“This is the way you start thinking about the future,” Brian Wright told a crowd of Port Chester residents on March 28. “You draw big ideas and you see what happens.”
Wright is founder and principal of Town Planning & Urban Design Collaborative, a Tennessee-based planning consultant hired by the village of Port Chester to lead an effort to modernize its zoning. He was speaking in front of a projection screen at the village’s Carver Center as the finale to a week of community planning and discussion events known as Planapalooza, a term Wright’s company trademarked.
He walked the crowd through what he said might be more of a “100-year plan” for the village than any immediate vision. The village is undertaking the first comprehensive overhaul of its zoning since 1975. As architectural renderings of new looks for the village’s waterfront and downtown flashed across the screen, Wright framed each as a way to dream about what the village could become.
“You put stuff in here that sometimes you think is impossible,” Wright said. “Then the right person comes to town and says ‘Wow, look at this vision that they had in this area…You know what, I’m actually going to buy this strip center here and I’m going to do this.’”
The village spent the week before the presentation hosting a series of discussions in open studio space at 17 N. Main St. Topics included affordable housing; transportation and parking, streetscape and open space and waterfront development.
The Planapalooza is part of a larger “Plan the Port” initiative from the village. Port Chester budgeted $650,000 last year to fund an update to its zoning. Port Chester officials want to shift to a form-based code, which focuses on regulating the physical forms of development in an area rather than specific uses of properties.
Wright ran the gathering of about 100 at the Carver Center through the results of that early outreach. He said in modernizing the village’s code, the village can enhance areas and attract growth, while also ensuring the village maintains aspects it residents enjoy.
“We want to create more predictable outcomes,” said Wright. “We know that in development situations, so many times citizens are concerned about what’s going to happen, even before they know what the developments going to be. They assume they’re not going to like it. The reason is because they don’t know what to expect.”
Zoning is often to blame for that, he said. The goal for the re-zoning would be to set more clear expectations for real estate projects in the village, which Wright said can help both developers and residents. The process would also study the capacity of the village’s infrastructure and streamline environmental reviews.
While many studies and reviews are yet to be done, Wright shared some of the early vision.
That vision includes connecting spaces along the Byram riverfront for pedestrians, and bringing parks and mixed-use development with retail and apartments to the village’s train station and downtown.
Wright showed a rendering of what he said is likely the most densely developed possibility for the train station, with 8- and 12-story apartment buildings surrounding a public park.
“We want you guys to at least see what that looks like,” Wright said of the rendering. “Because in the end the discussion is, what is the right fit? How big is big enough?”
Planners envisioned the area of King Street near the Metro-North station as an “amazing arrival point, a new gateway from the train station” with outdoor dining, fruit stands and a better path to the train station. The street could be designed as a woonerf, a Dutch concept that emphasizes slowing traffic to open up streets to pedestrians and bicycles.
The team also presented a vision for Boston Post Road, an area Wright said had few fans among residents with whom he spoke. He said the space is underutilized with mostly unfilled parking lots. His team showed a rough outline of what Wright called a “suburban retrofit,” which lays out new street connections, shops and residences designed for better connectivity and more civic spaces.
The village’s Fox Island, now a public works site, was envisioned as a small mixed-use community with public spaces, row houses and condominium units.
The visions that Town Planning & Urban Design Collaborative officials presented are just concepts to aid in planning and zoning, not actual plans for development. But Wright said the concepts do consider what a region already has and the property that is available.
The actual drafting process for the new zoning code will begin this summer. More public comment events will follow that.
The village planning department hopes to have a plan for the zoning overhaul before the village Board of Trustees before the end of the year.