Downtown Development Thwarted by Proliferation of Storefront Churches in the New Rochelle Business Improvement District

Written By: Robert Cox

downtown churches-schools.jpg

The New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District is facing a threat from an unexpected source — the New York State Liquor Authority. Under New York State Law, applicants for a liquor store license, wine store license and on-premises license cannot be within 200 feet of a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship. Due to the quilt-pattern of existing churches and schools in the area and the recent proliferation of storefront churches along the Main Street corridor in the heart of the BID, all but a half block area between Division Street and Centre Avenue is now off-limits to new bars, restaurants or nightclubs. This does not affect businesses which have continually operated with a liquor license before a church opened within 200 feet of that establishment but does impact a location that changes owners.

In the past two years three new storefront churches have opened on Main Street in the heart of New Rochelle’s Business Improvement District. The most recent signed a lease over the summer.

The New Rochelle BID, created in 2000, describes itself as a a non-profit association of over 800 business and property owners whose prime goal is economic development, new business and new investment. The BID’s mission involves attracting shoppers to downtown, recruiting new businesses, and providing enhanced services all while preserving the charm and appeal of this commercial center as the historic heart of the greater New Rochelle community.

The BID, aware of the threat to downtown development, has raised the issue of a zoning exclusion for storefront churches with the City of New Rochelle’s Office of the Corporation Council but was told there was nothing that could be done as Churches are protected.

In addition to limiting the development of new restaurants and bars in the downtown area and effectively restricting the sale of existing establishments, the BID fears the proliferation of storefront churches in downtown will undermine the efforts to develop a vibrant shopping area downtown.

“Religious organizations are an extremely important and valued part of our community, however, there needs to remain a balance between daytime uses such as stores and restaurants, which create a critical mass of activity that attracts the public and uses, such as religious facilities, that are primarily dormant during the weekdays, said Ralph DiBart, Executive Director of the BID.

If too many non-business uses open” DiBart added “the perception becomes that Main Street looks closed during the week and the vitality of a healthy Main street for all citizens suffers.

DiBart acknowledged that the City is powerless to block the creation of a row of storefront churches populating the Main Street business corridor.

“Since the location of where religious organizations are able to open is protected”, he said, “I hope that property owners, religious organizations and businesses can realize this and seek a healthy balance.”

Proponents of the storefront churches want to see more religious activity on Main Street.

“I want Main Street to become the holiest street in America,” said one such proponent, who did not wish to be identified.

These proponents believe storefront churches are a vital part of the re-development of downtown that will bring new people to the BID area. They are actively working to bring more storefront churches into the area which they believe will enhance downtown New Rochelle as a shopping district, pointing out that one storefront church already operates a retail business as part of the church.

Most business owners, however are less enthusiastic.

“I am not alone in my concerns that the restrictions that come with more storefront churches translates into less investment in the downtown area,” said Candace Denslow, owner of Consign It On Main a resale shop specializing in high end furniture, jewelry, and art.

Harry Willis, an attorney with the New York State Department of State, agrees. In a response to a question about storefront churches posed by the Downtown Developer for the City of Oneonta, published on the New York State Urban Council web site, Willis noted several ways in which storefront churches pose challenges for business districts including creating the appearance of artificial barriers to a shopping area.

When shoppers walking along a sidewalk looking in retail storefront windows suddenly come across a non-retail use, they instinctively interpret that to mean that they have reached the end of the retail district, the odds are good they will turn around, which obviously hurts retail businesses located beyond the non-retail storefront.

The same web site contains a response from the City of New Rochelle.

In New Rochelle, churches are allowed by right in all zones. However, they must meet zoning requirement regarding height, size, parking etc. We recently had a very raucous zoning variance situation that wound up costing the synagogue applicant over $ 1million in study fess. They obtained 12 variances – a city record. They have now been challenged under an Article 78 by surrounding neighborhood groups.

Better have your Corporation Counsel review case law (especially federal) on the issue. It’s quite liberal when it comes to religious groups.

In addition to the store front churches, at least two commercial spaces in New Rochelle are used for religious services on the weekend. a basement space at 145 Huegenout and Theater 16 at Regal Cinemas’ New Roc City multiplex.

5 thoughts on “Downtown Development Thwarted by Proliferation of Storefront Churches in the New Rochelle Business Improvement District”

  1. downtown
    bruce, the speckled door was literally engulfed with red tape and other impediments that quickly suggested new rochelle was not the place to do business. and these were sons of new rochelle (owners)

    as far as store front churches are concerned, it is shocking to read the rationale of the proponents of such establshmens. this cannot even be remotely discarded by the bid

    mr dibart, this is not as difficult of any issue as it seems to be. get a really good lawyer; one experienced in urban planning and contract law. i cannot believe that any sustainability study is not cognizant of this issue and that it is not tabled for action by the consultant/city. lets rid ourselves of all political correct nonsense and determine.

    1. who are the landlords, what association, if any do they have with the various churches. these are not exactly zion baptist, blessed sacrement, or young israel. there has to be some causal connection between who the church officials are, their relationship to the landlord, etc…. we know about tax status, but there must be more. just how large are these congregations and where do they come from?

    2. rezone, rezone, rezone. use eminent domain if necessary. this is why you need the excellent attorney. take any negative publicity tht eminent domain implies; providing of course, that there is a need for such — hopefully susstainability and consultant does not equal new lights, frontage, trees, etc…. you know, the old form vs substance arguments.

    3. yes, many new businesses will be proscribed if these are considered to be “places of worship” that mandate 200 feet or so from certain establshments.

    4. this takes thinking, critical thinking, more thinking. I am not anti church, but you can worship just as well on centre or church avenues as you can on main street. you need (1) a white paper from a skilled legal source indicatd where we are and how we can overcome any obstacles, (2) a plan, literally a plan from the city and surrogates like bid and chamber of commerce, (3) the city to cut this bureaucratic nonsense that kill off or threaten our few remaining businesses. Knock off this round of visitations from fire, licensing, etc… do it once or twice than verify as needed — stop this traffic enforcement debacle that punishes people for simply going in for a slice of pizza, etc…. moderate their behavior at least,

    look what is the use of belaboring the point. It is a business problem with some interesting overtones. If you want to address it, flow chart it, identify the players, the consequences and risk of both action and inaction, a willingness to commit to urban planning or suspend it, a willngness to get off this politically correct bandwagon.

    so many storefront churches … time to suspend belief and decide “who benefits” and why. taxpayers, you have simply another example of why your tax bill is so high.

    the speckled door poured a very decent pint of guinness. miss it.

    warren gross

    1. Agreed
      “3) the city to cut this bureaucratic nonsense that kill off or threaten our few remaining businesses. Knock off this round of visitations from fire, licensing, etc… do it once or twice than verify as needed — stop this traffic enforcement debacle that punishes people for simply going in for a slice of pizza, etc…. moderate their behavior at least,”
      Warren G

      Warren, I soft shoed that point. I have had a good number of bar owners ruin my the enjoyment of a frosty one with their complaints about doing business in NR. Complaints, as I as a former bar owner, about excessive enforcement and at times when teh bar is open not in th emiddle of the day when one can fix it before the crowd comes in.

      Safety is paramount but seeking out violations is crimininal. The ghosts of the Peachtree still haunt.

  2. Good Point
    I must say I thought this to be a very interesting posting. At least some light has been shed upon the lack of “development” for this idea.

    As a proponent of a vibrant downtown/entertainment district I appreciate Mr DiBart’s words and more so his efforts. I enjoy NR’s restaurants but when the check comes it a challenge to stay downtown. I do spend as much time and money in NR as possible but when a Larchmont village offers dinner and a few sociable drinks and music in a one stop location it is makes it difficult not to head there. Especially when my weekend nights are limited due to family obligations.

    On top of this it has also been whispered to me that the cabaret enforcement task force makes it difficult on existing bars and pubs.

    I do not think another 1980’s North Avenue is what anybody is looking for but as stated we do need more activity in NR and this is how it starts. There is no substitute for people on the street.

    We are all tired of White Plains comparisons but there was a time (5:30 pm) you could roll a bowling ball down Mamaroneck Ave and not hit anybody. Those days are gone and it is time for NR to do the same. We need to make downtown a destination area at night as well as during the day.

    I am not a commercial property owner but it seems to me it will be up to the landlord’s to stem the tide of storefront churches. Collecting rent is important but revitalizing the city and protecting as well as growing an investment (their) is paramount.

    Listen to New Rochelle News and Views Radio Program
    Thursday Nights at 8pm
    WVOX 1460 am or

    1. running for office
      bruce i have enjoyed and profited from your postings as well as your letters to the editor in past. plus killoran likes you and you are no stranger to raising a pint now and then. virtues all

      can you think about running for office in the city? we need a few good men and women. maybe you even know a few besides yourself if you are too busy, etc, party affiliate may be an issue, but perhaps it can be overcome or perhaps, some other non-teabag way can be found to wake this place up. the blog is fine, but time to go beyond. stay well


Comments are closed.