North Avenue Rezoning Proposal and Density

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High Density Buildings on North Avenue in New Rochelle Possible by Peggy Godfrey in Westchester Herald, August l0, 2009

Ten story buildings are still under consideration by the New Rochelle City Council for North Avenue under a rezoning proposal. In February 2008 a study by AKRF had originally proposed the need for building a deck on the City Hall parking lot and re-timing all the traffic lights on North Avenue to accommodate this rezoning At that time two twelve story towers were proposed with a middle section of eight stories
A revised new proposal on high density zoning will be presented to New Rochelle City Council on August 10. Because mixed use (e.g. business and residential combined) will be in the plan, a floating overlay zoning will be used to give “density bonuses.” The proposed height of buildings is 4 floors and the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) is 3.0. But this FAR sharply contrasts to the neighborhood business zoning which allows a FAR of 0.5.
What does FAR mean? According to Wikipedia, FAR is the “ratio of the total floor area of building on a certain location to the size of that location, or the limit imposed on such a ratio.” In other words it is the total square feet of the building divided by the area of the plot.
FAR can be explained further. To achieve a FAR of 3.0 on North Avenue at least three floors must be built because one or two floor buildings would use more land than would be available. To achieve a FAR of 3.0, a three floor building would cover l00% of the plot, 4 floors would cover 75% of the plot. More disturbing in the proposal are five residential lots on Fifth Avenue, right across from the Rochelle Park Historic District which are possibly going to be changed to this high density zoning. Four story buildings will be as close as 6 feet from a bedroom window. It is easy to see why there was speculation that a business could be looking right into someone’s bedroom. These residential lots were included in a comprehensive plan approved by the City Council which recommended they be rezoned to two family residential. So the question remains: why does the report recommend four story buildings? There have been questions raised about who paid for this study.
These figures were contrasted to the FAR of 0.5 which allows the building to use 50% of the land size. In some downtown area there is a permitted FAR of 4.0 but also a stipulation public benefits must be provided.
Certainly the concerns of Councilman Lou Trangucci that in the present proposal, which covers North Avenue from Garden Street to Eastchester Road there are 12 places where l0 story buildings can be approved, are disturbing to contemplate. Trangucci has continually questioned the need for more city services when higher densities are proposed. The City Council meeting on August 10 can be viewed on cable or on demand at the City of New Rochelle website.