NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Iona College has filed what is sure to become a controverial request to merge 12 tax parcels in the Beechmont Section of New Rochelle which would alter the residential character of the neighborhood.
If approved, properties along Beechmont Drive, Montgomery Place and Pryer Terrace would be merged with Iona’s main campus to create one contagious property that would significantly increase the allowable density while giving the college maximum flexibility to complete its master plan without getting approval from the City Council.
The request comes in just under the wire, several weeks after a Public Hearing on the changes in early September and days before the New Rochelle City Council was preparing to discuss and possibly vote on amendments to the Zoning Code in keeping with the City’s proposed Comprehensive Plan.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Resolution 233, amending the City Code to require a special permit for schools to merge tax lots in residential districts was adopted unanimously by City Council on November 15, 2016. By City policy, a moratorium on tax lot mergers by schools went into effect from when the Public Hearing was scheduled on July 12 until the resolution was adopted. The City can now act on the tax lot merger request under the amendmended City Code.]
In a letter filed on November 10th, Iona College listed 11 properties it seeks to merge with 715 North Avenue — all in continuous college related use since prior to 1999, according to the letter:
- 3-101 5-0014 (33 Beechmont Drive)
- 3-1015-0020 (45 Beechmont Drive)
- 3-1015-0026 (59 Beechmont Drive)
- 3-1015-0032 (71 Beechmont Drive)
- 3-1015-0040 (85 Beechmont Drive)
- 3-1015-0045 (91 Beechmont Drive)
- 3-1015-0054 (19 Montgomery Place)
- 3-1015-0058 (29 Montgomery Place)
- 3-1 015-0065 (41 Montgomery Place)
- 3-1015-0071 (53 Montgomery Place)
- 3-1 02 4-0021 (33 Pryer Terrace)
The filing appears to be in anticipation of the New Rochelle City Council adopting a proposed amendment to Section 331-91 of City of New Rochelle’s Zoning Code which would require a special permit “for a new or the expansion of an existing university, college and private school campus in residential districts on property that had not been previously used for any purposes related to the university, college or private school” where “expansion shall include the merger of lots adjacent to the existing campus.”
In a second letter, sent of November 14th by an attorney representing the college Iona asserts that the amendment is unfair because it discriminates against colleges seeking to merge tax lots.
“The proposed amendment appears to be discriminatory as to colleges,” wrote Iona College attorney James Staudt, in a letter to the New Rochelle City Council. “It sets up special rules applying only to colleges for them to obtain tax lot mergers.”
The exact scope of the changes that would result from the tax lot merger is complex but centers on what amounts to altering the floor area ratio for each of the 11 tax lots because those small lots would become part of one large lot, changing set back requirements and effectively allowing the college to build on the larger unified tax parcel “as of right” without City Council approval.
Iona College announced a series of major campus projects in January 2014 including a new seven-story residence hall at the former site of the Mirage Diner (since completed), and “a new School of Business building, expansion and renovation of the science building, creation of a performing arts venue, and a reconfigured arena complex in the existing Hynes Athletics Center.” Sources tell Talk of the Sound plans also include a new parking structure at the corner of North Avenue and Beechmont Drive. Iona College did not respond to requests for comment.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Iona College responded the day after the article ran, they added a comment below, they stated they have no plans to build a parking structure at the corner of North and Beechmont]
The conversion of traditional single-family homes to campus structures would fundamentally alter the residential appearance of the neighborhood.
Iona claims that the proposed amendment to Section 331-91 of the City Zone Code could “substantially diminish its vested property rights” and requests that enactment of the amendment be “postponed pending further discussion between the City and the College.”
The topic was on the agenda for Tuesday November 15th but pulled from the agenda at the last minute.
Iona College stated in its November 14 letter, that although they are aware that the proposed zoning changes have been pending for some months, the College “only became aware of this law recently.”
The college offered to withdraw its tax lot merger application if the City would agrees to withdraw the amendment to Section 331-91 “to give the College a reasonable period of time to discuss with the City the issues that have given rise to the law, and possible solutions that will not be so harmful to the College.”
The proposed changes to the Zoning Code are the result of years of community input, work by city staff and the City Council.
In 2010, the City Council adopted GreeNR a sustainability plan for the City of New Rochelle. As a step towards fulling the sustainability objectives expressed in GreeNR, the City held a series of visioning sessions in 2012 and input from these sessions, expressed in EnvisioNR, which served as the starting point for the Comprehensive Plan update that began in 2015.
On April 26, 2016 , the City published its Comprehensive Plan Public Hearing Draft, a collaboration with the New Rochelle Department of Development and planning consultants.
On June 3, 2016 Luiz C. Aragon, Commissioner of Development, recommended to City Council that they hold a Public Hearing relative to the Draft Comprehensive Plan and related amendments to the Zoning Code and Map. The matter was on the agenda for June 14, 2016 and again the subject of a recommendation from Aragon to hold a Public Hearing relative to the Draft Comprehensive Plan and related amendments to the Zoning Code and Map on September 12, 2016.
On July 12, 2016 the City Council promulgated a Public Hearing Notice For Proposed Amendment To Chapter 331, Zoning, Re: Various Sections. The hearing notice was published in the Journal News on August 23, August 24 and August 25.
The Public Hearing notice was made with regard to amendments to various sections of Section 331-91 including Section 15 which pertains to Iona College:
§ 331-85.1 Establishment of a new or expansion of existing universities, colleges and private school campuses in residential districts.
B. A special permit shall be required for a new or the expansion of an existing university, college and private school campus in residential districts on property that had not been previously used for any purposes related to the university, college or private school. Expansion shall include the merger of lots adjacent to the existing campus.
At the subsequent televised public hearing on September 12, a dozen people addressed City Council. Most speakers focused on a changes in the Waterfront District. No speakers raised any issues about the area around Iona College or the merger of tax lots.
UPDATE 11/17: Statement from Mayor Noam Bramson.
“If a merger is permitted by the City Council, I would expect it to be conditioned on preservation of land use patterns that complement and protect the adjacent neighborhood. The special permit provisions in our zoning code allow for such conditions. In other words, how the property is used is more important than the merger per se. As always, we are ready to work cooperatively with Iona in order to align college and community needs and interests.”