By: KATIE HOOS
In light of the failed Echo Bay redevelopment project, the New Rochelle City Council is now faced with the uncertain future of the city’s Department of Public Works facility with doubts regarding a proposed $32 million relocation looming.
The current site of the city facility, located at 225 E. Main St., was intended to be demolished to pave the way for developer Forest City’s ill-fated 10.8-acre residential and commercial development known as Echo Bay. But, since Echo Bay was scrapped after a City Council bipartisan vote back in November, the relocation of the yard has been uncertain, with members of the City Council at odds over the cost of moving the facility and some questioning if a move is necessary at all.
Republican Councilman Louis Trangucci, District 1, challenges the need to relocate the city yard from its current Main Street site and has been steadfastly critical of the increasing cost to move the facility.
Trangucci, who has been against relocating the facility to Beechwood Avenue since taking office in 2009, said the current Main Street site, although in disrepair and in need of basic maintenance, is still a fully-functioning site where sanitation workers can do their jobs every day.
“I’m not sure it absolutely needs to moved,” he said. “Cleaning up the current site should be prioritized before relocation.”
Others, like Democratic Councilwoman Shari Rackman, District 6, believe, in order to keep the door open for development along the shore, relocation is key.
“I definitely am inclined to move the city yard,” she said. “We have to do something.”
At its Dec. 17 meeting, the City Council held off on voting on a piece of legislation authorizing City Manager Chuck Strome to purchase an unoccupied warehouse at 125 Beechwood Ave. The adjacent land would provide additional storage space and employee parking which could not all fit on the 85 Beechwood Ave. site that the city has been eyeing for its new DPW facility. The city has focused its attention on relocating the city yard to 85 Beechwood Ave. since 2004.
If the council moved forward with the purchase with the adjacent property, it would add an additional $6.8 million to the total relocation cost.
While Rackman supports moving the facility to an alternate location, she has doubts that Beechwood Avenue is the best option.
“The Beechwood site doesn’t seem adequate if it’s not even large enough that we have to purchase additional property,” Rackman said. “But then again, where do we have five acres of property sitting around
After design teams gave a presentation on how the Beechwood Avenue site would be utilized for DPW operations, a majority of the council felt as if they needed more information before voting on the legislation.
“We haven’t gotten answers to a lot of our questions yet,” Rackman said.
The plans for the proposed Beechwood Avenue site include a 52,000-square-foot DPW facility complete with a recycling center, covered and heated snow plow garage, salt dome, fueling station and leaf removal facility.
The two-story building would also include offices, storage space, a lunchroom for employees and a meeting room.
The city, which bonded $25 million to construct a new facility back in November 2012, would have to bond an additional $7 million to cover the cost of the demolition of the empty warehouse at 125 Beechwood Ave. and the construction of the new public works facility. The total cost of a new facility on Beechwood Avenue was initially proposed at $13 million back in 2011, but, after the city decided to include Bureau of Traffic Services facilities and a leaf removal site, the cost has risen to $32 million.
Trangucci said taxpayers just can’t afford the rising costs.
“I don’t support the proposed change or relocation at this time,” he said.
He added that, if the city issues another bond, taxpayers would pay an addition $2 million in taxes.
Rackman agreed that the cost was concerning to her and suggested building a piecemeal site, adding more of the non-essential items later.
“Maybe we could explore building in stages,” she said. “We can build the bare bones, no-frill yard right now and maybe not have all the trucks covered.”
Despite the jump in total cost, Public Works Commissioner Alexander Tergis said the proposed Beechwood facility is a basic site that would be operational for basic DPW functions. “It is absolutely a no frills yard,” he said. “We scaled back on what the expert design consultants deem as the optimal space for a city yard in order to save costs.”
Standard inclusions at a comparable DPW site, like a wash bay to clean trucks and equipment, in addition to office space and storage space, were cut from the design to keep costs down.
Tergis said the city needs to choose a course of action sooner than later.
“We’ve been putting off moving the city yard for over 20 years, which explains the condition of the current one,” he said. “We didn’t invest in capital improvements for site a we planned on vacating.”
The City Council, while unanimously in support of revenue-driven waterfront redevelopment, struggles to determine what to do with the city yard and has yet to decide if and when the relocation to Beechwood Avenue is the best course of action.
“I think since Forest City is gone, we don’t need to move forward so quickly with the city yard,” Trangucci said. “We move the city yard and we might not have development [at Echo Bay] for years and taxpayers would have to foot the bill.”