A look back at events in 2015 reveals that the most pervasive issues in White Plains continue to be related to land use and development as a changing financial climate opens to new demographics and markets.
White Plains Hospital. In January, White Plains Hospital began an active year with the topping off the final piece of steel on a modern new cancer care building at the corner of Longview Avenue and East Post Road. By mid-September the ribbon was cut on the new hospital lobby, which some called the lobby of the hospital for the future. Taking its cue from the hospitality industry the new lobby featured interior design by Perkins Eastman, with 25-foot glass walls, a floating staircase, and a café run by New York Hospitality Group and White Plains’ own Peter Herrero, owner of Sam’s of Gedney Way.
White Plains Hospital also experienced another major transition when in the spring, CEO Jon Shandler retired and turned the reigns over to Hospital President Susan Fox. The two had worked together over the previous five years.
White Plains Hospital also expanded geographically with satellite offices, one inNew Rochelle and a second opened this fall in Armonk.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Campus Sold. Located at 52 North Broadway, the GCA campus was the site of many student demonstrations beginning as early as January as the academy’s supporters fought severe winter weather to try to get attention from the local community to help them save their school. Stamford-based CBRE handled the marketing and ultimate sale of the property.
GCA Elementary School relocated to a new site in Valhalla, but GCA High School was not able to find a new location and efforts by a parent-led group of investors that sought to purchase the school grounds from the Sisters of the Divine Compassion were refused. Other investor proposals to purchase the property and save the school were also denied. The school officially closed on June 30th, the close-down date announced a full year earlier. Nuns still living on the campus were also moved off the property.
Official notice that the property was sold in July was made public in late November. The purchaser, WP Development NB LLC, was listed as a company formed on November 13, 2015 in Delaware, with a CO street address at 80 State Street, Albany.
Attempts to identify the principals of the new company for comment on development plans for the site were unsuccessful and agents involved in the sale would not comment. The purchase price for the 16-acre campus also was not disclosed.
LCOR at 55 Bank Street. The LCOR multi-use development at 55 Bank Street was given the go-ahead by the White Plains Council during the first quarter of 2015 to proceed with the $250 million transit-oriented development, consisting of housing, retail primarily for use by residents in the immediate neighborhood, and parking. The site is just south of the Metro-North train station in downtown White Plains.
Ground was broken on Phase 1 of the project in the fall. This phase includes a 16-story, 288-unit residential building with 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 381 parking spaces. Phase 2 will consist of a 16-story building with 273 residential units, 3,350 square feet of retail space and a mix of above and below ground parking, providing 189 parking spaces.
Planning Commissioner Change. In a surprise and somewhat unprecedented move during the first quarter, White Plains Planning Commissioner Elizabeth Cheteny was asked to resign from her post and a subsequent unanimous vote by the Common Council sealed her removal.
Conversations with some Council members after the fact indicate they were not given specifics as to the reason for Cheteny’s removal. It is not clear if Cheteny did resign as asked or if the Council vote was needed to force her out. Comments by Mayor Roach at the time of the vote as recorded by several media outlets were brief. The Mayor said, “We have decided to go in a different direction.”
In June, Christopher Gomez was named as White Plains’ new Commissioner of Planning. Gomez had worked as a planner at both the County and municipal levels. Most recently, he served as the Director of Planning and Development for the Village of Port Chester.
Westchester Avenue Redevelopment. In mid-March, development partners Saber White Plains LLC and Chauncey White Plains LLC made a conceptual presentation to the White Plains Planning Board seeking an amendment to the city’s zoning map.
The redevelopment project, which involves 1 million square feet fronting Westchester Avenue, extends from the property line of the White Plains Diner to the property line of the site now housing Avis and extending back to Franklin Avenue.
Two buildings on both sides of a new Paulding Street would be four stories, and approximately 60 feet high including 75,000 sq. ft. at the ground and second floor levels, featuring retail and restaurants. One building would have 11 loft-style apartments on the top floor and across the Paulding Street entrance, an AC Barcelona Hotel, would include 154 rooms and a 16,000 sq. ft. spa. The Chrysler Jeep showroom currently at the location would have a new 7,000 sq. ft. showroom and 33,000 sq. ft. of car storage and auto services below ground.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Saved. Faced with the prospect of the imminent merging of their historic Roman Catholic parish with two others located within a few mile radius (St. John’s and St. Bernard’s), members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church took to grassroots efforts in March to try to save their historic worshipping community. After months of back and forth, the church was able to stay open.
White Plains Historic Preservation Law. The much anticipated White Plains Historic Preservation Law was drafted and a copy submitted to the Common Council at its April meeting. During its May 4 meeting the White Plains Common Council voted unanimously to adopt the new local law in the form of an amendment to the White Plains Municipal Code. The law set a base for the creation of a new commission comprised of members appointed by the mayor that would make recommendations and establish policy for the protection, enhancement and perpetuation of landmarks and historic districts within the city of White Plains.
By October the historic preservation commission met, with chairman Robert Hoch, announcing that the group was eyeing two properties for immediate action: Soundview Manor and the Good Counsel property.
French American School of New York (FASNY). After several years of debate, the decision on FASNY’s proposal to operate a regional school in the Gedney neighborhood of White Plains was swiftly moving toward a conclusion. In May eight neighborhood associations brought out over 200 people to protest the proposed entrance to the FASNY regional school opposite the entrance to White Plains High School. In June the Common Council held a Special Meeting to discuss and air publicly their concerns about the final documents regarding the partial closure of a public roadway – Hathaway Lane – as it related to FASNY’s Special Permit and Site Plan application.
Finally in August, the Common Council “Yes” votes outweighed the “No” votes (4 to 3) for FASNY’s request to close a portion of Hathaway Lane, but the closure of a public street and its removal from the White Plains city map required a super majority (5 to 2) according to the city charter, and the legislation was not adopted. The Gedney Neighborhood Association called the vote a victory over FASNY and shortly thereafter FASNY initiated legal proceedings to sue White Plains and reverse the Council decision.
In October, one of the original bidders on the property that lost out to FASNY’s higher bid had come back with another offer. FASNY firmly indicated that the property is not for sale. The battle wages in the courts.
Department of Public Works Commissioner Let Go. White Plains Department of Public Works Commissioner Joseph (Bud) Nicoletti was let go from his job in May during a special meeting of the Common Council. Having heard of the imminent dismissal of a popular city commissioner, several resident groups came out to try and stop the vote. The meeting was heavily attended. Several residents who had spoken with Nicoletti during the day indicated he was surprised and upset about the decision to let him go, although media reports quote Mayor Tom Roach saying that Nicoletti had the opportunity to resign but chose not to do so. Two Council members, Milagros Lecuona and Dennis Krolian voted against Nicoletti’s dismissal. First Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Rick Hope took over as Acting DPW Commissioner.
Cabaret License Changes. On July 6, the White Plains Common Council voted six to one to change the city’s Municipal Code regarding cabarets to allow the collection of a fee at the door. With many entertainment establishments in White Plains expressing angst at having to wait for the city’s cabaret code to be revised, the wait was most likely well worth it when the Council voted to allow restaurants to collect an entrance fee on top of the prices already posted on their food and drink menus. The code still requires that cabarets are conducted in restaurants only and defines the operation of primary and secondary cabarets based on square footage.
White Plains Transportation Center. The $1 million funding for a grant from the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) for preliminary planning, design and engineering related to the White Plains Transportation Center was accepted by the White Plains Council Oct. 5 and the city contracted with Parsons Brinckerhoff to do a study. On Oct. 29, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach announced the members of the White Plains Multimodal Transportation Center Redevelopment Project Stakeholder Task Force, which would work in tandem with the professional research group.
Esplanade Repurposing. Situated across from the vacant former Border’s Books store in the Pavilion shopping center, which is scheduled for demolition and the construction of two residential towers as part of a $275 million project, the Esplanade residence and hotel in White Plains, has also been slated for a complete renovation.
The proposed development project, made public at a December Council work session, would bring the existing building into context with other projects in various stages of development in the immediate area. The plan is to take the existing building and re-adapt it to create a full service apartment tower to include studios, one- and two-bedroom rental units with 146 residences in the main tower and 66 in the Annex.
The proposal is now before the Planning Board, which has tabled discussion into 2016.
Boulevard on the Post Road. Newly introduced to the White Plains Council in December and in the early discussion stages is a proposed redevelopment plan for the Post Road and Maple Avenue near the Scarsdale border. Called The Boulevard, the proposed development requires a zoning change to allow for residential, retail and a fitness center in a mixed-use configuration in a zone that currently allows automotive dealerships.