Mayor Joseph Delfino was sworn in for his second consecutive term as Mayor of White Plains Monday evening. Rita Malmud took the oath of office for her fourth term as a Councilperson. New Councilman Thomas Roach was sworn in for his first term at the first Common Council meeting of the new year. It was also the first-ever 6-person Council. Susan Habel was appointed Commissioner of Planning.
The Opening Bell for Round One of a Three-Round Match between New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Common Council sounded.
The Main Event was the opening of the Public Hearing on the New York Presbyterian Hospital Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was adjourned to February 4 after 3-1/2 hours of presentation and comment.
It featured Dr. Arthur Klein, Chief Operating Officer of New York Presbyterian Hospital, heading a lineup of powerful speakers extolling the bright future for White Plains if the proposed hospital biomedical complex on any of four possible sites were to be approved and built.
In a one-hour to-the-minute presentation, hospital executives painted a seductive picture of burgeoning economic riches to the Common Council and a live tv audience. The riches would result, they said should the proposed proton accelerator cancer treatment facility and biomedical research facility on the Bryant Avenue, Bloomingdale Road be built.
They promised the complex would bring new residents to fill the downtown luxury apartments and buy White Plains homes, and professionals from all over the world to fill our new hotel on Bank Street.
They assured the council that the facility was not treatment intensive with most visitors and patients being essentially “medical tourists” with brief stays.
They promised 958 new jobs ranging from $50M to over $100,000 per year salaried positions, plus 1,000 more jobs throughout Westchester County.
White Plains a biomedical player?
Patricia Ardigo, of Insignia ESG, a broker who puts together biomedical research clusters described White Plains as the entry for New York State to catch up with New Jersey, California, Texas and North Carolina in the fast-growing biomedical research industry.
Paul Bergins, in one of his most animated and persuasive presentations we have seen him make, promised a “medical mecca” in the center of White Plains.
A phalanx of experts in water treatment, utilities, architecture, and economic development painted a picture of a complex with no environmental impact, that could handle the traffic with 2 new traffic light adjustments on Bryant Avenue and parking prohibited from the Mamaroneck Avenue and Bryant vicinity.
Dogged Opposition Surfaces, accusing hospital of master plan ambiguity, danger of segmented development, zoning subterfuge.
Allan Teck of Concerned Citizens for Open Space was the first speaker to take the floor claiming the hospital proposal had failed to provide a detailed master plan as required by zoning as part of the DEIS. He warned the Council against “segmented” development of the property.
Marc Pollitzer, speaking as President of the North Street Association, chided the hospital for quoting only half of the 1997 Master Plan “vision statement” for the New York Presbyterian Hospital property, which called for passive recreation, and fields on the property. He asked the question whether the Master Plan proposed by the hospital in spring 2000 was still in effect and how it extended past 2006.
He pointed to the former proposed Marrott site and asked why it could not be combined with an adjacent site to place the two buildings there. Pollitzer raised the issue that the intended research use with the private sector might not qualify as hospital use as allowed in the city agreement with the hospital dating back to 1927.
Barbara Benjamin said she felt like “Alice in Wonderland having just stepped through the looking glass.” She said the site choices offered by the hospital were “in your face, and they talk about taking less trees, well, if they follow the Master Plan, they’re going to tear them all down.” She warned against segmented approval of portions of the hospital master plan, and said “it is going to take courage on the part of the Council to tell the hospital they don’t have the right to determine the future of our city.”
Thomas Whyatt, CCCOS lawyer, allowed that the project had some benefits, and brought back an argument 30 years old: the hospital was trying to mask a zoning change by asking for a special permit, instead. (The hospital is zoned residential.) Whyatt described the hospital as trying to “ram this down our throats,” and said it twice. He raised the spectre of segmented development, and the need for a detailed master plan. He twice described this as an “industrial complex.”
Patti Indelicato made the most pointed and overlooked argument of the evening and that was the impact of the December- approved Fortunoff complex on Maple Avenue and Bloomingdale Road. She pointed out how gridlock was in effect over the holidays at The Westchester and Saks Fifth Avenue without Fortunoff in place. She felt this had to be considered in weighing the effects on entry and egress at the complex from Bloomingdale Road.
Two residents argued in favor of the plan and its benefits to White Plains. One is the owner of Colin Systems and the other a resident of the Gedney Farms neighborhood (a CNR reader reports this person is an employee of the hospital and lives in Bryant Gardens), who felt the treatment of cancer was a worthy endeavor that far outweighed the environmental concerns. Several others asked that the hearing be kept open.
Council reaction: Not impressed
Rita Malmud expressed a long list of questions she wanted the hospital to address, chief of which was the site where the Marrott senior treatment facility was to have been built. She wanted answers to the hospital intentions for that property, as well as answers why the sites on the northern portion of the hospital property on I-287 could not be used for the two buildings proposed. She also raised worry about the storm water ponds being grounds for West Nile virus-bearing mosquitoes.
Benjamin Boykin centered his question on the abandoned Marriott site, too, asking answers as to why it could not combine with an adjacent site to house the complex away from the forested areas.
William King made a strong plea for a site behind the Memorial Methodist Church. He said the Hospital has advised it needs those sites for staff housing, but said he wanted an explanation for rejecting that area.
Mayor Delfino, commenting to WPCNR after the meeting, said he would direct Planning Commissioner Susan Habel to ask the hospital to answer the questions raised by the council and by Mr. Whyatt on the zoning by the next meeting. The hearing was adjourned to February 4.
Susan Habel installed as Planning Commissioner
Amid much praise from each member of the Common Council, Susan Habel capped a 16-year career with the city, by being appointed Commissioner of Planning, succeeding Mike Graessle. Ms. Habel savored her triumphant moment with shining eyes and the quiet dignity that surrounds her presence, as a drumroll of applause that greeted the Mayor’s announcement of her swearing in.
BID Assessment Increase Hearing Closed, Cleared, on Way for BID Business Owners.
The effort by the Downtown Business Improvement District to raise their assessment hearing appeared on track, as the council voted to close the hearing and cleared the way for the increasement in the assessment from $300,000 to $500,000.
However, BID Executive Director, Mark Scuyler, took pains to point out that this was not an all-at-once increase, that it would be phased-in, we assume, as needed by the BID Board of Directors. Scuyler said that the Operation Clean-Sweep where yellow shirted squads clean the downtown business district costs the BID $130,000 and that part of the need to have the ability to assess higher was to pay for this popular program.
The owner of Nicky’s Pizza took the podium and roundly criticized the BID for essentially creating jobs for its executives, and doing nothing to bring business to merchants within the district. She described the BID as “a scam,” pointedly criticizing the BID New Year’s Eve Party for awarding the catering contract to Sam’s of Gedney way which is not located within the BID district.
No explanation was given by Scuyler for this, and Scuyler had left the meeting before WPCNR could ask him about this. The critic also sparred with feisty style with Councilperson Malmud over the need for the BID’s street cleaning efforts. The owner said she had never been notified of BID meetings. The Mayor urged her to talk directly to Mr.Scuyler.
In other business.
The Council approved the renewal of a three year permit for Cafénani.
Cafenani fared better than Kelly’s Thirsty Turtle Pub which has been seeking an approval for outdoor patio in the rear of the East Post Road bar for nine months. At the eleventh hour, the owners of the Sloan Bar building balked at closing their driveway off with a chain, and The Esplanade requested a vestibule be built to restrict the amount of noise. The Council moved this to Wednesday morning when they would vote on the resolution after the Thirsty Turtle and Sloan Bar had signed written agreements calling for a security guard, provided by Mike Kelly, owner of the Thirsty Turtle to prevent potential Turtle customers from parking illegally in the Sloan Bar Lot.
William King announced the Traffic Department and Traffic Commission Annual Reports, and Youth Bureau Annual Report, and presented a 15-minute critique of traffic suggestions he wished the traffic department would look into, among them, on-street overnight parking, slant parking on Mamaroneck Avenue, more 4-way stops at key intersections even though 4 out of 5 requests made by the city of the state were rejected in the last year.
WPCNR will provide more detailed coverage later in the newsday.