The opening of the combined public hearings on the petition submitted by WP Development NB, LLC, to amend the White Plains Zoning Ordinance to create a new Planned Residential Development Zoning District and amend the Zoning Map classification from RM-1.5 to Planned Residential Development, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the property at 52 N. Broadway, the former Good Counsel campus, attracted a large crowd to Council Chambers on June 4.
Mayor Tom Roach noted at the opening of the hearing that it would definitely be adjourned to July 2 and could possibly go to August.
William Null, an attorney with the White Plains-based law firm Cuddy and Feder representing the developer, presented the alternative option for development of the site, reducing the original proposed height of the apartment complex at the rear of the property from 140 feet to 110 feet and reducing residential unit densities for the rental apartments, the Sunrise senior residential facility and Pace Law School student housing.
The alternative plan, which focuses on preserving the expansive green space and front lawn views from North Broadway, keeps the Chapel of the Divine Compassion on the site at its existing location. The Mapleton House (the grey Victorian-style house to the right of the chapel when viewed from N. Broadway) would be moved to another location on the site and a portion of the existing convent would be preserved; turned into a museum dedicated to the historic significance of the property and the story of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion and their founders who are buried in a crypt within the chapel on the site.
Many of the residents speaking during the hearing came from the taller apartment buildings on Stewart Place (notably 10 and 15 Stewart Place), which face the back of the proposed development site where the large apartment building would be constructed. These residents were concerned about the construction of a large building obstructing their views as well as traffic congestion and safety issues on local streets in the neighborhood.
Ross Street, which is narrow with tight corners and faces the proposed development site, was mentioned several times as residents described the potential for severe problems with truck traffic if the proposed service entrance to the new apartment building was built directly across from existing parking areas.
Speakers also referenced a November 2017 letter from the Westchester County Planning Department that suggested decreasing the large green open space at the N. Broadway side of the property and building lower (3-story) residences to spread the unit density over a larger area as a preference over the 10-story building at the back of the site.
The landfill in the lower field, which had been capped with a protective membrane, was another focus of discussion. Several residents said they did not understand how the DEIS process could move forward with the landfill issue unresolved.
The portion of the development site containing the landfill is outside the area declared a historic landmark by the White Plains Historic Preservation Commission and would contain a large portion of the proposed apartment building.
Null noted that the developer was working with the state DEC and was expecting a modified order on the landfill, which Null said contained construction debris from I-287.
Barbara Allen, a resident at 10 Stewart Place, brought photos showing where the protective membrane on the landfill had been breached and laid exposed for months awaiting a resolution.
The Council, at the same meeting, voted unanimously to hire an independent consultant to perform environmental testing at the landfill, to be paid for by the applicant.
Clifford Davis, a White Plains-based environmental and land-use attorney, hired by the residents at 10 Stewart Place, expressed concern over the legal procedure of moving forward with the DEIS because an alternative plan had been put forward. Davis also said the proposed plan did not conform with the White Plains Comprehensive Plan, objecting to the premise made by Null that the city had not considered the potential sale of the Good Counsel property when it updated the Comprehensive Plan in 2006.
Vito Fragala, Vice President of the N. Broadway Civic Association, said the residents of the association did not support reactive spot zoning and that no zoning change should be made at the request of the developer.
Fragala further commented on the growing number of residential buildings, adding thousands of new living units to White Plains, and questioned whether the pace of development was out of step with demand.
With the public hearing adjourned to the July 2 meeting of the Common Council, issues of storm water management, a review and update of the Comprehensive Plan, the condition of buildings on the historic campus, traffic impact on all surrounding neighborhoods, the adequacy of the number of proposed parking spaces, the toxic state of the landfill and the legal process of the DEIS remained on the table.