A long-vilified section of Yorktown, notorious for its traffic issues, is finally getting its due thanks to a change in political leadership and renewed interest by developers.
Route 202, the gateway to Yorktown, now has $150 million worth of projects in the pipeline with more than $300 million in projects planned across the town.
Costco Wholesale Corp. is working on its final environmental impact statement for a $60 million project that would bring a 151,000-square-foot store to the site of the former Yorktown Inn next to the southbound side of the Taconic State Parkway. Pending approvals, Retail Store Construction Co., an affiliate of Breslin Realty Development Corp. in Garden City, L.I., hopes to break ground this year.
Costco has pledged to spend $3 million in traffic improvements on Route 202, which goes along with $7 million in traffic improvements that the state Department of Transportation is spending to improve the road and fix flooding issues.
Town Councilman Terrence Murphy sees a lot of benefits in Costco coming into Yorktown.
“Route 202 has been a nightmare since I was a kid,” Murphy said. “If you look at the Costco site, it’s appalling. It’s a dilapidated building with graffiti and holes in the ceiling. This is an opportunity for the town.”
Supervisor Michael Grace, who took office in Jan. 2012, said that traffic on Route 202 is problematic and has kept businesses on the south side of the road from being successful.
“It’s difficult to make left turns into or out of the south side of the road,” Grace said.
Costco claims 200 jobs and $800,000 in tax revenue would be generated by the store.
“Hopefully Costco will trigger a better and higher scale of commercial development for that corridor,” Grace said. “It really is the town’s last method of potential commercial growth. Approving Costco makes a statement that we are looking toward orderly proper development of that corridor and that Yorktown is receptive to development.”
Just down the road, Fieldhome, an assisted-living facility at 2300 Catherine St. behind McDonald’s restaurant, is planning a massive $90 million, 297,400-square-foot continuing care facility with construction set to begin next year.
Fieldhome would be the third continuing care retirement facility in the county and feature 102 one- to two-bedroom independent units and a 96-bed nursing home. The project needs approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and from the state Health Department.
The planning board approved Fieldhome’s plans in August.
The town has also been in contact with Charles Monaco to develop 100 acres of undeveloped land that he owns on Route 202.
Monaco has proposed a 140,000-square-foot big box store such as Target or Lowe’s, along with 60,000 square feet of additional retail. Monaco’s proposal would also include the installation of a traffic light and widening Route 202. The land would need to be rezoned from residential to commercial.
Monaco would also donate 52 acres of open space to the town.
Town officials said they are pleased with all the development on Route 202, and said the town has changed its tone with developers.
“We’ve gone from being resistant to any development to welcoming creative and innovative development,” Grace said. “On a case-by-case basis we try to facilitate good commercial development.”
Developments are not just happening on Route 202. Over on Route 6 in Yorktown Heights, the Jefferson Valley Mall, owned by Simon Property Group Inc., has been in discussions with the town about a $45 million update that would add retail stores, a restaurant and renovate the façade.
The mall has not officially filed any building plans with the town and a spokesman declined comment. The mall has lagged behind other malls in the area in regard to upgrades, with residents choosing to go to malls in White Plains or Danbury, Conn.
The town recently passed new parking regulations that require four parking spots per 1,000 square feet of space instead of five.
While some residents accused the town of doing this to accommodate Costco, the town board exempted Costco from the regulations and said it was done primarily to help the Jefferson Valley Mall’s renovations.
“This is a win-win situation for businesses and the environment,” Murphy said. “At the Jefferson Valley Mall, half of the parking lot is empty. You have to have a happy medium. You have more of a building, less of a parking lot, and more trees and shrubs. It’s a no-brainer, a simple thing.”
Murphy said that Jefferson Valley Mall was having trouble attracting tenants without knowing the specific parking requirements. Grace said it is important to have regulations and laws that are helpful to business development.
“This gives them a degree of certainty,” Grace said. “We make it clear that we look at our own regulations and see where it’s a hindrance and revise local codes accordingly for the investment we need. We’re hopeful this message has gotten out loud and clear.”
One positive aspect to all the commercial development is that it would improve the town’s commercial tax base, offsetting the property tax burden on residents.
A town the size of Yorktown should have a 25 percent commercial tax base, but Murphy estimates that it is as low as 10 percent.
Through all this proposed development, the town has had to grapple with its motto, Progress with Preservation. Few municipalities in Westchester are as committed to preserving open space as Yorktown, which strives to keep its rural Northern Westchester character with the need for an expanding tax base.
Costco has attracted fierce opposition from many residents who fear that it would create additional traffic problems and be an environmental nightmare that is out of character with the town and will drive out small businesses. A group, Concerned Citizens for Yorktown, have set up a website, nocostco.com.
“We’ve preserved more than 3,200 acres of open space,” Murphy said. “We have preservation, now we need progress.”
“You can’t afford to just do preservation,” Grace said. “Preservation requires progress. We’re not looking to develop undeveloped virgin land. These are areas that have already been developed and have become dilapidated. There’s an obligation to manage open space, but we can’t do that without a vibrant commercial tax base.”