The public hearing in relation to the petition submitted on behalf of WP Development NB, Inc., to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Planned Residential Development Zoning District and amend the White Plains Zoning Map classification from RM-1.5 to Planned Residential Development, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for 52 North Broadway (former Good Counsel campus) was reopened on July 2.
Before comments were heard White Plains Mayor Tom Roach noted that the public hearing would go to at least the Aug. 6 Common Council meeting and possibly beyond.
During the proceedings, many residents referred to the new owner of the property as George Comfort & Sons, Inc., a Manhattan-based real estate development company, as the parent company of WP Development NB.
Clifford Davis, the White Plains lawyer representing the residents of 10 Stewart Place, requested a model of the proposed development be built to scale for a visual of the mass of the project and how it would impact the community. “It is hard to tell from the plans,” Davis said.
Davis called for an independent traffic analysis of the immediate neighborhoods to judge the impact of the proposed development, especially Ross, Stewart, Warren streets, and said traffic in and out of the proposed project should be redirected to North Broadway.
Davis also alleged that, “counsel for WP Development has made misrepresentations regarding conditions of the historic buildings on the premises.
William Null of the White Plains-based law firm Cuddy and Feder, is the lawyer representing the applicant.
Davis submitted a letter and documents for the Council to review concerning an appraisal of property and its buildings the Sisters of the Divine Compassion had done by Hudson Property Advisors LLC in 2015, showing the buildings to be in average to good physical condition.
“Either the Sisters were lying in 2015 or the applicant is lying now. This Board should get to the bottom of it,” he said, later adding: “The Common Council should not take this applicant at its word.”
Davis is referring to claims by the developer that many of the buildings on the historically landmarked property are in such bad condition physically that they cannot be renovated.
Mary Keogh, a resident of 50 N. Broadway, the apartment building adjacent to the property, said it was important to preserve the front lawn existing at 52 N. Broadway because it balances the neighborhood with the downtown. She was also concerned about traffic congestion because of the new development and the removal of hazardous materials and possible blasting at the site.
Karen Young, Vice President of the Heritage Tower Board at 15 Stewart Place, commented that the White Plains Comprehensive Plan promotes the preservation of local neighborhoods and that this development proposal does not.
Barbara Allen, a resident of 10 Stewart Place, said William Null in representing both the Sisters of the Divine Compassion before they sold their property and now representing the new owner of the property was straddling the fence. She suggested that the scenario for development now being promoted by the applicant was also being pushed by White Plains Mayor Tom Roach and Planning Commissioner Christopher Gomez.
Mayor Roach said, “Hold everything. I don’t like the plan.” But Allen pushed ahead, reading from a memo she said had been prepared for the Sisters of the Divine Compassion by their advisors, offering them several possible ways to deal with the sale of their property.
Quoting from the memo, Allen read one suggested plan that called for the Sisters to work with the City and with them to draw up a conceptual plan for redevelopment, leaving the convent, chapel and Mapleton House in place, and demolishing the other buildings.
Allen, further quoting from the memo, said the recommendation included the Sisters asking the City for informal consent to a conceptual development design plan that could be shared with potential developers and that the Sisters could request that redevelopment of the complex be allowed in an Historic Ordinance to be adopted by the City.
“I would like to know, Allen said. “Has the applicant already received some city officials’ consent for the fate of this property? Would you care to comment Mr. Mayor?”
Mayor Roach replied: “I am not really going to engage because it’s amazing what I just heard. I don’t even know where to go with it. But what other people write about what they are going to do has nothing to do with what actually happens. And when I saw this proposal, it was never brought to us beforehand. I think I was pretty clear, … I don’t like it.”
Ilene Stockel, a resident of 10 Stewart Place, during her comments called “Comfort and Co. another greedy development company slithering their way into White Plains.”
Referring to the toxic dumpsite, traffic dangers, density of population and zoning laws, Stockel indicated residents concerns were being ignored.
Stockel and others would prefer larger buildings be placed on the North Broadway portion of the property or that the existing zoning, allowing three-story residential buildings, be followed for development throughout the site.
Stockel said she did not blame the developers for the horrific mess, but blamed the Mayor. “Your ambitious plan to overdevelopment of this city has made you blind to the serious and troubling issues that surround this project,” she said. “I, as many, feel this zoning was a done deal long before the property was purchased. Were the developers guaranteed by you that the zoning changes would be definite?” She further accused the Mayor of deceiving the voters.
Roach replied that in Council meetings it is not appropriate to attack members as individuals, but since the comments were addressed to him, he did not step in.
Stockel said she did not attack anybody.
“You suggested many things about me that are completely untrue in a city where people know me very well. I don’t know. How does my vote finding [the property] “historic” fit into your scheme? Roach asked.