Problems Identified with Proposed Iona Dormitory

Written By: Peggy Godfrey

In Westchester, April 25, 2013

It appears approval of the final zoning for a proposed Iona dormitory on North Avenue in New Rochelle will be a difficult decision for City Council. The lengthy Council discussion on April 16, 2013 highlighted the reservations council members had, especially about parking facilities and management of the dormitory.
Council members had many concerns about the management of the dormitory by the developer, instead of by Iona. The heights of the two proposed dormitories, seven stories on North Avenue and five stories on Fifth Avenue were not considered ideal. The Committee that had been established to find an alternate to the ten story dormitory that Iona had originally proposed for Mayflower Avenue appeared to place constraints on the City Council.
Just as he did on August 2, 2011, Mayor Noam Bramson took the lead in announcing his support of the current proposal. At a press conference on August 2, 2011 Bramson announced Iona College had voluntarily withdrawn the Mayflower Avenue dormitory proposal but this was to be combined with a City Council decision to increase the local occupancy standards for two years for their dormitories presently at this site. At that time he stated he was “confident” the City Council would pass this increased dormitory occupancy levels even though the plan had not been presented at a City Council meeting.
At the April 16, 2013 meeting, City Manager, Chuck Strome, had suggested another public hearing was needed to revisit some issues with the zoning. He told the Westchester Guardian: “The legislation that was the subject of the first public hearing will be amended so that will requrie another Public Hearing. The changes have not been finalized yet. I expect the new legislation will be presented to City Council in May and they will review it and schedule a Public Hearing in June.”
The “canyon” effect of a seven story building on North Avenue was one aspect of this development that was not considered desirable by the Commissioner of Development, Luis Aragon. Councilman Al Tarantino wanted to know what the minimum height of the building needed should be to “make it worthwhile to build?” Councilman Lou Trangucci asked if the staff could evaluate the “minimum critical mass” that would make the project work. Mentioning the agreement of Iona College, Councilman Jared Rice said they agreed they would not build on President Street if the over occupancy zoning was granted. Trangucci added there is a lot of “anxiety in the neighborhood” over this process.
By far the most contentious issue was the amount of parking needed by students in the proposed dormitories. The Commissioner of Development, Aragon, was asked about his survey of dormitories in other colleges nearby. Instead of reporting his findings on parking he said you can’t use analyses for New Rochelle because every campus and site is different. He continued that no staff member seemed to know where the present zoning of one space for every three students in the dormitory had come from, or for that matter, one parking space for four students in proposed legislation. In his opinion, one parking space for five or six students made sense.
Council woman Shari Rackman spoke as a “mother” suggesting students living on campus have less need for a car, but those living off the campus need a car more. The nearby Iona neighborhoods would be used to park cars. These neighborhoods are already crowded with parked cars. Strome added when the site plan is approved, Iona would have to prove adequate parking is available.
An analytic view of student parking was brought up by Councilman Barry Fertel who wanted to know if the limited amount of parking would discourage cars, or if too many parking spaces would encourage students to bring cars to the college. Councilman Jared Rice thought more stringent rules than one parking space for three students should be created. He suggested North Avenue needed more municipal parking lots.
It had been stated that Iona College provides no campus parking for commuter students. There was a request by Council woman Rackman for the total number of parking spaces Iona has on campus for students. She asked how these parking spaces are distributed, and whether the students that would live in these proposed dormitories could use the on-campus parking. Another hearing could address many of these concerns.