• State of the City 2014

    March 20, 2014

    NR-seal-smI just finished delivering my annual State of the City address to a packed house.  Here is copy of my prepared remarks.  Or you can view this webcast.

    Every year, I try to make the most of this occasion by celebrating  accomplishments, confronting challenges, and establishing goals.  It’s a good way to set a course for the months ahead.

    I feel privileged to share thoughts with colleagues, neighbors, and friends — and, of course, welcome your feedback.

    The Next Step

    March 12, 2014

    Development Opportunities Slide copyWith studies on transit-oriented growth and traffic patterns completed, the City is now poised to take the next step by seeking a “master” developer for multiple sites around Main Street and the New Rochelle train station.

    Compared to the traditional project review and approval process, master development agreements typically encompass a wider range of locations, a greater degree of flexibility, and an enhanced public-private partnership during initial planning stages.  It’s a model that’s proven successful in many places, but is new to New Rochelle.

    As this week’s presentation to the City Council illustrates, there’s a lot we can put into play, with publicly-owned properties serving as the core of potentially larger redevelopment areas.

    We expect to issue a Request for Qualifications for master developers by May of this year, with the aim of making a selection around the end of summer.  The redevelopment process itself will, of course, take much longer, and include extensive community input, as we work to match an idealized vision with the realities of the marketplace.

    The City Council is unanimous in its enthusiasm for this approach, a level of consensus we rarely experience when it comes to economic development.  I am excited, too, about the possibilities.  But it’s important to keep in mind that putting shovels in the ground will inevitably entail compromises and trade-offs – and that’s when the choices become more difficult.

    The presentation to Council also noted options for the Echo Bay waterfront.  With the prior proposal from Forest City now set aside, the Council must determine how to proceed.  The big immediate questions concern the scope of properties to be included in a future development agreement and whether competition should be open to all interested parties or initially limited to developers who have already submitted proposals of one kind or another.  The Council is still wrestling with these issues, but is likely to make some determinations soon.

    Downtown Vision Takes Shape

    February 6, 2014
    Proposed Circulation Pattern at Train Station

    Proposed Circulation Pattern at Train Station

    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 Mulch

    January 29, 2014

    LeavesEvery 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.