Representatives of two neighborhood associations in White Plains, along with some residents speaking for themselves, came out against the proposal by Robert Weisz’s Rye Brook-based RPW Group and the Cleveland-based NRP Group to build three 5-story buildings housing 303 apartments at Weisz’s 1133 Westchester Ave. office park during a public hearing before the White Plains Common Council.
The apartment development is called “The Flats” and would include 178 one-bedroom apartments, 115 two-bedroom apartments and 10 three-bedroom apartments.
When speaking with the Business Journal on March 11, Weisz said he understands that neighbors can have concerns. “I think that neighbors have a natural concern every time a new project is being proposed. Once they become familiar with what we are proposing, especially since a hotel previously was approved for the site, they are going to be very comfortable with it.”
Weisz said that it ultimately will be up to the various boards and commissions in White Plains to approve the project as submitted or require changes. He said that he hoped to be able to break ground no later than November.
The March 4 public hearing brought comments about a proposed zoning change as well as elements of the proposed site plan. The council would have to approve the site plan and agree to a zoning change in which a Planned Campus Development District (PCDD) overlay zone would be applied to the existing campus office district zoning at the site. The PCDD came into being in 2012 and the city’s Comprehensive Plan was tweaked to make the two compatible.
The office market was in decline at the time and planners thought the PCDD would be a good idea for office parks on a minimum of 10 acres. Part of the logic was that parking spaces and infrastructure only being used when offices were open during the day could be efficiently used for 24/7 residential purposes. The PCDD would be applicable to nine sites along Westchester Avenue bordering Harrison and two sites on Mamaroneck Avenue.
Weisz told the Common Council, “We think to be a good neighbor is a very important thing and it’s a two-way street.” He said that in doing previous projects, he reached out and enjoyed great relationships with his neighbors. With respect to the 1133 proposal, Weisz added, “We have made ourselves available to meet at any time with any neighbor that wanted to discuss that with us and we have done that with many of them.” Weisz said that his request to use the PCDD overlay zone reflects what the Common Council had in mind when it created the zone.
Thomas Broderick, a board member of the Gedney Association, said his association worried that allowing the PCDD zone for this project could ultimately lead to it being used for intensive development of 235 acres along Mamaroneck Avenue, North Street and Westchester Avenue. ”There’s a greater concern here other than just this one project. If this were to happen, it could change the land-use character in this part of White Plains by adding over 1 million new square feet of multifamily apartment living space,” he said.
Broderick said that the Gedney Association’s board took a formal vote to oppose the project. “The Gedney board strongly believes that allowing multifamily apartment building use in these areas of White Plains undermines the delicate balance of land use in our city and such projects would effectively compete with demand for existing apartments, co-ops and condos in the center of downtown areas and any new multifamily projects downtown as well.”
Carol Desoe, president of the Ridgeway at White Plains Homeowners Association, had issues with various details of the proposal, which her association felt would add to existing impacts of the office park at 1133 Westchester Ave. “It is perhaps going to get worse what with the new building and all the new residents who are going to be there 24/7, not just during office hours,” she said. “There are deliveries that go on in the rear of their current office building, weekends, during the night and early in the morning.”
Desoe said that the possibility of opening up 1133 and other office parks to residential development raises a safety concern. “The firehouse, Ladder Company 34, which is on the corner of North Street and Ridgeway, is currently closed on weekends and also when schools are not open. You have a group of citizens that need protection all the time, not just when schools are open. And, that’s something you’re going to have to face on the entire Platinum Mile,” she said.
Ron Bailey, a retired police officer who lives near 1133, expressed concern about additional vehicles coming into the neighborhood.
Ellen Berger, who has lived in the south end of White Plains for 47 years, told the council, “To me the city is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. When you change one piece, it affects every other and it affects the puzzle as a whole.” She called for a moratorium on zoning changes and special permits for large developments “…until the city officials in cooperation with residents and businesspeople in White Plains have a vision for our city and a direction. What should the city look like? What is the character? Who do we want to attract?”
The public hearing on “The Flats” was adjourned until April 1.