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Inside the Council of Neighborhood Associations:

Cappelli proposes a seasonal park, skate rink and sidewalk cafes for EJ Conroy Drive at City Center.

Three downtown residents enthusiastically endorse 34, 32-story towers -- "stellar" says one.

CNA delegates appear less oppositional to plan. Southend residential delegates troubled by heights.

Vigilant Rita Malmud tells WPCNR lot of issues to be examined does not commit to approval or disapproval by council before election day.

Reports she could live with 25 stories, wants to see "paperwork" on the financing.

Cappelli says he has $263 Million financing in place with CIBC of Canada and is partnering with Avalon Company ($10MM) on the residential towers.

Greer raises new issue of "proportions" of business mix.

Republican council candidates do not attend.

By John F. Bailey

CityLine: July 11, 2001 -- Education House

Louis Cappelli presented new, never-before-seen, architecturally detailed designs for his City Center, to the Council of Neighborhood Associations Tuesday evening.

He encountered a reserved "willing to listen" audience that included surprising enthusiasm from at least three downtown dwelling neighbors of his proposed 34 and 32-story luxury apartment towers.

In the course of his presentation, Cappelli unveiled new architectural designs for the four facades of his City Center. (WPCNR has requested digitized visuals of the sides and expects to post them shortly.) He announced retention the architectural firm of Sasaki (the firm that was not chosen to execute the "effect of height" study for the Common Council), to execute the design.

He said he was fully financed, revealing that CIBC, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, had committed to $263 million of funding, and that Avalon was backing him with another $10 million in funding.

He invited residents to attend his "Demolition Party" at the Macy's site, Tuesday, July 17 at 10:45 AM.

His architects have also been busy.

Beginning with the Martine Avenue facade, Cappelli unveiled a 3-story limestone designed facade with a one-door grilled opening for supplier trucks to enter and exit the massive loading bay envisioned for the Martine Avenue side. The white limestone and brick loading bay entrance with classic grill gate, blends seamlessly with the Westchester Arts Council building, while joining with the proposed town loft residential building he plans for the corner of Conroy and Martine.

Cappelli said the interior of the loading bay has the capacity to handle 12 trucks at any one time with space for them to turn around and exit the building within the enclosure eliminating any maneuvering on Martine Avenue. Cappelli said signaling sequences would be used to avert tie-ups on the Martine Avenue crossing Mamaroneck Avenue.

Rounding the corner, Cappelli introduced another color board presenting a muted, classical facade that would face on Mamaroneck Avenue, eliminating the garish Hollywood facade for the theater entrance previously shown. The new City Center echoes the arched windows of the Westchester Arts Council building and the Greenpoint Bank and blends with those two buildings by opting for the white limestone look.

All street retail on Mamaroneck and Main Street on the sidewalk level of the City Center will only be entered from the street, Cappelli said, eliminating any kind of enclosed mall effect. The entrance to the theater will be characterized by a Romanesque arch. "The City Center has to look like it wants to be there (between the bank and the Arts building)," Cappelli preached enthusiastically.

He presented a similar integration of arches and store fronts on the Main Street side of the City Center, with the lone departure being the giant 34-story tower on the corner of Conroy and Main. Cappelli said the tower would be architecturally different from its 32-story twin on the corner of Conroy and Martine. The designs of the towers have not been executed at this time, but Cappelli said they would echo several of the Manhattan residence towers he admires.

He said that The Avalon in New Rochelle was built because of New Roc City (his development). He reports they have rented 300 of 416 units to date. He sees no problem with renting his 34 and 32 story buildings if he gets that height. In fact, he stated that he would not go below the 34 and 32-story requirement when asked to name a lower height he could live with financially.

Cappelli said the City Center as presently designed, depends on the 600 units of residential. He said the first 10 stories are worthless, because he had nothing to sell, that he had to sell potential residents a view, which could only be achieved by the 34 and 32 story height. He was adamant on the 34 and 32-story request.

"The present feasibility (of the project) is based on 34 and 32 stories. This (the residences) is a hardsell. It is not a slam-dunk. We're going to have to give them views, something so spectacular, they'll say 'I live in the center of White Plains.' If I don't have something special (the height), I'm going to lose them to New Rochelle," he said.

Mr. Cappelli has obviously been "going to school" on what critics of his proposal like:

He unveiled a new concept for E J Conroy Drive which envisions a circular forested park in the center of the Conroy Drive closure (if the City approves his closing of the street), that will convert to an ice-skating rink in winter similar to Wohlman Rink.

He spoke seductively of citizens hanging out in sidewalk cafes along EJ Conroy, enjoying the copse of trees, flowering garden and park benches in summer. Then in winter, he envisions converting the garden into an ice-skating rink reminisent, to this reporter of Rockefeller Center in the winter.

As he described his vision of a four-season park between the City Center and the two residential towers you could feel hostility toward the project flow out of the room, and a "wanting" for the Conroy "park" begin to grow.

Then the questions started. Delegates from the CNA and the handful of persons from the general public, produced a significant revelation:

The City Center project appears to highlight the conflict between the comfortable image that residents living outside the downtown have of White Plains as a small residential town, standing in the way of what the downtown of White Plains needs, in the opinion of actual downtown residents and property owners, Mr. Cappelli, and the present administration.

A flyer circulated last week by an anonymous person or group, during the fireworks display at the high school attempted to alarm residents that the City Center project and the Ridgemour Properties project targeted for the A & P site would change White Plains for the worse. It read in part:

"The vehicular traffic from moviegoers, residents, and those trying to reach the restaurants and shops in the mall, along with the attendant noise, and canyon-like shadows will create a two-block urban nightmare, ultimately driving store, restaurant and movie patrons to more accessible and hospitable venues."

Attendance over the usual 15 to 20 CNA delegates was swelled by about 25 interested persons, other than councilpersons and the Cappelli entourage.

Surprisingly, three residents in apartments on Martine Avenue closest to the City Center, expressed unreserved enthusiasm for the taller towers and the center itself. One woman who lives opposite the Martine Avenue garage, said of the project: "I'm really excited. It's stellar."

One downtown resident went so far as to say that the only problem he saw was traffic, however, he chided neighborhood homeowers for "never going downtown."

Opposition to the height came from south White Plains homeowners who do not live anywhere near the downtown and would not see the towers from their homes.

Outright reservations about the heights were expressed by Rita Malmud and Robert Greer, candidates for Councilperson and Mayor, respectively. Tom Roach, Democrat candidate for Council and Candyce Corcoran, County Legislature candidate were in attendance but did not speak. Larry Delgado, Mike Amodio and Robert Tuck, Republican candidates for Council were not present.

Ms. Malmud, City Council President, candidate for reelection, asked for her comments by the CNA's Ron Shakeridge, said Cappelli's presentation was "very informative. I learned some new things. Do we want this in our city? From Day one I think the answer is 'yes.' I still think this is a good mix. Where there is difficulty is to iron out these friction areas. The height is one of those. I'm extremely concerned with that (the height). I like the redesign of the facade, a much finer statement than earlier drawings. I haven't seen the paperwork. We're very eager to get that."

WPCNR asked Mrs. Malmud privately if she saw the council being able to approve the City Center project before election day. She said there were a lot of issues, and the paperwork which she was still waiting for and could not tell. We asked her if Cappelli lowered the height to 25 stories, and she said "that would make it easier."

Robert Greer, candidate for Mayor, asked by Shakeridge for his reactions, raised a new issue: the mix of retail:

"I like the amenities along Conroy. I'm still not sure about the height. I'm glad we have the urban study to help us with that. I like the commercial retail, but I'm not convinced they're all the right proportioning."

Claire Eisenstadt, former member of the Design Review Board, expressed disdain for the Cappelli high rise formula for its potential to create of noxious gases and polluting inversions of street air. She also chided Mr. Cappelli for the views residents would see on the rooftops, describing them as nothing but cell antennas and satellite dishes.

Mr. Cappelli dismissed her comment about the polluting aspects saying, "Well, you just don't like high rises. There's nothing I can do to change that. We can't be all things to all people."

Barbara Benjamin, of Concerned Citizens for Open Space, and three members of the CNA, Ron Shakeridge, of the Rosedale Association, Jesse Crell of Colonial Corners, The Orlandos of the Fisher Hill Association also expressed height concerns.

Claire Orlando of the Fisher Hill Association charged the special zoning for the Cappelli City Center was spot zoning. Susan Habel, Deputy Commissioner of Planning, in attendance, respectively disagreed.

In another query over zoning, Marc Pollitzer, of the North Street Civic Association, asked if any other parcels of 5 acres could be assembled in the city, in which case the 34 and 32-story zoning requested by Mr. Cappelli would set a precedent that another developer could take advantage.

Habel said no other 5-acre sites were available in White Plains. She said that the Cappelli site is 200,000 square feet and the two largest sites existing in the downtown are of 100,000 square feet and 50,000 square feet, where newly proposed zoning would only allow a building up to 28 stories with a 15 foot setback.

She said any developer would have to assemble 5 acres of land to qualify for the Cappelli heights, but would have obtain approval of the Common Council.

(Ms. Habel, by the way, discusses the proposed zoning changes for the downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods on the Friday evening July 13 cablecast of "White Plains Week" on Channel 71 at 7:30 PM.)

Ron Shakeridge asked why the residential couldn't simply be placed on top of the City Center, instead of in two cylindrical towers. Cappelli said it would not work because of the vast distances required by residents to walk to apartments on halls the length of a city block.

Another asked about traffic.

Cappelli allowed that his traffic study which takes into account the JPI, Bank Street Commons, and Clayton Park developments coming on stream, said that the streets could take the traffic. However, he acknowledged there would be traffic congestion: "It's not without impact. You'll be passing vibrant restaurants, pass them slower, but have a lot more to look at."

Cappelli sets timetable that spares holiday parking:

The developer said he expected to begin construction of the Martine garage on January 10, 2002 and complete it within 11 months, in time so that no holiday shopping season would be lost during the construction. He also said the new garage would "not look like a garage," but would look like a residential building.

Asked how long it would take to complete the City Center and apartments, Cappelli said 20 months.

No eminent domain expected.

Mr. Cappelli also assured residents that he was in what characterized as "successful" negotiations with three of the four owners of properties he seeks to obtain to complete the project. He feels that the city will not have to initiate eminent domain proceedings.

WPCNR has learned from a source close to the Cappelli association, that Mr. Cappelli had doubled his initial offer to the owner of one such parcel adjacent to the City Center site. This one owner is said to be offered $2 million plus an attractive rental within the City Center.

Ban on press lifted.

The Council of Neighborhood Associations lifted its traditional ban on news media in attendance for this meeting, perhaps ushering in a new era of openness in public discourse.

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