EDITOR’S NOTE: The slideshow above displays photographs taken at low tide in the area of the proposed waterfront promenade, pedestrian bridge and esplanade around the perimeter of the County wastewater treatment plant.
UPDATE: Ken Valenti of the JN got a statement out of New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.
The Echo Bay project would inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy, create new jobs, expand public access to the Long Island Sound shore, create a new park, clean up a contaminated brownfield and deliver a significant net benefit to taxpayers. It has been designated a priority and received funding from Governor Cuomo’s regional economic development council, and has received strong support from the environmental and business communities. If the County Administration does not see a “need for this project” and thinks “the timing may not be right,” then it illustrates either a complete lack of any coherent economic development and environmental strategy, or a County planning process that has been hijacked by politics.
WHITE PLAINS, NY — The Westchester County Planning Board unanimously approved a draft Review of the Echo Bay Center Redevelopment Zoning Text Amendment, Urban Renewal Plan Amendment, Special Permit, Site Plan and Subdivision Approvals Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Tuesday.
The County Planning Board review is significant because they own and operate the sewage treatment plant adjacent to the proposed Echo Bay Development.
The key finding in the review is that Westchester County does not support the location of a residential development adjacent to a vital wastewater treatment plant which is inconsistent with County policies. The report states bluntly “We do not advocate putting any residential use adjacent to a County wastewater treatment plant.”
The approved draft from the Westchester County Planning Board was delivered to the City of New Rochelle Development department yesterday.
The County review takes issue with a key part of the Mayor’s vision for a waterfront promenade, including a pedestrian bridge between the development and the sewage treatment plant and connecting the Echo Bay Development with Five Islands Park by way of a waterfront esplanade around the perimeter of the wastewater treatment plant.
The report states “We are not in favor of any proposed waterfront esplanade around the perimeter of the wastewater treatment plant.”
Other issues raised in the review are concerns about building in a flood zone especially with what happened after super storm Sandy, the lack of clarity involving soil contaminates on the site and changes in the building code that would create a structure that is taller, more massive and denser than would be permitted without variances.
The report takes issue with the City’s claim that Echo Bay is a “downtown project”, noting that it is a long walk from downtown to Echo Bay and that any “open space” goals of the project already exist at the nearby Five Islands Park.
The report also notes that the plan is not presented within the context of planning for other development projects that are related to Echo Bay, in particular moving the City Yard to Beechwood Avenue at a cost of $25 million and the lack of clarity for the Armory since the Good Profit Works deal fell through.
The full text of the Referral Response Letter follows:
- Draft environmental impact statement (EIS), pursuant to SEQR, dated accepted January 29, 2013
- Site plan, dated January 29, 2013
Our understanding of the application, based on these materials, is as follows:
The project site consists of two City-owned tax parcels totaling 9.4 acres, located near the intersection of Main Street and Huguenot street (both one-way roads comprising US Route 1). The larger parcel is 6.5 acres and currently contains the City Yard associated with the Department of Public Works. The smaller parcel is 2.9 acres and contains a vacant armory which was acquired by the City in 1998. Both parcels have frontage along Main Street. The rear of each parcel is the shoreline along Echo Bay. The County-owned New Rochelle Wastewater Treatment Plant (NRWWTP) is located immediately across one of the bay’s inlets from the development site.
The redevelopment of the properties surrounding Echo Bay has been a City initiative since the Main/Echo Urban Renewal Plan was written in 1983. While, at that time, the zoning for this area was industrial, the City reexamined the area in 2002 for residential uses, which culminated in a Feasibility Analysis that concluded that low-rise, high-end residences should be constructed along with niche retail and office space. In 2008, a plan was presented for redevelopment of 26 acres (10 acres of which were in private ownership) including 710 units of housing, 150,000 square feet of retail, 300 hotel rooms, open space and 1,950 parking spaces.
As a result of market conditions, the current proposal is scaled back dramatically. The current project site of 9.4 acres contains only City-owned sites. While the initial proposal included several buildings, the current proposal is for only two buildings. For the City Yard site, a mixed use building is proposed containing 285 apartments (71 studio, 137 one-bedroom, 77 two-bedroom with 10% affordable) and 25,000 square feet of retail space located along Main Street. Parking for the residential and retail uses would be in a garage built into the slope of the site, screened by the retail and residential amenity space. Above the parking will be an internal courtyard that begins at the first level of residential space. The adjacent Armory site would be developed by a separate organization, with the goal of preserving and repurposing the Armory building. (The armory had been proposed to be demolished under the 2008 plan.)
While the draft EIS references a “letter of agreement” between the City and a developer named “Good Profit” to repurpose the building as a farmers market with restaurant space, it is our understanding from recent news articles that this agreement has expired, leaving the exact plans for the Armory uncertain.
Regardless of the exact plans for the Armory, the overall site plan shows open space at the rear of each parcel, providing public open space along Echo Bay. This would feature a public waterfront esplanade along the shore and a small non-motorized boat launch. Parking for this open space would be provided with 45 spaces at grade on the Armory parcel, behind the building. A pedestrian bridge is proposed to connect the esplanade to the NRWWTP parcel, but an exact route for continued pedestrian access is not discussed in the draft EIS.
APPLICATION REVIEW SUMMARY
- We are concerned about the need for this project. While there are a number of project aspects that we are supportive of, this must be balanced against other factors, to determine if this project is a good investment.
- Given the uncertainty of other development projects in the surrounding area, the timing may not be right to start developing this vision of Echo Bay.
- While the project appears to be consistent with local planning policies and documents, the fact that zoning amendments are being requested may indicate the size of the project may not be as consistent with the City’s original vision
- While there are aspects of the project that have consistency with Westchester 2025, the location of a residential development adjacent to a vital wastewater treatment plant is not consistent with County policies
- We do not advocate putting any residential use adjacent to a County wastewater treatment plant
- We are not in favor of any proposed waterfront esplanade around the perimeter of the wastewater treatment plant. A discussion must be undertaken with WCDEF concerning the proposed pedestrian bridge between the development and the plant.
- Because work is shown on County sewer infrastructure within the site, this must be coordinated with WCDEF
- The draft EIS correctly notes that increased sewage flows from the site into the County sewer system should be offset through inflow and infiltration (I&I) mitigation.
- The applicant must contact the County Department of Public Works and Transportation regarding Bee-Line bus service to the site.
- Sufficient space should be set aside on the site to accommodate the storage of recyclables under the recently expanded County recycling law.
Consistency with County Planning Board policies
Impacts to County facilities and services.
COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Project need. The benefits of the proposed redevelopment, as stated in the draft EIS, include:
Take the critical first step in redevelopment of the Echo Bay area;
Clean up contaminated land on City’s waterfront;
Activate a central piece of New Rochelle with open access to the Long Island Sound;
Restore approximately 10 acres of underutilized waterfront land to a productive and attractive use for long term benefit of City residents;
Enhance the long-term sustainability of the Bay through stormwater improvements,
Water-enhanced uses and ecological restoration;
Open view corridors to the bay from Main Street;
Make available waterfront land for public use and activity;
Increase retail activity on East Main Street; and
Enable options for future use by others of the Armory.
While the above are laudable goals, they should be balanced with potential public costs and area impacts. We note that the Echo Bay redevelopment represents a significant expense to the public. The draft EIS mentions $25 million in City-backed general obligation bonds that will be sold to finance the relocation of the City Yard. The payment of taxes would be replaced with a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) set up by the New Rochelle IDA. Potential impacts are discussed by subject below.
The draft EIS appears to describe the Echo Bay redevelopment as a part of downtown New Rochelle, in terms of project purpose and need. We disagree with this assessment, noted on page III-5: “The Project provides downtown New Rochelle with a ‘toe in the water’ via a mixed-use building and public open space amenities with its front door on Main Street and its backyard in Echo Bay.” However, the site is separated from the downtown core of New Rochelle by several car dealerships, strip fast food restaurants and a windowless mall. It is a lengthy walk across this area to the transit center. Given this distance and separation, the Echo Bay project is not a downtown project. In light of this, perhaps the open space goals of the project already exist at the nearby Five Islands Park.
2. Uncertainty of other developments impacting the proposed plan. It is our longstanding belief that that the most successful developments are the ones that are planned for comprehensively. While the Echo Bay project represents a City-owned site with redevelopment potential, it is not presented within the context of planning for other development projects that are related to Echo Bay. Two uncertainties are at the forefront of this concern:
RELOCATION OF CITY YARD
While the draft EIS identifies a site on Beechwood Avenue where the City Yard would be relocated to, the draft EIS does not specify a timeline for the move, the acreage of the proposed site and a cost. While the draft EIS notes the November 2012 approval for $25 million of City general obligation bonds, as well as a $2.5 million contribution from the applicant, to be applied to a new yard, the full cost is not disclosed and it appears to be uncertain when this could happen.
Because the draft EIS was unable to articulate an exact proposal for the Armory, the draft EIS contained numerous alternative proposals of how the mixed-use building could relate to the Armory, regardless of what is developed. As a result, the draft EIS ultimately describes the proposed mixed-use building as a stand-alone project. This may not be the best strategy to create a comprehensive vision for Echo Bay, particularly since the draft EIS notes that any Armory proposal could also include the Nelstad and Mancuso parcels, located immediately behind the Armory parcel. The recent withdrawal of the Good Profit plans for the Armory adds more uncertainty to the City’s overall vision for Echo Bay.
3. Consistency with local plans and zoning. The proposed mixed-use building and associated open space appear to be consistent with planning documents that the City has produced over the years, including the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and the City Harbor Management Plan. In addition the Main/Echo Urban Renewal Plan calls for high-density residential development on the site. According to the draft EIS, the Urban Renewal Plan is the only local document that requires amending to permit the project, since the project calls for mixed use featuring retail; the Urban Renewal Plan does not call for retail and restaurant uses on the site. We support the proposed amendment as we believe the site would benefit from a mix of uses.
We note that the City zoning code does not currently permit the density proposed in the project. The applicant is seeking a number of zoning text amendments to increase the density and size of the proposed building. In particular, the applicant is seeking to increase the maximum allowable building height to 65 feet within 300 feet of Main Street (currently 50). Allowable building height beyond 300 feet of Main Street would be increased to four stories (currently three) with a maximum height of 55 feet (currently 30). Floor-area-ratio (FAR) is proposed to be increased to 1.25 (currently 0.75) and the minimum lot area per dwelling requirement would be deleted. The resulting changes would allow a structure that is taller, more massive and denser than would be permitted in the PWD-5 – Planned Waterfront (5 story) District.
We encourage the City to consider the scale of proposed zoning changes in the context of surrounding development and potential future development. As now presented, the large and tall Echo Bay building will be developed in relative isolation, since none of the other surrounding parcels appear to have viable projects at this time.
4. Consistency with County Planning Board policies. The draft EIS correctly points out that the proposed development is consistent with a number of the policies of Westchester 2025, particularly with respect to providing affordable housing and increasing access to open space. The proposed building design, which will contribute to the pedestrian streetscape on Main Street, with parking screened from view inside the building, is also consistent with Westchester 2025.
The policies of Westchester 2025 also call for the support of vital facilities. In this case, the County owned New Rochelle Wastewater Treatment Plan (NRWWTP) is immediately adjacent to the project site and is undergoing a capital improvement to expand the facility. While the draft EIS states that “the project would not be incompatible with the facility,” we caution that residential uses may not be a complimentary use to the plant.
5. Bridge to wastewater treatment plant. The draft EIS describes a proposed pedestrian bridge, across one of the bay’s inlets, to connect the waterfront esplanade on the project site to the NRWWTP. Such a connection would facilitate a stated goal for the project of providing “a physical connection of the project site with Five Islands Park through the WWTP parcel.”
The County Department of Environmental Facilities has stated that a waterfront esplanade around the water-side perimeter of the plant, as had been shown in the prior 2008 plan, is not feasible based on plant operations. Locating a pathway parallel to the north boundary of the plant parcel so as to connect the bridge and Le Fevres Lane is theoretically possible, however a discussion must be undertaken with DEF concerning such a connection.
6. Proposed work on County sewer infrastructure. The draft EIS notes that the site contains easements accommodating both City and County sanitary sewer infrastructure. In particular, the draft EIS notes that the applicant is proposing the reconstruction of a County concrete interception chamber as a part of the construction. DEF must be contacted regarding this proposed work.
7. County sewer impacts. The draft EIS notes that sewer demands created by the new development are between 45,000 and 50,000 gallons per day. This increase will add to the volume of sewage flow requiring treatment at the NRWWTP. As a matter of County Department of Environmental Facilities’ policy, the applicant must provide reductions in inflow/infiltration (I&I) at a ratio of three for one. The draft EIS correctly notes this policy.
8. Bee-line bus service. Bee-Line bus stop #2387 is located along the site’s frontage with Main Street, at the intersection with Stephenson Boulevard. This bus stop, which is currently a basic stop with only a bus stop sign, provides access to Bee-Line Route 60. The plans should be revised to show the location of this stop. We recommend that the applicant contact the County Department of Public Works and Transportation (WCDPW&T) regarding Bee-Line bus service to the site. Given that the proposed use of the site is changing from a City Yard to a mixed-use development, changes to the bus stop may be warranted or desired. In addition, changes in traffic management, though the addition of proposed traffic signals on Main Street should be brought to the attention of WCDPW&T as it could impact bus operations in the immediate area.
9. Location within flood zone. The draft EIS notes that a substantial portion of the development site is located within a flood zone. This has been confirmed again by the recently released FEMA flood advisory maps. This is a major concern with the proposed development given the storm surge that occurred in some parts of our region as part of superstorm Sandy. The architectural drawings do not show the proposed building to be raised above grade. It would appear that a storm surge could severely damage units located in “panhandle” of the development that extends towards the water’s edge. The final EIS should address this issue and identify the precautions the applicant intends to take to reduce flood risk. We note the draft EIS describes shoreline stabilization along with plantings as the only measure currently proposed. We do not believe this to be enough to prevent storm surge events, particularly given the Stephenson Brook outfall, which is also adjacent to the site.
10. Site remediation. The draft EIS notes that there are several known contaminants on both the Armory and City Yard sites. The City Yard site, in particular, given that it has operated as a public works facility for almost 100 years, has many known and potential contaminants. The draft EIS states that the full level of contamination is not yet known and that a Phase II environmental site assessment investigation will occur between the draft and final EIS stage of the SEQR review. This level of uncertainty raises a concern that the site may be found to be difficult to remediate for residential purposes. The draft EIS does not identify a cost or a funding source for this work (beyond likely participation in the NYSDEC brownfield cleanup program). The feasibility and expense of the cleanup should be addressed in greater detail in the final EIS.
11. Provisions for recycling. As more detailed plans are developed, the City should request the applicant to verify that sufficient storage measures are provided to accommodate the expanded County recycling program that includes plastics with numbers 1 through 7. New County regulations for plastic recycling may be found at http://environment.westchestergov.com
12. Green building technology. We commend the application for proposing green building technology as part of the proposed building. The draft EIS indicates that LEED Silver certification will be sought. We support this effort.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this matter.
WESTCHESTER COUNTY PLANNING BOARD