The Common Council approved the Fortunoff’s complex proposed for the former Saks Fifth Avenue site Thursday evening. Louis Fortunoff saw groundbreaking in the spring, opening in fall, 2003.
The Council heard the Taxi Fare Increase proposal and agreed to pass the MacMansions Zoning Ordinance as soon as possible in January or February at the latest, after hearing half of all homes in the south end appear to be not in compliance with current zoning.
In a Special Meeting of the Common Council, Louis Fortunoff received unanimous approval of 6-0 for an upscale retail complex on the corner of Bloomingdale Road and Maple Avenue, setting the stage for the creation of White Plains’ own “Million Dollar Mile” by the fall of 2003. Approval of the city proposal to execute the street improvements was delayed because Councilman Benjamin Boykin was not in attendance, (a unanimous vote of the Council being required), however the approval of the street work is expected to be forthcoming.
Mr. Fortunoff thanked the council, saying, “We felt welcome from Day One. The White Plains team of professionals and Common Council did their due diligence and did what they had to do to make it a reality.”
Fall, 2003 is the Fortunoff Target
In an impromptu news conference in the City Hall mezzanine, Mr. Fortunoff spoke of the time schedule. He said the first thing his construction would be doing was to eliminate the asbestos from the Saks Fifth Avenue building, then obtain demolition permits. He said he expected to break ground sometime in the spring and expected to open by Labor Day, September 2003.
Just a few good stores
The complex he said would not be seeking to attract what he described as “boutique” stores, but instead feature only 4 to 7 “larger store units” at ground level wrapping around the Bloomingdale Road, Maple Avenue corner, serving as satellite draws to the Fortunoff’s anchor. He said he would seek one or two restaurants to share the street level arcade presenting on Bloomingdale Road and Maple Avenue.
Holding space off the market he says
Asked to name prospective tenants, he said it was too early. He is thinking of “keeping the space off the market until the economy improves,” delaying seeking tenants until eight months before the opening. Fortunoff pointed out that eight months was the normal amount of time retailers needed to put their retail space in order normally, anyway. He said the economy was not in good shape right now, but “we’re going ahead anyway. We have faith in Westchester’s economy and the American economy.”
Taxi Cab Fare Increases Outlined
Taxi Commission Chairman, Daniel Hickey briefed the Common Council on his proposal for restructuring White Plains taxi rates. Hickey said the had met with Jeffrey Klein, an attorney representing the taxicab drivers and owners, heard their concerns.
He outlined past rate increase history, the last official raise being in 1996 of 10% across the board, followed by a 50-cent surcharge added for cab rides between midnight and 5 AM, and 30 cent timed-out gas surcharges in 2000 and in 2001, a 30-cent surcharge that expired in October to meet rising gasoline prices.
The Wish List
The drivers asked Hickey for a $1.25 across-the-board increase, he said, which the Chairman said would mean a 40% rise in the closest-in zone to a 15% rise in the farthest out zone. (White Plains taxis are based at the Trans Center.) Mr. Hickey added that the drivers wanted changes in the exclusive use policy, the dispatched call issue.
The Hickey Compromise
Mr. Hickey advised the Council he had arrived at a series of compromises to address these issues.
1. A $1.00 surcharge for exclusive use of a cab.
2. A 50-cent surcharge on dispatched calls. (Where cabbie is dispatched to one point to go to another point in the city.)
3. He is shrinking Zone 3 so that it stops at Maple Avenue, rather than Bryant Avenue as it does now. Zone 4 would be extended North to Maple Avenue and Bloomingdale Road to the new supermarket (Stop N Shop). This Hickey feels will provide cabbies with more revenue on trips out to The Westchester and Westchester Avenue. This, Hickey says, is to counter cabbie complaints that trips to Zone 4 take longer because of the heavier traffic in the Central Business District (Zone 3).
4. Flat fees would be increased 50 cents a trip in Zones 2,3, and 4. (From the Trans Center to Bryant Avenue, which comprise 50% of all cab calls.
5. Flat fees would be raised 25 cents a trip in Zones 1,5,6, and 7. (Zone 1 is the North Broadway Woodcrest Heights area; Zone 5, South of Ridgeway to Sammis Lane; Zone 7, South of Sammis Lane.)
6. He is calling for a $10 Safety Inspection Fee twice a year. (Currently there is no fee.) Police inspect the cabs in June and December.
Hickey advised that he expected the cab drivers would be seeking relief from expected rising gas prices very soon, since gas prices are expected to rise sharply.
The Common Council did not raise strong objections to the proposal, and Hickey said he hoped the plan could be put on the agenda for the February 2002 Common Council meeting.
Council finds out more than 50% of homes in south end neighborhoods are “nonconforming” now.
The council heard Deputy Commissioner Susan Habel’s report on how many homes to be affected by the Planning Board so-called “MacMansions” Zoning Ordinance that the Council considered in September, but postponed due to a loud outcry from three persons appearing at the public hearing.
The Habel Dart Survey
Ms. Habel said she assigned David Marinelli, a draftsman in the Planning Department, a person she described as unbiased and not familiar at all with White Plains to throw darts at maps of neighborhoods in the south end, and based where the darts landed, to draw up a survey of how many homes on the “darted” sectors were not in compliance with present zoning. Mr. Marinelli’s “Darted Maps” were shown to the council. Taking randomly selected (by dart throw) maps of areas of Battle Hill, the Highlands and Westminster Ridge, the maps showed that over half the homes on the diagrammed blocks were found to nonconforming to setback regulations now under the present zoning.
Habel said one of the arguments of the “September 3” against the new “MacMansions” proposed zoning ordinance that seeks to limit the footprint of new construction and increase setbacks in the south end residential neighborhoods, was that the new ordinance would make many homes nonconforming, and that few homes were out of conformance now. Habel said the random “dart survey” revealed that this argument simply was not true.
The council, noting this information, and many neighborhood organizations, particularly the Highlands Civic Association, wondering why the “MacMansions” ordinance had not been passed, expressed a willingness to put the zoning ordinance on the agenda for January or February at the latest.
Tom Roach, Councilman Elect, Contributes.
Sitting in on the Common Council meeting, getting comfortable with his seat at the decision-making table was Tom Roach. Roach even made his first contributions, advising council members that in his experience in real estate closings, that the issue of whether a house was nonconforming or conforming “has never come up,” and has never held up or stopped a sale.
Roach said that persons speaking to him about it were simply fearful that if they were made “nonconforming,” they would not be able to rebuild their house. He advanced the theory that if residents were assured they could rebuild or the 70% damage figure raised, (the city building code allows an owner whose home is 70% destroyed to rebuild as before), and that fear of the new ordinance would prohibit them from rebuilding a house that had been nonconforming. Ms. Habel and the Law Department agreed to look into what was involved in raising that 70% percentage.
Loan rates for Community Development Loans, proposed to be lowered
Susan Habel advised the council the city was proposing to lower interest rates to persons seeking city development funds to 2%, 3%, 4% and 6% for persons with incomes less than 50% of median income, 50% to 60% of median income, and 70% and over 100% of median income, respectively. She also said the city wanted to raise the amount senior citizens on fixed incomes could borrow from $6,000 to $10,000.
Nicoletti asks for funding of study to multi-deck Waller and Maple parking lot.
Joseph Nicoletti, Commissioner of Public Works, asked the Common Council to study the feasibility of multi-decking the key Waller and Maple parking lot in the downtown (The lot behind the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant). Nicoletti pointed out that parking could be increased to 290 spaces from 185 by single decking…but the cost would be $30,000 a parking space. However, he said that by multi-decking (up to six decks, providing 800 spaces) the price per space could go down dramatically. He asked the council for permission to pursue a study of the multi-decking costs.
Streetscapes Project Continues
The council was advised by Deputy Commissioner of Planning, Susan Habel that IQ Associates would be returning shortly to show the Common Council designs for reconstruction of the “promenade gardens along Mamaroneck Avenue, in upgrading the city street ambience. Lampposts, benches, and refuse receptacles have already been installed. Habel said designs are being worked out with the City Center planners.