Iona College, founded in 1940, and Beechmont, an idyllic suburban enclave developed in 1902, have coexisted side by side for many years but are now uncomfortably close.
Tensions between the New Rochelle institutions surfaced at a public hearing on April 11 over the Catholic college’s desire to protect its ability to grow and Beechmont residents’ desire to preserve the character of their neighborhood.
Even the idea of a public hearing was in dispute.
The city called the hearing based on a false memorandum, according to Iona attorney Christopher Tumulty, that said Iona was interested in commenting on a recently amended zoning law. “Iona has no interest in commenting on Ordinance 91,” Tumulty said, because “the amendment is invalid.”
Beechmont residents are concerned about Iona’s plan to combine 11 lots in the neighborhood for possible future expansion. Combining lots could allow the college to build larger structures and make the streetscape appear less residential.
Under a 2001 law, Iona had to apply for a special permit to expand outside of the campus. Iona interpreted that to mean it did not need a special permit to expand within its existing boundaries.
The New Rochelle City Council amended the law last year to require a special permit for any merger of lots by the college. A public hearing was held but, according to Iona, the notice misidentified and obscured the proposal and made no mention of Iona.
The new hearing cannot “cure that defect,” Tumulty said, and the issue must be addressed in court.
He was one of only two people who spoke for Iona. Fifteen residents and an attorney for the Beechmont Association spoke in support of the city’s efforts to regulate the college more closely.
“New Rochelle has bent over backward for Iona,” one resident said. “It’s time it bends over backward for the soul of the neighborhood.”
Nick Williams, who lives on Howard Parkway on the opposite side of Iona’s campus, said the city must protect neighborhoods around the campus by restricting Iona’s ability to combine properties.
Several residents implored the city and college to collaborate, as they have done in previous years.
“Both parties need to settle promptly,” said Lori Wekselblatt, of Beechmont Place. “They need to start afresh.”
City officials have to be careful about what they say while the lawsuit is pending, said Mayor Noam Bramson, who lives on Pinebrook Boulevard in Beechmont. But he said the city values constructive relations with its institutions and neighborhoods.