Neighbors to the former Good Counsel campus on North Broadway in White Plains are speaking out against a proposed redevelopment there that would bring a mix of student housing, apartments and an assisted-living facility to the historic campus.
More than 30 residents attended a March 2 meeting on the development in a filled White Plains Common Council chamber. The meeting was a public scoping session on questions and issues to be addressed in an initial environmental impact study required by the developer as city officials consider the developer’s request to rezone the campus as a planned residential development area.
Concerns from the 10 residents who spoke included the impact on air quality, traffic and noise the project and its construction could bring.
“My clients are not opposed to the development of the site. However, we are opposed to this particular plan and this particular application for a zoning change,” said Clifford Davis, a White Plains-based environmental attorney representing residents of 10 Stewart Place, a 12-story condominium building near the Good Counsel campus.
The project proposal is from WP Development NB, LLC — a group of investors led by Manhattan-based George Comfort & Sons Inc., which also owns and operates The Centre at Purchase office park and 900 King St. in Rye Brook and High Ridge Park and Shippan Landing office parks in Stamford. The group paid $16.3 million in 2015 for the 16-acre property adjoining the Pace University law school.
The campus was used for more than a century by a teaching order of Roman Catholic nuns, Sisters of the Divine Compassion, which announced plans in 2014 to market the property and closed two parochial schools on the historic site.
WP Development’s plan, designed by international architecture firm Perkins Eastman, calls for 400 rental housing units in two 10-story buildings, 40 of which would be reserved as afforable housing; a separate facility with 70 units of graduate student housing for the neighboring Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and a 125-bed assisted living facility with a care unit for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The developer also plans to preserve two historic buildings on the property — the Sisters of Divine Compassion chapel and the Mapleton House, now used as an administrative office. The Mapleton House would be moved to the north side of the chapel to make way for the assisted living facility. The chapel is leased to the Sisters of the Divine Compassion for 50 years, who will continue to use it for religious services and related purposes, according to a project spokesperson.
The developers have pitched the city on the 2.7 acres of campus green space it will make publicly available, as well as the increased real estate tax revenues the project would bring.
To save the green acreage at the North Broadway front of the campus, the developer has proposed to build the two apartment towers on the rear eastern portion of the property, where the campus backs up to a Pace parking lot and then the Interstate 287 barrier.
That location, Davis said, will cause more disruption to 10 Stewart Place condo owners and other residents of Ross and Warren streets. He added that the location would place apartments above the I-287 sound barrier, disturbing future residents there.
“When those people, if this project ever gets off the ground and is built, they are going to come and complain to this board as to how this project was ever built,” Davis told Common Council members.
Ilene Stockel, a resident of 10 Stewart Place, said she feared the disruption from the construction of the proposed apartment towers and assisted-living building would force her to move. “I really started thinking about how sad I felt, knowing I put my life savings into a condo that I may have to move out of for that reason,” she said.
Of concern to Barbara Allen, a 10 Stewart Place resident and president of the Stewart/Ross Neighborhood Association, is the possibility that the construction could expose hazardous material.
In an amended zoning petition on Oct. 21, WP Development’s environmental consultant, AKRF, acknowledged that open space on the south side of the campus near Ross Street was filled in 2004 as part of an attempt by the Sisters of the Divine Compassion to construct athletic fields.
A later state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) inspection found that the backfill used for the project contained construction and demolition debris, including asphalt and crushed concrete. The material was used without the required DEC permission and the owners filed a state-ordered remediation plan for the site. The DEC certified that Sisters of the Divine Compassion had complied with all remedy steps in 2014, according to the AKRF memo.
Allen asked the city to hire an independent environmental consultant to review the possibility of hazardous material at the site.
“Before any rezone is considered,” she said, “we need to know what lies beneath on this property. Has it ever been maintained? Ever been monitored? And is there anything that any of us could have been already exposed to?”
Geoff Thompson, a spokesman for the project, told the Business Journal in a statement that soil samples taken from the site before its purchase confirmed it was safe for construction, as long as standard protective measures were put in place, such as dust wetting.
“The DEC has clearly stated that there are no open enforcement proceedings against the site,” Thompson said. “There is no toxic material.”
The company said it is working closely with the DEC, which will have to approve a plan for construction on the site.
The assisted living and memory care facility would be at the center of the campus and contain 80 beds for assisted living and 45 for residents with some form of dementia. It would be operated by Sunrise Senior Living, a Virginia-based company that operates more than 300 assisted living facilities in North America and the United Kingdom. The company manages Sunrise at Crestwood in Yonkers and Sunrise at Fleetwood in Mount Vernon.
Pace graduate and professional students would be housed in a four-story, 89,250- square-foot building on the northern end of the property adjacent to the law school. The suite-style housing would hold up to 150 beds.
Pace law school Dean David Yassky has offered support for the project. He wrote to the Common Council to say the housing would make the school “more attractive by providing essentially on-site housing location for our students and their families, eliminating the need for students to find alternative housing locations on their own.”
Pace has no operational involvement in the development and the student housing would be managed by a third party.