A proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance Definition of “Recreation Facilities” to include “Electronic Games,” Laser Tag, Esports, and Virtual Reality Games/Rides in the B-6 Business District in White Plains was considered by the Planning Board at its March 19 meeting.
Eileen McClain, Board secretary and also on the Planning Dept. staff, explained that the proposed changes are in response to recent applications for video gaming, golf simulation, and Egaming applications and other uses that have emerged with changing technology.
The proposal was submitted by the City of White Plains and is a Common Council referral. It is expected the Common Council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance changes at its April 1 meeting.
McClain said the proposal has two components. One is to eliminate the exclusion of stadia and arenas because these are covered elsewhere in the Zoning Ordinance. The other is to specify where these new uses will be located.
Currently recreation facilities are permitted in almost all commercially zoned districts in the city’s downtown, on Central Avenue and Westchester Avenue. The proposal expands use in enclosed malls in the B-6 District.
“This seems to be where these businesses want to go and the City is supportive of that, believing it will help the businesses there and keep the malls vital,” McClain explained.
McClain also suggested the Board might want to suggest to the Council that the B-1 (Restricted Business District) that includes 120 Bloomingdale Rd., The Source, Bloomingdale’s, the Container Store, and Whole Foods also be added to the proposal.
The suggestion to include the B-1 District came when a business wanted to open a golf simulator with bar operation at one of the malls in the B-1 District.
McClain said that golf-simulation and electronic gaming were the applications being made at this time, not game arcades.
Board members noted that many White Plains children go to other communities to play electronic games and that it would be nice to keep the business as well as the kids in White Plains.
Board chairman John Ioris noted that it seemed like a win-win for the malls if the parents shop and the kids are occupied, obviously monitored at the same location.
McClain noted that the electronic gaming applications were not just for kids, but for adult entertainment as well.
Board member Lynn Oliva said that when a similar change to the Zoning Ordinance was made several years back, there was public outcry. “Churches came out against it. Schools came out against it,” she said, adding video games are still mind numbing. “What has changed?”
The Common Council will hold a public hearing, McClain said. “Maybe people will come out. We have not heard anything against it. I think that the nature of electronic gaming has changed. I think the aversion to it is less pronounced. I think we will find out more about it at the hearing.”
McClain noted that the types of applications being proposed are not the same as those that were protested in the past.
While the Planning Board ultimately agreed to recommend to the Council that the B-1 District be added to the current proposal, they did discuss their reservations about compatibility of uses.
Oliva said she had always thought of the B-1 District as more high-end. “ We have Dannon headquarters there. Would something like this really fit in?”
Ioris said it would be a foolish landlord that did not discuss the change with tenants before moving a new use in. “You almost would have to trust that the businesses would sort it out,” he said.
Board member Leonard Gruenfeld said he had been at the Source earlier in the day and that most of the businesses were retail.
The Board agreed to recommend the Council go forward with the public hearing and members said they were curious about what the public would have to say.