The Sidewalks of White Plains


Common Council Corral

By John F. Bailey


CityLine: June 4-5, 2001- City Hall

In other Common Council News:

Robert Greer questioned the Mayor on how the Department of Finance would run, now that John Powell and his assistant have resigned. Mayor Delfino said a national talent search was being conducted and that the duties of Mr. Powell would be assigned on a temporary basis until suitable candidates were found.

The Council referred out first readings of zoning ordinances amending the R2-2.25 Residential One and Two family Districts which restrict development of parcels in the residential areas close-in to the downtown to two-family homes.

The council referred out a first reading ordinance creating new Zoning districts in the core area, permitting buildings of 180 feet with 20 foot setbacks along Mamaroneck Avenue, which would pave the way for approximately 18-story residential buildings along Mamaroneck Avenue from Post Road to Main Street. Councilman Larry Delgado praised both ordinances, saying the R2-2.25 proposal "protects the quality of life in our neighborhoods by lowering density allowed," while the latter, "shows what can be built in our downtown."

The Council referred a First Reading Ordinance amending the fire code to allow for joint connections for hub-less pipe that the Mayor praised as being "very helpful to encourage more development," by removing "a very costly procedure."

The Council tabled the scheduling of a public scoping hearing on the Fenway Golf Club proposal to construct two maintenance buildings on their property.

The council voted to raise the property tax relief threshold for owners of 1-2 and 3 family homes aged over 65 in accordance with Governor Pataki's request. According to Eyde McCarthy, Tax Assessor, the tax relief will rise to 5% for a combined family income of 29,900, and to 50% for a family with a combined family income of $20,500. For information about qualifying for this relief, please contact the Office of the Assessor. McCarthy said the county has passed it and will notify the school district at the end of the week.

The Council approved the JPI Jefferson at White Plains 281-unit apartment complex for 300 Mamaroneck Avenue. During the public hearing, JPI said it would be building 180 one-bedroom units, 85 two-bedroom units, and 16 "affordable" units. They agreed and the council amended the approval resolution to stipulate 5 one-bedroom units and 11 one-bedrooms in the 16-unit "affordable" mix. The council also amended the resolution to require JPI to run a shuttle bus to the train station if more than 75 residents expressed interest in having such a surface.

A total of 129 units would be included in the apartment complex on Mamaroneck Avenue, and 43 would be part of the townhouse complex on Greenridge and Rutherford. There would be 470 parking spaces in the parking garage and 25 parking spaces on the entry street dividing the town houses form the apartment houses on the block.

The plaza fronting on Mamaroneck Avenue is to be designed to include ten 7 foot by 25 foot planters which would provide a green ambiance to the apartment plaza, according to Michael Dibney, site engineer. A rooftop gardens would not be built on top of the garage or the apartments because of sighting problems with neighboring buildings according to Dibney.

Eyde McCarthy, Tax Assessor for the City of White Plains, explained the newly agreed-to PILOT arrangement. She reports the PILOT will run 15 years. In the first year of construction, JPI will pay the city $123,000. The second year of construction will require a $150,000 payment, and in the third year, $180,000. McCarthy said that in Year 4 of the Payment In Lieu of Taxes arrangement, the complex would be treated as it was fully rented with taxes set at $2,900 per unit, resulting in a fourth year payment of $814,900. From Year 5 to Year 15 of the deal, JPI will be taxed at the market rate. McCarthy also reports as part of the PILOT, the developer has waived their right to appeal their assessment out to year 15 of the project. McCarthy said "No subsidies are being given in the fourth year."

Mark Weingarten, attorney for JPI, stressed the project had been nursed along with the neighborhood association, the Highlands Civic Association, which had endorsed the project. He said traffic would be forced by in-complex signage to Mamaroneck, and "whatever works for the city (to accomplish this) works for us." Weingarten met other objections raised during the hearing, saying the "den" units contained dens that had 6-foot wide openings and no closet space, thus preventing easy conversion to use as a second bedroom, a primary objection of some residents speaking at the hearing. Weingarten said residents will be prohibited from making any changes to the structure of the apartments by the leases.

Weingarten assured residents worried about blasting, that JPI would schedule informational construction meetings to advise Greenridge residents of how the project would proceed. He said the project would close August 4, and would take 18 to 20 months to complete.

Perhaps the most interesting public comment was made by Sylvia Witzke, a resident of White Oaks Condominium who said she had not moved to New Rochelle, and chose White Plains instead because of its somewhat suburban atmosphere. She said she feared that the JPI Jefferson development was one that had to be considered as the first step towards bringing high density residential into the outer neighborhoods.

"Is this the future of Mamaroneck Avenue? Is this the future of White Plains? Is this where White Plains is going to...more urban and dense? It's a green city."

Louis Cappelli presented his application to be named the designated developer of the Main and Mamaroneck urban renewal parcel and in a "Late Night with Louis Cappelli Show" which began at 11 PM, presented an approximately 25-board, one-man show describing his plans for his twin tower City Center project. It was a complete overview of the project as it presently stands and may be seen on Channel 72 approximately 11 PM...when Channel 72 repeats its live telecast. Contact 422-1419 for more information.

Some new facts that surfaced during his presentation were that his 34-story and 30-story "Cappelli Towers" and 10-story loft residential building are to bring 1,000 new residents downtown. He said he hopes to build the development in 20-months, without closing the Martine Avenue garage over either holiday shopping season. He now plans to pay the city $2.6MM per year for seventeen years of PILOT payments rather than the $1.7MM that Tishman-Speyer was going to pay.

He said he would need "eminent domain" help since the owners of the parcels he hopes to acquire were not agreeing to his terms. (After the meeting, George Gretsas, city Executive Officer, said the city is in the process of acquiring accurate appraisals of the Fleet Bank, the A.O. Lin property, the pyschiatic site, and the bank site, to proceed with eminent domain action.)

Cappelli said he would employ 1,008 people working at the City Center once it was finished which would bring a $40 million payroll to the city. Board after board showcasing Ernst & Young projections of fat City Center revenues and sales taxes was lifted up and shown to the Council in a series of figures that promised a spectacular return on the city investment. After a while, the councilmembers' eyes seemed to be glazed over with the succession of figures.

Cappelli said, "I can't emphasize enough how important it is for any business district to have housing downtown. The more apartments. The more people, the more vital that economy becomes."

He displayed plans for the site showing a 34-story apartment building that on the plans soared spectacularly well above the 4-story complex. Modeled on a combination of The Chatham and The Empire buildings in Manhattan, the tall thin, pyramided-at-the-pinnacle buildings tower above the City Center complex in the same manner that the Space Needle towers over downtown Seattle. It does stand out, even on the line drawing plans. And he plans two of them. He plans a beacon at the top of each.

He went into detail on the Floor plans of the City Center. He plans a Cheesecake Factory Restaurant on the corner of Main and Mamaroneck in the present Greenpoint Savings Bank building. He sees Legal Seafood across the street from City Hall, and California Pizza Kitchen on Mamaroneck Avenue. He said he was in negotiations with Citibank to install a bank office in the center.

The facade on Mamaroneck Avenue is more in keeping with the classic Westchester Arts Council Building than the more colorful original renderings. He has toned the look down.

On the second floor, he has placed Target Stores, and the third floor he plans a Sears Great Indoor Store.

The fourth floor is reserved for an 18-screen National Amusements theater complex which signed a letter of intent with Mr. Cappelli Monday afternoon scant hours before the Council meeting. The Community Theater will be on the fourth floor. Cappelli said he plans to outfit the theater, and said he will help fundraise to furnish the interior of the theater.

Cappelli, in addition to asking to be named designated developer, was seeking formal approval of the Council for him to begin demolishing the Macy's building without council approval of the City Center project.

Cappelli's attorney, Peter Wise, and reporter, Jim Benerofe, a realty expert confirm that Cappelli had the right to demolish the structures on the site, as of right. As a good will gesture, Cappelli is willing to post a $5 million bond as protection for the city should he fail to complete the project and was formally asking permission of the Council to demolish the Macy's building.

Cappelli said it would take him 3 months to demolish the Macy's building and another two months to dig the foundation for the City Center.

In council comments after the developer's presentation, the most significant was Robert Greer's observation that "There's a lot about this project I like a great deal. I'm not so sure about a 30-story building. I'm not sure I'm for it. We need to have some expert advice from an urban design consultant. What we're doing is going to change White Plains for years to come. I want expert advice from an impartial source, then we could think about it (30 stories). But White Plains is going to change. I want to make sure."

As Greer said this, Mayor Delfino was obviously disturbed, fidgetting and twisting in his seat, and becoming tightlipped. It had been Greer who just two weeks previously had after being informed by the Planning Department that the city recommended possibly 25 stories for Mr. Cappelli's residential towers, had said "Why not higher?" and had stated the center of the town was where you could put height. Obviously, Councilman's Greer's caution and concern caught the Mayor by surprise.

Cappelli was unruffled and smoothly said that he would encourage the hiring of a consultant for an "impartial" decision.

In the course of comments, Cappelli said that he would have his financing by August 15, and that would be done through CIBC, the international investment banking firm that has, according to a WPCNR source financed hotels and developments world wide and is described as "a major player." Cappelli said he would have to have his final approval for the project before he could lock in his financing.

Rita Malmud, too expressed concerns similar to Mr. Greer's: "We are definitely a suburban city...I don't know all the different factors that will affect us (if Cappelli builds his project). I'd like to get more professional advice. I think Mr. Greer's suggestion to hire a professional urban planner would be very helpful."

Malmud also said it was time to examine the finances of the project, but Mayor Delfino said this hearing was only for designating Cappelli as the developer, that it was not an approval hearing on the project. After Malmud continued to worry about discussion of the financing of the project. Delfino said kindly, "We're going to do that. We're only deciding to designate him as a sponsor."

Councilman King expressed enthusiasm for the project and for the design of the buildings, and suggested a Cappelli payment for the use of E J Conroy Drive might be made in exchange for Cappelli completing the community theater portion.

A small handful of residents took the opportunity to speak.

Claire Eisenstadt, an architect, spoke strongly against the project, claiming the 30-story buildings were out of proportion to the width of the streets, Main and Mamaroneck and Martine, and the design violated basic architectural principles of proportion. She asked the council, "How in good conscience can you approve these buildings?" She questioned Mr. Cappelli's shadow study saying they were done at 12 noon, and said she needed to see the shadows at other times of the day, too. She demanded the council "stop all discussions with Mr. Cappelli," and criticized the project for being just another mall concept that the city did not need.

Gus Karam, a Professor of Economics at Pace University, and previously a strong critic of the Tishman Speyer project, also spoke out strongly against the city continuing the $23 million payment to Mr. Cappelli for the new parking garage. "The only rational is that it was done before. He (Cappelli) just wants a higher margin." Karom called on the council to reject the project on several points: that it was not "subordinate to the common good;" that it was not building 2 30-story buildings but might lead to a third 30-story building down the street on Main Street; that high rises were only being suggested because they were more profitable and "it is up to you (the council) to balance their needs," that it violated every single principle of architecture, and that "very few major cities encourage buildings of 340 feet or more.

Two residents spoke in favor of the project briefly and two other residents expressed strong reservations.

A resident from Ossining, Tom Langston, was allowed to speak by the Mayor, and he warned the Council to be careful dealing with Mr. Cappelli, based on the experience of Ossining, but the Mayor would not let him continue, feeling that casting aspersions on Mr. Cappelli personally was out of order. The Mayor's comment as Mr. Langston returned to his seat was "Outrageous."

At this point the hearing was closed. The Council voted 7-0 to approve Cappelli as the designated sponsor, then debated some more over the agreement that would allow him to begin demolishing the Macy's building as early as next week prior to approval.

After 20 minutes expressing reservations, the council voted 6-1 to allow Mr. Cappelli to begin demolishing the garage, and in return for this approval, Mr. Cappelli was to post a $5 million bond. Councilman Boykin voted against the agreement. Cappelli as part of the right to demolish, agrees to refill the hole and create a park and parking lot, should he fail to build the project.

In the hall outside the council chambers, Executive Officer George Gretsas told WPCNR that the city would first thing on Tuesday develop some possible urban planning consultants for the Council to consider. The Mayor expressed surprise to WPCNR that Mr. Greer had called for an urban consultant and appeared to be backing off his original suggestion that Cappelli design the residential portion higher than 25 stories.

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