A $120 million development on the Westchester Avenue corridor in White Plains would add retail and luxury apartments to a mostly vacant portion of the city’s eastern gateway. The project, first reviewed by the White Plains Common Council in 2015, has been renewed in a scaled-down form by development partners in Saber White Plains LLC, an affiliate of Armonk-based Saber Real Estate Advisors LLC, and Chauncey White Plains LLC, an affiliate of Chauncey Station Partners.
The two real estate firms previously collaborated on the 450,000-square-foot Rivertowns Square mixed-use development in Dobbs Ferry, which includes a movie theater, luxury apartments, restaurants and retail.
The White Plains development, called The Collection, would follow a similar mixed-use concept on a smaller scale. As designed by the Virginia architecture firm Antunovich Associates, the project would bring about 25,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space to Westchester Avenue in the area between the White Plains Chrysler Jeep Dodge and the Westchester Burger Company buildings and opposite The Westchester mall. It would add 276 apartments to the city’s rental housing inventory, 28 of which would be designated as affordable. The complex would include 25 studio, 161 one-bedroom and 91 two-bedroom units.
On the back end of the property at Franklin Avenue, an 11-story residential building would feature 186 units. The other 90 apartments would be in three levels above the retail and restaurant portion of the development. The project would also add 745 on-site parking spaces, including a parking garage on the first four stories of the apartment building.
The Collection would replace a vacant auto dealership and largely vacant single-story retail buildings on a 3-acre tract along Westchester Avenue that backs up to Franklin Avenue. The developers would also acquire land from the city if the deal is approved, a 153-spot public parking lot on Franklin Avenue that the developers would replace by offering 275 spaces for municipal use.
“Like we did in Rivertowns Square, we like the combination of the residential with entertainment, family-oriented entertainment, with restaurants and retail,” said Martin G. Berger, managing principal of Saber, at the hearing. “We think it all works together if someone can park once, stay on site, walk to the supermarket, walk across the street to retail and so on.”
The project is scaled down from what was first reviewed by the Common Council two years ago as part of an urban renewal plan for the area. The project footprint went from 4.4 to 3.14 acres. A spa and hotel were eliminated from the plans, along with an underground automobile showroom. The retail and restaurant space has decreased substantially from the original proposal of 91,000 square feet.
Berger told the Business Journal that the city had asked his development team to expand the project to include as much of the block around the property as possible. That would have included the White Plains Chrysler Jeep Dodge property at 70 Westchester Ave. and incorporating a new showroom and service area for the dealership. But Berger said after two years of negotiations between the development team and the dealership, the parties could not reach a deal.
“We had to terminate those plans and go back to the drawing board, and now we’re ready to proceed with a project that’s larger than the original project but smaller than we were anticipating, which included the Chrysler property,” Berger said.
Augie DiFeo, president of White Plains Chrysler Jeep Dodge, said the Saber project ultimately didn’t fit with what the dealership needed. But he said he’s happy to see the area, which he called an eyesore, attract new development. The dealership will pursue renovation plans on its own, DiFeo said.
Berger said The Collection already has several tenants that have been wait-listed since the original project proposal. He said the retail and restaurant space will be fully pre-leased before the project breaks ground.
Council members at their May meeting expressed some concern with the slimmed-down version of the project. Mayor Thomas Roach asked whether the project could still serve as a link between Franklin Avenue and Westchester Avenue, as the city had hoped.
The project’s attorney, Mark Weingarten of DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr LLP, pointed out that the project will still have a pedestrian connection from Franklin Avenue to Westchester Avenue. The two avenues will be linked by a pedestrian walkway on the east side of the development.
“My belief is that if we had brought this project to you initially, you’d have been really excited about it,” Weingarten told the council. “But what’s happened is because we planned something a little larger, we’re at a point where my job over the next few months is to get you excited about this.”
Berger said there is plenty to be excited about in the proposal.
“It’s still a $120 million project, so while it is smaller than what was contemplated, it’s still a very significant project with significant economic benefits and windfalls, job creation and everything else,” he said.
The Common Council referred the project to various city boards for review. The developers will need two zoning amendments from the city to move forward.