A public hearing was held at last week’s White Plains Common Council meeting in relation to an application submitted by Armonk-based Saber-North White Plains LLC for a special permit, site plan approval and removal of the special setback for a $120 million development at 70 Westchester Avenue.
The proposed project looks to transform 70 Westchester Avenue into a mixed-use development consisting of three buildings containing 175 apartment units, approximately 15,000 square feet of streetscape retail, restaurant and motor vehicle sales space and related parking and infrastructure.
Eleven of the 175 units will be affordable at 80 Area Median Income (AMI) and 10 units will be bought out through the White Plains Affordable Housing Assistance Fund.
“This is a very important site as it sits in between a commercialized area and a residential area,” said Mark Schulman, the project’s architect.
The site will include three buildings: a four-story residential building over a podium of commercial space, a single-level restaurant space and eight levels of residential space over three levels of parking. A pedestrian pathway through the site will link residents and the Franklin Avenue community to commercial Westchester Avenue.
Two different zonings make up the site, B-3 and RM-0.35, and as a result, the redevelopment of 70 Westchester is slightly more complicated, said Mark Weingarten, Partner at DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr LLP, who is representing Saber-North.
Saber-North requested special permit approvals to increase the building height in both the B-3 and RM-0.35 district, to relocate 19 dwelling units from the front zoning in B-3, to increase the coverage in the RM-0.35 district, remove a special front yard setback along Westchester Avenue and get a special permit for a motor vehicle retail space.
Weingarten also highlighted the public benefits of the site in addressing the Common Council.
“We’ll remind you that this is a blighted property that will be cleaned up, as it is an environmentally-contaminated site that has been accepted into the New York State Brownfield [Cleanup Program], so that is a benefit to the community,” Weingarten said.
In addition, Weingarten emphasized the site’s public walkway, which will create connectivity between the Franklin Avenue neighborhood and Westchester Avenue, its manicured public parks, a public dog park and open public outdoor space for eating.
Saber-North has conducted outreach to local co-ops, condos and neighborhood groups, as well as spoken to the local building trades.
“I think that using local labor and union labor when we can in these situations is certainly something that would be positive for our city,” Councilman Justin Brasch said.
Brasch also underscored that because solar energy is now economically beneficial and we are in a climate crisis, he would like to see the project implement solar panels as much as possible. Weingarten said that they are currently evaluating the site to determine the feasibility of solar panels.
Council President Nadine Hunt-Robinson expressed concerns about pedestrian safety.
“It’s all about walkability,” Hunt-Robinson said. “I want people to feel safe, so help me feel comfortable that people are safe, as I’m seeing the pedestrian walkways overlapping with the roundabouts.”
Schulman said that they have considered pedestrian safety extensively in this project proposal, designing it so the primary pathway for pedestrians to get up to Franklin Avenue will be on the development’s eastern side, which is much quieter and will have no vehicular traffic along that edge.
“We divide our sidewalks into zones,” Schulman said, noting that parked cars will serve as a buffer between moving cars and pedestrians walking.
There will also be a zone for outdoor seating and planters, which will serve as an additional buffer.
“I completely understand the concern, but that has been addressed in this proposal,” Schulman said.
White Plains resident and member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 Mark Lalloo said that while he commends the development proposal for including 11 affordable units, he would like to see additional units being considered as opposed to the buyouts.
“This is a great opportunity to have actual affordable housing because the residents of White Plains could use it,” Lalloo said.
Mayor Tom Roach responded to Lalloo saying the money from the buyouts would be used to create affordable housing, both at Brookfield Commons, the former Winbrook Houses site, and the Lake Street Apartments. The funds, Roach said, can also be used to create additional affordable housing in White Plains, including building projects that are entirely affordable.
“I’m not saying the buyout is not going to give us affordable housing, but this is a great location to have that affordable housing,” Lalloo said.
Lalloo also spoke on the importance of green space, using the City Center as an example.
“It has open space, but in terms of actual living, green, growing things, there’s not much there,” Lalloo said. “So that’s something to consider.”