 2 Sherwood Place, near the Metro-North Railroad station, which will have 301 residential units. On unanimous votes, the board found that the project met environmental requirements and gave approval to the project’s site plan. The application was submitted by 255 Huguenot Owner LLC.
The project started to move off the drawing board last year when the city and the owner of 255 Huguenot St., the DSF Group of Waltham, Massachusetts, reached an agreement allowing DSF to create a new street cutting through the plot of land at 255 Huguenot where La Rochelle, a 25-story, 412-unit luxury apartment building already was standing. Approval for a new street, Sherwood Place, resulted in the creation of a discrete piece of land where a second tower could be constructed. DSF Group had purchased La Rochelle in 2016 for $148.5 million.
Attorney Peter Wise of the White Plains-based law firm DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr LLP alluded to the way the review process now works in New Rochelle when he told the planning board that the developer had received comments from city staff and committees, including the architectural review committee.
“We haven’t been able to address absolutely everything, but I want to assure the board … that all of the comments that have been raised are acceptable to us and will be addressed to the complete satisfaction of the city,” he said.
He added that the developer also accepted any conditions the city may attach to the approvals.
Architect Abed Benzina of the firm SK+I in Bethesda, Maryland, told the board that the addition of Sherwood Place is “a great move because it certainly helps enhance the urban network and provides connectivity, a pedestrian-friendly connection, to the train station. Sherwood was really a catalyst for this project by creating and separating two urban blocks.”
Benzina also said the exterior of the top of the building will be lighted and added, “That’s the beacon of light for the new skyline.”
SHADOWS FROM LAWTON STREET
In September, a project at 11 Lawton St. received city approval. It’s an 800,000-square-foot, mixed-use development that includes the adaptive reuse of the former National City Bank of New Rochelle building. In addition to 143 condominiums and 453 rental apartments in a 48-story building, the project will include a 190-room, 22-story hotel and just under 3,000 square feet of retail space.
Some criticism surfaced, including comments to the planning board by Rev. Diedra Gray Clark, president of the New Rochelle Public Library’s Board of Trustees.
“It is with dismay that I am here tonight to speak on behalf of the trustees about the impact the Lawton Street development could have on the New Rochelle Public Library,” she said. “According to the developer’s shadow study, the 48 stories will have a significant impact on the direct sunlight both the Ruby Dee Park and the public library receive.”
SOUTH DIVISION STREET
Ensuring adequate parking has figured into development plans, even as a city garage was demolished to make way for a new project by master developer RXR, which held a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 30 marking the start of construction for a 28-story, mixed-use building at 26 S. Division St.
The plan calls for two towers to be built. The address of the second building is to be 28 S. Division St.
The structure now being built at 26 S. Division St. will feature 352 market-rate apartments. There will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The plan calls for more than 12,000 square feet of retail space. Amenities will include a valet parking garage, resident lounge, coworking space and a public plaza.
RXR’s Executive Vice President Seth Pinsky used the occasion to announce that RXR has created a building community fund at the Westchester Community Foundation (WCF). RXR is initially putting $225,000 into the fund, which will support youth enrichment, workforce development, economic development, public safety, the environment and parks, recreation and wellness. Laura Rossi, executive director of the WCF, described the new fund as “a game-changer.”
RXR anticipates residential leasing for 26 S. Division St. will begin in the fourth quarter of 2020. The two South Division Street buildings would have a total of 730 rental apartments, 675 on-site parking spaces and 20,000 square feet of street-level retail space.
RXR estimated that as master developer and under the revitalization plan it helped put into place it will be able to develop about 4 million square feet of space on downtown sites it controls.