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Development Boom Continues in Westchester Despite Economic Headwinds
WHITE PLAINS—Chief officials from the cities of White Plains, Yonkers and New Rochelle agree that investment interest in new development projects in their respective cities remains high despite higher construction and labor costs and the predictions by some that a recession may be on the horizon.
The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Westchester held a roundtable program on March 9 on the current state of Westchester’s largest cities. Moderated by Kevin Plunkett, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Simone Development Companies of the Bronx, the panel included: White Plains Mayor Tom Roach, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and New Rochelle Deputy City Manager/Development Commissioner Adam Salgado.
The three city officials also commented on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s controversial New York Housing Compact that calls for the development of 800,000 new housing units statewide in the next decade, creates a $250 million infrastructure fund to help facilitate housing development, incentivizes transit-oriented development and includes mandated development targets for municipalities. The plan has met with some pushback from local officials who charge it violates home rule and undermines local zoning decisions.
Yonkers Mayor Spano did not totally endorse the Hochul plan. “We all know there’s a housing crisis in New York State, and I give her a lot of credit for making the decision to make it front and center,” said Spano, adding that Yonkers will meet or exceed Hochul’s housing target. “Local control is a question mark for me. I don’t think that we should lose local control.”
New Rochelle’s Salgado said the New York Housing Compact will not affect New Rochelle significantly. “Essentially, we’ve already achieved a lot of the goals that are in the housing compact,” said Salgado. “We’re just looking for opportunities to further enhance what we’re doing in New Rochelle.”
White Plains Mayor Roach did in fact endorse Hochul’s housing plan. “When you want to bring jobs and new businesses into your community, they want to see the people that they’re going to hire, either already live there, or will be excited to come live there,” said Roach. “If you get to the point where there’s just not enough units to accommodate the people that want to be there, it creates a problem, and I think that’s where we are.” At a gathering at the Business Council of Westchester organized by The Business Council of Westchester and Gov. Hochul on March 15, Mayor Roach said of the plan, “Gov. Hochul’s Housing Compact takes on the complex and growing housing crisis in our state recognizing that it can’t be resolved with a ‘business as usual’ approach or by pretending it doesn’t exist.”
Yonkers Mayor Spano said the city is enjoying a “renaissance” and is “turning the corner” on its past economic and housing woes. The city’s strategic location on the Hudson River shoreline near New York City has attracted significant investment, particularly in the multifamily sector. He said the city has authorized a total of 12,000 new housing units, including nearly 3,000 affordable units.
“So, we’re building at 20% (affordable), which is pretty incredible,” Mayor Spano noted.
White Plains Mayor Roach also noted that the city is going through a “long renaissance” that began under the administration of former Mayor Joe Delfino and has continued with the development of mixed-use, multifamily housing in the downtown district.
A host of projects are under construction at the moment, including the long-awaited redevelopment of the shuttered White Plains Mall and the expected massive mixed-use development to be proposed at the outdated Galleria Mall.
New Rochelle’s Selgado said that the city in the past eight years has approved 30 projects, involving more than 6,000 new housing units, approximately 20% of which are earmarked as affordable (from 80% Average Median Income to 30% AMI) that were made possible by state and New Rochelle Industrial Development Agency assistance, as well as local zoning regulations. At present, 12 projects have been completed and another 12 are under construction.
Selgado touted the city’s past zoning reforms that have fostered a sense of certainty for developers that submit plans that comply with existing regulators. The city’s form-based code has allowed developers that submit plans that are in compliance to secure approvals within 90 days.
He said the city is entering a new stage in the downtown revitalization as “The Link Project,” which is geared at repurposing a 1.9-mile-stretch of the city on Memorial Highway into a park. The city is also looking to incorporate black history into the project in recognition of black residents that live adjacent to Memorial Highway.
The city has also released a Request for Proposals to redesign the city’s New Rochelle Train Station and Transportation Center. He also touted the future benefits of the Penn Station Access project on the City of New Rochelle.
Some of the highlights of the panel discussion included:
• Mayor Spano said that Gov. Hochul’s $250-milllon infrastructure fund to support housing development statewide is not nearly enough to fill the need.
• New Rochelle’s Selgado said that 90% of the existing new housing units in New Rochelle are occupied.
• White Plains Mayor Roach said that Lennar Corp.’s The Mitchell had 100 signed leases in the first 30 days the development was on the market, a leasing pace that was perhaps only matched by the firm’s Jersey City, NJ product.
• All city officials said that demand for multifamily housing in their respective cities is not anywhere near saturation.
When asked if high inflation and rising labor costs delayed any of the development projects in their cities, Mayor Spano said that there have not been delays, but those higher costs as well as new state regulations, are having impacts.
Both Mayor Roach and Deputy City Manager Selgado said that there have not been any delays thus far due to the current economic climate. Mayor Roach noted that it is too early to tell what the long-term impacts will be on the development market in the city. Selgado added that while there have not been any project delays, the city has seen a slowdown in new project applications.