The Roundtable Discussion on the Downtown. See it at www.LWVWP.org

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WPCNR DOWNTOWN WHITE PLAINS TOWN. By Michael Kraver, Moderator, submitted in response to a WPCNR request. September 19, 2016:

(Editor’s Note: Last Wednesday, at Church Street Schoo, September 15, the White Plains League of Women Voters and The White Plains Rotary Club sponsored a moderated discussion on the present state and future of the White Plains Downtown. WPCNR requested an  overview of the discussion. Michael Kraver, one of the moderators contributed this wrap-up. The complete program  may be viewed on the League of Women Voters website at  www.LWVWP.org )

I served as the moderator during the first part of the evening.  Denise D’Ambrosio, moderated the second part (Q&A).

The evening began with an introduction, citing some statistics and showing some pictures of downtown WP, to set a factual context for the panelists’ presentations.  Without getting too much into the details, the overview showed that WP’s population has been consistently growing at a faster rater than its neighboring communities for at least 10 years (culminating in recently being identified as the fastest-growing city in New York State by Business Insider).  Yet, when we look at sales tax revenues, we see that WP has been essentially flat over the last 4 years, while Westchester County overall, and other nearby municipalities, have shown increases over the same time period.

The panelists then spoke.  Geraldine Tortorella spoke first, with a legal overview of how municipalities control the way land is used.  She spoke about comprehensive plans and zoning codes. She also about the process by which zoning can be changed, encouraging those in attendance to participate in the public discussion when zoning changes are being considered, as the best way for them to influence the character of their community.  David Schiff was the next speaker.  He discussed historical changes in downtown White Plains dating back decades, and spoke of some challenges downtown areas across the country are wrestling with in the modern era.  Kevin Nunn was the final speaker.  He gave an overview of the BID’s activities, and presented some current data.  Our office vacancy rate is significantly higher than it had been before the recession, but reasons for optimism include a number of tenants who will be moving in soon, and investments being made in the downtown.

During the Q&A session, a few general themes emerged.  Speakers expressed frustration about (i) the lack of a recent update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, (ii) a parking policy that, in the opinion of a few who asked questions, seems to discourage people from going downtown, and (iii) a perceived lack of cleanliness, up to the City’s historical standards. There were also questions about how to ensure that reasonably priced housing is available downtown, and about how to make the downtown area more enticing for people to spend significant time.  From my perspective, the central theme that kept arising during the discussion was the importance of citizen participation in discussions about policy that impacts our downtown, from possible zoning changes to parking rates.

That is an overview of a two-hour discussion, and I’ve certainly left out some interesting details.  I understand that the night was recorded, but do not personally know when the recording will be available.  Madeline, Stephen, and Denise might be able to supplement my summary, or even offer a different perspective than I about what was most notable.)

I served as the moderator during the first part of the evening.  Denise D’Ambrosio moderated the second part (Q&A).

The evening began with an introduction, citing some statistics and showing some pictures of downtown WP, to set a factual context for the panelists’ presentations.

Without getting too much into the details, the overview showed that WP’s population has been consistently growing at a faster rater than its neighboring communities for at least 10 years (culminating in recently being identified as the fastest-growing city in New York State by Business Insider).

Yet, when we look at sales tax revenues, we see that WP has been essentially flat over the last 4 years, while Westchester County overall, and other nearby municipalities, have shown increases over the same time period.

The panelists then spoke.  Geraldine Tortorella spoke first, with a legal overview of how municipalities control the way land is used.  She spoke about comprehensive plans and zoning codes. She also about the process by which zoning can be changed, encouraging those in attendance to participate in the public discussion when zoning changes are being considered, as the best way for them to influence the character of their community.

David Schiff was the next speaker.  He discussed historical changes in downtown White Plains dating back decades, and spoke of some challenges downtown areas across the country are wrestling with in the modern era.

Kevin Nunn (Executive Director of the White Plains BID) was the final speaker.  He gave an overview of the BID’s activities, and presented some current data.  Our office vacancy rate is significantly higher than it had been before the recession, but reasons for optimism include a number of tenants who will be moving in soon, and investments being made in the downtown.

During the Q&A session, a few general themes emerged.

Speakers expressed frustration about (i) the lack of a recent update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, (ii) a parking policy that, in the opinion of a few who asked questions, seems to discourage people from going downtown, and (iii) a perceived lack of cleanliness, up to the City’s historical standards.

There were also questions about how to ensure that reasonably priced housing is available downtown, and about how to make the downtown area more enticing for people to spend significant time.

From my perspective, the central theme that kept arising during the discussion was the importance of citizen participation in discussions about policy that impacts our downtown, from possible zoning changes to parking rates.That is an overview of a two-hour discussion, and I’ve certainly left out some interesting details.

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