By KATIE HOOS
As expected, the New Rochelle City Council nixed the land disposition agreement for the Echo Bay development in a bipartisan vote on Nov. 26, ending developer Forest City’s proposal to revitalize the city’s waterfront. Mayor Noam Bramson, a Democrat, was the lone dissenting vote.
Republican councilmen Al Tarantino, District 2, Lou Trangucci, District 1, as well as Democrat Ivan Hyden, District 4, opposed the project since Forest City substantially downsized the scale of Echo Bay in 2011 to include just 25,000 square feet of retail space from 150,000 square feet, and 285 apartment rentals on 10.8 acres of land.
The project, as initially proposed back in 2006, was envisioned to occupy 26 acres.
But, Democratic councilmen Barry Fertel, District 5, and Jared Rice, District 3, who favored the proposal until the Nov. 26 council meeting, also pulled their support for the plan and voted it down. Prior to his vote, Councilman Fertel said the change in size and scope of the project was its ultimate undoing.
“I firmly believe that the metamorphosis of the Echo Bay project, from an exciting vision of New Rochelle’s waterfront to a much smaller development, is the primary reason why this project does not have strong support in my district and has ultimately failed,” he said.
The proposed land dispostion agreement would have catapulted the Echo Bay project closer to completion since the agreement negotiated the terms and conditions regarding the land that the multi-use facility would have occupied.
Specifically, the agreement would have handed 4 out of 6.5 acres of the Department of Public Works facility over to Forest City, granting the developer legal responsibility to relocate the City Yard to a proposed city-owned location on Beechwood Avenue. The developer would have also been responsible for the clean-up of contaminated land and hazardous material previously identified at the current DPW location. The agreement also specified the disposition of the Armory, the former training and recruiting facility for the New York Naval Militial, to Forest City, which would have used a portion of the Armory land to construct parking facilities for the proposed Echo Bay waterfront park.
Fertel and Rice agreed the proposed relocation of the City Yard to Beechwood Avenue and consequential clean-up lacked sufficient information, including an undetermined date for when the City Yard should be relocated, and required further discussion amongst the City Council.
“I don’t believe the process that we employed was prudent in this matter and, because of the fact that we have not discussed or resolved the issue with the City Yard, I have no choice but to vote no,” Rice said.
Democratic Councilwoman Shari Rackman, District 6, who was previously considered the swing vote on Echo Bay after a contentious meeting on Nov.12 that saw her change her vote, said she was concerned with the agreement in regards to the city armory, specifically that the city had two years to decide what to do with its remaining armory parcel, or else be penalized.
Additionally, Rackman expressed concern about the agreement’s inclusion of waived recreation fees the developer would be granted for perpetually maintaining Echo Bay and it’s waterfront park.
Ultimately, she voted against the project.
The few spectators attending the Nov. 26 City Council meeting waited with bated breath while Bramson expressed his continued support for the project and its benefits to the city.
He cast the single vote in support of Echo Bay.
Although it’s unusual for New Rochelle City Council members—in particular Rice and Fertel—to vote across party lines, it has happened before.
In February, Rice sided with Republicans Trangucci and Tarantino and Democrats Hyden and Rackman to vote down the creation of assistant police commisioner roles within the police department.
Fertel, who typically votes in line with Bramson, broke ranks and left the mayor standing alone on Echo Bay’s front line.
The demise of the Echo Bay project marks Bramson’s second major political defeat in less than a month. He was defeated in a bid to unseat Republican County Executive Rob Astorino last month.
Sources surrounding the dynamics of the vote suggest Bramson advised Fertel and Rice to save their political futures by voting against Echo Bay, while he would be the sole council member to fall on his sword for the doomed project. All seven members of the City Council are up for re-election in 2015.
Forest City released a statement the night of the final vote, saying it was disappointed with the outcome of the council’s vote and are disheartened that the efforts put into the project will not come to fruition.
Nevertheless, residents of New Rochelle who have been very vocal in their opposition to Echo Bay appreciated the City Council’s vote and are looking forward to the next steps. Jeffery Hastie, a founder of the bipartisan group United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle, said, “I am very pleased with the results of [the] vote…I think, at the end of the day, we benefited for the City of New Rochelle.”
As for what’s next for the New Rochelle waterfront, councilmen Fertel and Rice both said they are uncertain. Rice suggested putting everything back on the table, City Yard and armory included, and that a “public/private partnership to help defray costs of moving City Yard is the best option.”
Tarantino has a positive outlook about the future waterfront development and hopes to see more retail and, possibly, a hotel to generate more revenue for the city.
“I’m excited to look at the 26-acre site again,” he said.
Going forward, Fertel said, “It has to make economic sense and provide economic benefits for the city.”
As for what and when, he said he would leave that up to the council members who strongly opposed Echo Bay to decide.