Downtown Vision Takes ShapeFebruary 6, 2014
Fresh on the heels of the transit-oriented development plan presented to the City Council last month, this week we received a comprehensive traffic analysis (download warning – it’s a big file) chock full of interesting recommendations. Together, these two reports help refine our vision for downtown New Rochelle, a vision based on smart growth, better access for pedestrians and cyclists, and stronger connections between neighborhoods, businesses, and the waterfront.
Like all conceptual plans, this one needs to be distilled into practical steps, which means setting priorities, establishing a logical sequence, and determining how improvements can and should be funded. I expect that there will be lots of discussion about some of the report’s more creative suggestions for re-routing traffic.
This spring, after we receive one more study from Columbia University, the City is likely to invite developers to submit their proposals. The key will be striking a balance between our idealized vision and the economic realities of the marketplace. Take a look at the traffic study.
To Mulch or Not to MulchJanuary 29, 2014
Every year, the City of New Rochelle spends about $250,000 to collect piles of leaves and then another $160,000 to dispose of those leaves. Despite our best efforts, we do only a fair to middling job of it – depending on conditions each season, leaves might remain on the road well into the winter, obstructing traffic, blocking storm drains, and generally making a mess of things.
Are there better ways to handle leaves? Well, if you look at this example from the Town of Greenburgh, the answer is a resounding yes.
Greenburgh, which is similar to New Rochelle in many respects, recently discontinued the practice of picking up loose piles of leaves and required instead that leaves be bagged or placed in a container for pickup. At the same time, Greenburgh residents and gardeners were encouraged to mulch their leaves, instead of disposing of them. Mulching leaves in place makes for healthier lawns – and it’s neither harder nor more costly than traditional lawn care.
Here in New Rochelle, this policy was recommended by the Citizens’ Panel on Sustainable Budgets back in 2012. We’ve also utilized a grant from the Westchester Community Foundation to help promote mulching. But the City Council has stopped short of suspending leaf pile pickup, recognizing that public reaction would be mixed.
I think it is time to revisit the issue. As we continue looking for ways to balance our budget, requiring that leaves be bagged or mulched might be one of the few service “cuts” that actually promotes a safer, more attractive and more environmentally-friendly community – and we’d save at least $300,000 a year. Moreover, Greenburgh’s experience illustrates that concerns about a change in policy can be successfully addressed.
I’ve put the subject on the Council’s agenda this month for discussion purposes. If there’s interest and enough public support, the Council could consider action later in the year. Take a look at the case study from Greenburgh and let me know what you think.
TOD! (What’s That?)January 15, 2014
Yesterday, the City Council received the results of a TOD Study prepared by our development staff and consultants.
I know what you’re thinking – what the heck is a TOD Study? Well, TOD stands for Transit-Oriented Development, a term much-used these days by planners and developers. But whether you call it TOD, Smart Growth, or the New Urbanism, it all comes down to pretty much the same thing: build near the train station.
TOD is vital to New Rochelle’s future. By attracting development to the area surrounding our transit hub, we can strengthen our local economy, expand our tax base, create new jobs, and enhance our civic image. In fact, the capacity to absorb growth near a transit hub is among New Rochelle’s biggest selling points when it comes to attracting investment, especially as we look ahead to a new link between Metro-North and Penn Station.
TOD is also vital to the future of our region (and country.) Why? Compared to car-dependent new subdivisions or office parks at the periphery of metropolitan areas, growth in areas served by mass transit is much more energy efficient, costs less to build and service, reduces commute times, and facilitates the preservation of open space.
New Rochelle has already done quite a bit to promote TOD, with significant success, but we’re far from achieving our potential, which means there are still great opportunities ahead.
The devil, as always, is in the detail. It can be a challenge simply to agree on goals for height, density and use, let alone take the specific, sometimes difficult steps, necessary to achieve those goals.
That’s why a careful planning study can be such an important tool. The TOD Study presented yesterday looked carefully at land use and transportation patterns, and then suggested the general contours for a reshaped downtown. Six potential development clusters were identified, including: the North Avenue Gateway (between Memorial Circle and I-95), the Central Corridor (between I-95 and the Metro-North tracks), Crossroads (the heart of the downtown, near the intersection of Huguenot and North), the West Gateway (where Huguenot and Main meet near Pintard), the East Gateway (around Echo Bay and Faneuil Park), and the I-95 Gateway (near the end of Palmer Avenue.)
As you review this document, please keep in mind that the proposals are strictly conceptual. A real project would need detailed architectural treatment, uses that reflect the realities of the market, and a configuration shaped by land acquisition and other vital factors. Some of the concepts in the study could be pursued in the near-term, while others are more distant.
These recommendations must now be linked to other planning documents, including a parallel analysis that New Rochelle is undertaking with Columbia University, a traffic study, and the City’s updated Comprehensive Plan. Together, these could serve as the basis for changes in our zoning code and for master development agreements. More to come.
Looking Forward to a New YearJanuary 9, 2014
Catie, the kids and I had some wonderful time together as a family during the holidays, and we hope that you and yours also enjoyed the season.
After November’s election, I took a little break from sending mass emails and posting to social media. Now with a new year upon us, I’d like to start sharing information again about civic and political issues here in New Rochelle and elsewhere. (But don’t worry — I won’t send notes as frequently as we did during the campaign.)
I am feeling refreshed and energized as we look ahead to 2014, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with you and so many other friends.
Have a Happy New Year!