An application by Senlac Ridge Partners to tear down an office building at 701 Westchester Avenue in White Plains and build a five-story, 360-unit apartment building was rejected by the White Plains Common Council at its monthly meeting on Oct. 4.
Senlac Ridge Partners, which owns the office park at 701-777 Westchester Avenue, asked the city to apply the Planned Campus Development District overlay zone to its 54.8-acre property.
With a special use permit, assuming set standards are met, approval must be granted. But approval of Planned Campus Development District overlay mapping is at the discretion of the Common Council, the resolution to reject the application said.
Communication from the Westchester County Planning Board, which was read aloud at the meeting, said that “if the city’s vision is to continue to add more residential development to the Westchester Avenue corridor, the city should consider how these new properties will relate to their surroundings.”
The resolution underscored that Senlac’s plan for turning the office building into a five-story residential one did not describe how it would promote the public health, safety and welfare of the city or the needs of the surrounding community. It continued that the plan did not constitute environmentally sustainable building or site design, nor did it have public or private space proposed which could be integrated into the city’s open space network.
“For about six months, we’ve been working on the process to update our Comprehensive Plan, One White Plains as we’re calling it,” Councilman John Martin said. “I believe, as the resolution states that we’ve acted upon tonight, that it be inappropriate at this time for us to exercise our zoning discretion in approving this petition.”
Councilman Justin Brasch highlighted that if a zoning amendment was made during the Oct. 4 meeting, the Common Council would not be able to take that decision back.
“This gives us time to think about how we want to plan our city and how we want to do it to respect our neighbors,” Councilman Justin Brasch said. “And quite frankly, that seems to be the smartest thing for our city at this particular time.”
Council President Nadine Hunt-Robinson highlighted that while she has supported planned campus developments in the past, she was not persuaded that the 701 Westchester location was suitable for a Planned Campus Development District overlay.
“The Common Council takes its responsibilities very seriously, one might say soberly,” Council Member Victoria Presser said. “We listen to our constituents, we review all the documents, we make site visits whenever we can, and we take the time to think through these matters because it is our job to make decisions for the benefit of the entire community.”
“In this instance, it is to the benefit of the community that we deny this proposal,” Presser said.
Various neighborhood associations expressed opposition to the zoning proposal, including the Gedney Association, North Street Civic Association, Old Oaks Association and Rosedale Residential Association.
“This is a key example of strength in numbers,” The Gedney Association stated. “The Gedney Association worked closely with the South end neighborhood associations including North Street Civic Association, Old Oaks Association, and Rosedale Residential Association. This coalition of neighborhood associations was essential in the Common Council’s decision to deny this application.”
Council Member Jennifer Puja said that several months ago she spoke to many neighbors about their concerns about the prospective project at 701 Westchester Avenue. Puja said she heard their concerns and agreed with many of them.
Puja then went on to encourage White Plains residents to take part in the City of White Plains’ listening tour, which is ongoing and will be held next on Oct. 14.
“Each person that lives in White Plains has an idea of what they would like to see as the future of White Plains, how they would like to see their neighborhood,” Puja said. “This is your chance.”
Mayor Tom Roach said that the Planned Campus Development District overlay was done to provide flexibility to the uses of a property while, at the same time, keeping the Common Council in control of reviewing what can and cannot be permitted on a particular site.
“It is not simply rezoning the entire campus office district but giving each project a review on its own,” Roach said. “So you could say ‘yes’ to this and ‘no’ to that.”
“In this case, you’re looking for an overall project that fits with the site and works well, and I don’t think this one does.”