State of the City
WPCNR QUARTERLY STATE OF LIFE SERIES # 2: STATE OF THE CITY . News & Comment by John F. Bailey. March 25, 2023:
The times they are-a-changin’ in White Plains New York USA.
They are always changing.
White Plains has changed every 50 years.
From the sleepy grand boulevards with elegant large single family houses the first 10 years of the twentieth century to tearing down of those homes and turning them into business buildings, movie houses by the 20s and 30s. Building out to the residential north and south and east in the 1950’s . Then came doing away with the old Senator Hotel and rooming houses and the old train station with urban renewal in the 1960s.
Westchester One set the pace, leading to the building of the Galleria in the 70s, followed by the elimination of the old department stores, Macy’s then Alexander’s and A &S in the 1990s . A new train station finally replaced the hole in the ground left by the old station. Then came The Westchester Mall after much argument. Apartments were built on Bank Street. The Gateway One was built.
Now in the first 23 years of the 21st Century the city is in a long period of high rise building 40 story towers in downtown. The future started rising in 2001 when the City Center was first proposed bringing another upscale mall, movies back to downtown, followed by the concept of “connected or adjacent” zoning “finesse” which lead to the Ritz Carlton Renaissance Square condominiums and the concept of “mixed-use” development of residential buildings rising high with retail
Still the developments keep on coming:
Redesign of the 440 Hamilton and separate residential building (not completed yet). Tearing down of the Westchester Pavilion for a new mixed-used apartment and retail delayed by the recession of 2008 through the present day. We are still waiting for the design changes on that new hole in the ground. The Saks Fifth Avenue store was torn down and Fortunoff’s built another retail, business mall. The Crowne Plaza had appeared close by.
The White Plains Mall was sold and a new development, Hamilton Green has finally begun construction with excavation.
The Mitchell has just opened. The Gateway II apartments and mixed retail is going up very close to 20 stories now and could be finished and open by the end of this year. We still await the apartments now under construction at the old Esplanade being converted to apartments.
The apartments across from the Westchester are show signs of site preparation. The Waterstone assisted living residence has opened on Bloomingdale Road. Grid Properties sold their property between Maple Avenue and Post Road and White Plains Hospital is planning another hospital to be built on that property, no concrete plans yet presented. Two apartment buildings were opened on Maple up the road from Fortunoffs.
How has this changed the city? A lot.
What does city leadership have to consider? More than ever.
First, the city is heavy with traffic now. Before developments are finished.
We have a very real rush hour now with cars backing up bumper to bumper on Main Street going into the city. Talk about congestion pricing!
There is heavy traffic on North Broadway south into the city in the mornings and going out in the evenings. There is big time backups coming into the city from the East in the A.M. and out the P.M. Up from the South on Mamaroneck Avenue the traffic is zipping and trying to judge whether they can get through the yellow without getting caught in a photo violation of the red light rule at the Bryant and Mamaroneck intersection.
The traffic is complicated throughout the day by construction work on the roads possibly connected with building as well as needed maintenance.
Pedestrians are a problem because there are a lot of jaywalkers crossing the street that drivers must watch for. I tell you jaywalking (crossing in the middle of the block) and looking at cellphones while walking instead of watching for traffic is the new way to walk around White Plains New York USA. The pedestrians also cross in the striped cross walk against the light. However the timing on countdown lights seconds before the light changes is a terrific feature of the city traffic system.
The building has been amping up literally for the last two years. As you can tell, from the by no means complete rundown of approved projects not yet going up and starting to go up, we have yet to see the full impact of traffic when the new residents start adding their cars to the mix of traffic.
Take it from me the notion the new residents are not going to have cars is a fantasy. If you believe the electric car predictions we need a lot of recharging stations we do not have now!
The city needs to be looking at how it brings relief to the growing traffic congestion now, before it turns into gridlock when The Mitchells, the Hamilton Greens, the Gateway IIs start to fill up with tenants and that’s just two more building chock full of people with cars.
Should roads be widened in the downtown? (I don’t see how.)
Should there be express lanes out on Main and Hamilton in the rush hours? Bring on the traffic consultants nowwwwwwwwwww.
The city and Common Council need to start a bunch of task forces and studies—A traffic in-flow and outflow study, a study of pedestrian enforcement before some jaywalker miscalculates Crossing gates in the roadways at lighted intersections– time for thinking out of the box.. A trolley system study to get folks from the high rises to the train station. I think about 15 years ago, the city did do a trolley study for about $160,000 but it was never made public.
And while it enters my mind those bus only lines really jammy up the traffic because Main, Mamaroneck Ave and Hamilton Avenue are too narrow.
Development is going non-stop in White Plains.
As George Gretsas once said, a town that does not develop, dies.
Right now development is looked on as the future of White Plains. It may make the city survive but it might strangle us too.
Another mixed use project: the new Galleria development is being contemplated. No site plan has been officially submitted. Peter Katz of the Westchester County Business Journal reported in Monday issue, the Mayor is not interested in discussing with Pacific Retail Partners until they come in with a request for a zoning change.
The Mayor also told Mr. Katz that the city owns the parking garage and expected to be paid for the garage. This city stance is interesting. Usually the city goes along with whatever a developer wants, they get: height, parking capacity. This will be a huge project that will afflict the traffic flow into and out of the city for at least 5 years, once they start it. The question is when they will get approval to raze the existing ruin of the Galleria that will be closed March 31.
The White Plains Hospital expansion, on the other hand is receiving utmost cooperation from the White Plains city government in developing its latest project. But…but….but it also deserves real traffic scrutiny, Maple and Post Road and South Lex are main routes out to the south side of town. The traffic situation is lousy in the mornings at the Dickstein Center and City Garage that the city built for the hospital.
The drivers dropping off patients in traffic lanes on Maple for the new office complex are rear-enders waiting to happen – and to charge for parking there is an outrage. In Greenwich Hospital, you get valet parking free. The traffic patterns in that development the hospital wants is another mess if they do not pay attention at city hall .
In real estate, White Plains remains a very attractive place to live because of the low real estate taxes and the school system. However as County Legislator Benjamin Boykin said in this week’s People to Be Heard interview, the county is still trying to get small businesses back to full strength. The legislator is worried that the economy is iffy.
Nowhere is it more iffy for people buying real estate, selling real estate, and representing real estated.Real Estate is flopping around on the dock because the banks are folding.
As residents in White Plains know, people want to buy their houses. Realtors want White Plains homeowners to put their homes on the market because the realtors need inventory, more houses to sell so prices can come down within reach of the first time buyers, and the moving-on-uppers.
The seller if he or she put their home, condo, co-op or two family home up for sale, can they get their price they planned on?
With this latest big time bank failures in the billions last week, compounded by the 8% inflation rate, first time buyers are getting mortgage rates that literally kill their ability to buy. You have to put 20% down on a 30 year mortgage. On a $400,000 home, that’s $100,000 down. Those of us who put middle market homes are already seeing prices escalate on those.
The median market price of Westchester homes in the third quarter was $872,000 driven by the higher priced properties which have had to come down in their prices.
Homeowners now have to think seriously about fixing up conditions that may easily force them to lower their price to sell, allowing for repairs future homeowner might have to do. (It is a negotiation. If the owner invests to make his or her home acceptable, will they get their investment in repairs back?) Living in White Plains you will sell your home fast if you lower the price, but can you afford to do so?
The schools continue to have a good reputation. The student body is very diverse. The atmosphere is good there. The school budget at a 1.9% increase up for approval May 18,is not a problem, increasing the average $650,000 single family house taxes $200. However the rise in the budget would not have been possible without the massive school aid freed up by the state legislators–made possible by covid aid.
If the County and City are afflicted with another covid sixth wave this summer (what happened last year) there may be some serious budget problems in 2024-25 school year. The enrollment is declining, but as Brenda Starr always tells me you cannot cut budgets year to year and deliver the same service (or academic atmosphere) in any organization.
Politics: the city will again be controlled this fall by an all Democratic Common Council, since the Republican Party has not announced any candidates yet.
What this Common Council has to do is develop the ability to ask questions of developers, examine the plans they present in the light of ancillary effects on the city and make changes. Each site plan in the ever flowing White Plains Development Pipeline, not yet submitted has to be viewed more in relation to the environment it is going to affect. Impacts count!
The city solar project placements should continue. The panels on roofs of city owned buildings and availability of incentives to put solar on privately buildings built or not built yet – should have been pushed for that Every new project should be put to the task.
The Common Council should explore utility prices with Con Edison and Westchester Power, and the Public Service Commission and the New York Independent Systems Operator. They need to find out the reasons behind why Westchester Power was forced to pay a higher rate than Con Edison, with Escos unable to compete with a lower bid. No one else is doing this. We should. This was a move to prevent consortium purchasing of electric power which has really hurt Con ED
This really hurt a Westchester Power-city like White Plains which by participation made it work. If I were on the council I would have asked to have the power establishment of New York State explain. The Escos and the power giant operated as a monopoly in restraint of trade which is against the law.
On another pressing environmental issue coming on the week when the U.N. said we have 10 years to save the world from climate change, I would explore the advantages of requiring existing Houses and new houses to be built in White Plains should use geo-thermal units, and I suggest this to The Mayor and Council should explore this, perhaps subsidize it.
Have I left anything out. I am sure I have forgotten something. If I have overlooked an issue in the city I have missed and is important to you, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your opinion counts.
This is the second in the States of Life Series of First Quarter Reports where the White Plains, Westchester, New York Stage, the Mid-Hudson Regions are, in coping with their lives, expectations of government, things to watch for, situations to be alarmed about. You might call the States of Life series a reality report. You may not agree that what I write is true real or what, but my observations are put forth in your best interests to sort out your personal priorities always moving forward and draw out your own personal opinions which can be forwarded to email@example.com.