A proposed development on New Rochelle’s Echo Bay has been shelved until January following a fiery Tuesday night meeting of the City Council.
The council was scheduled to discuss several items that would advance the proposal, which includes the transferring of a city yard to developer Forest City Residential Inc., an affiliate of Forest City Enterprises. But four of seven council members voted in favor of a motion to table any votes or discussion of the project until January.
Mayor Noam Bramson, a Democrat who has supported the project, took issue with the delay and later pushed for a second vote that would allow the sharing of documents and information even if the vote had been delayed.
That measure passed 4-3, with Democrat Shari Rackman shifting course after agreeing to delay the vote and discussion earlier in the evening. Rackman’s vote came after a private discussion in closed quarters with the mayor, which Republican Al Tarantino criticized as a strong-arm maneuver, calling it “waterboarding.”
Lou Trangucci, a Republican councilman, walked out prior to the second vote. Its approval drew boos and insults from a decidedly anti-Echo Bay crowd of residents. Ivar Hyden was the sole Democrat to vote no on the second measure. “I don’t like being bullied, I don’t like being pushed, I don’t like being backed into a corner,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, about 50 residents and members of a local veterans group picketed on the steps of City Hall in protest of the project, waving anti-Echo Bay signs and chanting “No way Echo Bay” and “Hey hey ho ho Forest City has got to go.” The protest was organized by United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle, a group that created “No Echo Bay” lawn signs that residents posted throughout the city, and United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association, which has opposed the project because of its impact on an unused armory building at the project site.
Protesters then marched into City Hall in time for public comment on the matter. Robin Sherman spoke in favor of the development and presented a petition in support that she said had more than 500 signatures. Every other speaker at the meeting criticized the proposal, painting the project as favoring the developer over the taxpayer and saying the city should break ties with Forest City and put the project back out to public bid. The developer is set to receive $20 million in tax abatements through 2035.
Resident John Dalois said the project was the latest development in the city that catered to private interests. “You’ve been in bed with Cappelli, you’ve been in bed with Apicella, you’ve been in bed with Trump, you’ve been in bed with Forest City,” he said. “It’s time to start sleeping at home nowadays.”
Resident Jeffrey Hastie said residents were prepared to sue the city if the plan goes through. “We are in favor of development, we’re in favor of affordable housing, we’re just not in favor of this development,” he said.
The 9-acre development on East Main Street would include 285 luxury apartments, 25,000 square feet of retail space and a 5-acre waterfront park. Some critics take issue with the scaled back nature of the project, which was conceived in 2006 as a 26-acre project with 710 residences, 150,000 square feet of retail and two 150-room hotels.
Robert Cox, who runs the New Rochelle blog Talk of the Sound, said the city was not getting enough in return for the tax abatements and the relocation of the public works yard from the project site to elsewhere in the city. “We’re really not getting anything,” he said. “We’re going significantly in debt in the community to get a small to midsize apartment building, not of any note.”
The original proposal would have knocked down the armory and replaced it with a community center, a move that met the ire of veterans groups who wanted the building preserved due to its history. The 26,575-square-foot armory building would be spared under the current proposal, though its ultimate fate remains unclear.
The vote to delay a decision on the project comes only days after a scathing report on Forest City from Cause of Action, a Washington, D.C.-based accountability organization that said Forest City had spent more than $230,000 in lobbying for the project. The report noted that Bramson received $17,500 in campaign donations from Forest City consultants and $5,000 in donations from members of Forest City owners the Ratner family since the project was announced in 2006.
Bramson in a recent interview said that the project would provide a spark to a long-term revitalization of the area even in its pared-down form.
“We learned over the last few years trying to establish one grand vision in a large bite doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s an important, impactful and significant development.”