Echo Bay Meeting Offers View into Local Politics

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The Public Hearing at New Rochelle City Hall last night (7/23/13) provided a fascinating look into the strength, courage and conviction of our citizens and the politicians whose personal agendas continue to take precedence over the good of the community. More than 50 people spoke for approximately three hours at the public hearing, with more than 80% of them strongly opposed to the project. Each speaker was allotted only three minutes to speak, which is hardly enough time to express all this is wrong with this development.

Although I spoke last night, I didn’t have an opportunity to finish as the clock ran out. While I submitted my prepared remarks to the City Clerk to be included in the public record, I want to share them with the public as well. I encourage everyone who spoke at the meeting to publish their statements as well.

Prepared Statement Read and Submitted by Howard Stevens on 7/23/2013:

As I said when the DEIS was released, New Rochelle receives the vast majority of its revenue from residential taxes. Given the economic hardships that our city is facing, why do you remain focused on developing more residential?

Given our city’s financial hardships and the threat of a downgrade by Moody’s rating agency, how can you continue to believe that relocating city yard, building more residential housing and saddling taxpayers with an additional $25-30 million in debt is fiscally responsible?

Forest city has stated that their expected return for this project is 6-7%. That’s their expected annual operating return… What is their expected capital gain when they sell the building in five years?

Are you aware that FC is currently selling other property in the neighborhood? How does that impact your understanding of their commitment to subsequent phases of the broader Echo Bay revitalization plan?

As its evident that FC’s real intent is to purchase land from the city for a De Minimis amount, perform minimal environmental remediation, secure a 20 year tax abatement and sell the rental property as quickly as possible, it has been suggested that the city negotiate a claw back provision, rendering the abatement null and void in the event of a sale of the property. According to forest city representatives, the city Council still hasn’t even asked for this concession. Isn’t granting a 20-year tax abatement for residential development, without any clawback provision, knowing that they will likely sell this property within a few years, an abdication of your fiscal responsibilities?

Given that Moody’s has indicated they would downgrade New Rochelle if we borrow $25 million for this project, why do you believe that it’s fiscally responsible to finance this project off the balance sheet? Isn’t that a blatant attempt to finance this project under the nose of the ratings agencies?

As the new Rochelle IDA has one of the worst track records in New York State (according to the NYS Comptroller’s office) and in fact didn’t even file the required financial reports this year, Wouldn’t you agree that it might not be prudent to partner with them on such risky off-balance sheet financing?

Many, if not most of the most critical and serious comments in response to the DEIS are not addressed in the FEIS. They are enumerated, but not actually addressed.

The NewRo planning board and the Westchester County planning board expressed numerous concerns which are both dutifully noted in the FEIS and artfully dismissed, such as….

“The entry to that walkway is not adequately designed to invite the public into the space ; the proposal “walls off’ the development to the public.”

The FEIS states… “The Project Site includes various setbacks and infrastructure constraints that influence the location of the building, driveways and pedestrian access entry to the waterfront esplanade.”

The Planning Board notes that “Out of 524 new residents, 22 children seems low.”

The FEIS responds, The proposed Project described and analyzed in the DEIS is expected to generate approximately 22 public school students.

The Planning Departments expresses their concern regarding the boat launch “given that a substantial portion of Echo Bay near the shore is a mud flat at low tide.”

The FEIS’s responds by noting that Non-motorized boating activity in Echo Bay from the proposed boat launch would be limited by tides.

The Planning Department states that “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”

The FEIS response… Comment noted.

In Summary, The FEIS doesn’t sufficiently address many of the comments in response to the DEIS. The project itself is not fiscally advisable, nor in the best interest of New Rochelle or its citizens. We’re not building this development because New Rochelle needs another Park; both Hudson Park and Five Islands straddle either side of Echo Bay. We’re not building this because it’s going to open up the waterfront—the Planning Board has indicated that it actually walls off the waterfront. We’re not building this because we need more residential rental apartments; we don’t. The fact of the matter is, this project is nothing more than capricious use of taxpayer funds to build off-campus housing for Monroe College and bolster the political campaigns of a select few.

Not surprisingly, according to Public Campaign Finance records, almost every executive at Monroe College donated to the Mayors last campaign as well as Councilmember Rackman’s. In fact, contributions from the Monroe Administration represented over 40% of Councilmember Rackman’s total campaign donations.

The only beneficiaries of this project are the real estate developers and the political careers of a few members of this council. Given all we know about this project, Do members of the Council really think you can vote in favor of this project and still win another election?

3 thoughts on “Echo Bay Meeting Offers View into Local Politics”

  1. The Mayor’s Comments…
    Having re-watched the Mayor’s comments at the end of the hearing, I can’t decide if he is intentionally, or unintentionally, missing the point. He talks about difference of opinion, and how in his opinion this is good for the City. While he is correct in that there are differences of opinion, and the majority of voters elected him to exercise is best judgement in stewarding our City, a difference of opinion was only one of the points raised at the meeting, and perhaps the least important point. Many of the serious objections to this project, stem from inaccuracies in the FEIS, unrealistic assumptions about revenue and cost projects, ineffective negotiations with the developer, irresponsible fiscal decisions (such as off-balance sheet financing), inadequately addressed concerns from City and County planning boards, and the reality that the costs associated with this project will be unfairly shouldered by the taxpayers of New Rochelle.

    So while the mayor says that he appreciates everyone’s hard work in analyzing the FEIS, and is proud of the passion and commitment to our City, it is hard to believe his sincerity, when at the end of it all, his key take-away is “let’s agree to disagree”, rather than “You raise a number of excellent points that Forest City hasn’t adequately addressed, and before this process is done we will absolutely make sure that the numbers are accurate, the projections have been independently vetted, the concerns more thoroughly addressed, and the deal more diligently negotiated so ensure that New Rochelle is not financially exposed to any unanticipated risk.”

    That’s not a matter of opinion, Mr. Mayor, that’s what we elected you to do.

    1. The Mayor’s response….
      Having emailed the mayor this morning something very similar to what I posted above; essentially asking him to “ensure that this deal is based on realistic assumptions that ensure that the City of New Rochelle is not adversely impacted in any way from this deal…. Please do not let us down.” His response was essentially “No Comment”. Well at least now we now…. he intentionally missed the point!

  2. New Rochelle Citizens at a Disadvantage from the start!
    Comments from July 23, 2013 Public Hearing FEIS:

    Developers buy land, finance real estate deals, control and orchestrate the process of development from beginning to end. They build the structure, lease, manage and ultimately selling it. Their people do the studies and responses for the FEIS. A response, a statement, not answers with facts to back them up, just that response. That is all that is required of them. The questions were not answered.

    Many of you still had questions. Stop these procedural votes. The disadvantage this puts the citizens at is not fair and equal treatment. Two weeks to review the FEIS is troublesome.

    Council this is our only chance to speak on the record. If there were still questions as there obviously were a vote should not have been approved for public hearings. I am sure all questions were not answered during the break before the 7:15 Vote, so you should not have voted yes.

    There was a discussion of the Risk, what if the numbers don’t fall as projected. We have already seen tax abatements and promises in action. This deal is not a fit for that property.

    Look at all the projects that have been on the table over the years. They all follow the same path and methods towards approval, Iona Dorms, Avalon, Trump, New Roc, Monroe College, and The Armory. Echo Bay dates back to 2008, multiple changes and at least three different development commissioners with no new RFP’s, just extended MOU’s.

    Think about all of the new development projects that have turned over to new or different ownership. They remain half empty with major tax abatements and incorrect data from the same flawed process.

    Parts New Roc Have changed from Cappeli, no retail as promised and we lost an ice rink. New Roc Marriott has changed; New Roc Lofts had made several changes. Le Count/The Post office site is not moving anywhere. Avalon 1 has changed hands and Avalon 2 is looking to change I believe. They have students that may move out if the poor planning of their dorms gets approved. Trump? Who knows what is happening there you keep hearing a different tail.

    The process is flawed, The result of all these developments has been and continues to be that of confrontation, debate, petitions, hearings and a lack of true input by the community. The community should be put first at all times. It is time you listened to the people you serve.

    Don’t vote to accept the FEIS. Give it the time necessary to get it right. Vote for one thing and that is a new RFP/RFI for the entire area of Echo Bay.

    Get it right, not fast.
    We only have one shot at this.

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