On Thursday Port Chester’s Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing on the proposed 7-story mixed use development, “Tarry Lighthouse,” over the state line at Mill Street and North Main Street.
Port Chester Director of Planning & Zoning Eric Zamft said the Village is going through a 2+ year re-zoning process, and building height has been the subject of much community engagement. He said feedback has been in favor of keeping the existing character of the area and maintaining the “maritime village feel” on Main Street, and that public sentiment was that developments with height should be close to the train station, not on Abendroth Ave, which residents perceive as something of a “second Main Street.”
Downtown has a “perceived” lack of parking, Zamft continued, adding that because the proposed Tarry Lighthouse is in a flood zone, parking must be above ground.
Existing code is for a maximum of five stories, but the applicant seeks a variance to allow for seven, noting the requirement for above ground parking.
“The ‘Balancing Test’ balances the benefit to the applicant by granting of variances weighed against any detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding community.” – Applicant’s Anthony Gioffre of Cuddy and Feder
Gioffre said the application would provide considerable benefit to the neighborhood and village as a hole. He characterized it as a “strategically designed, modern mixed-use development” that would “set a friendly tone for the pedestrians” and create a welcoming and active streetscape.
He also said the existing site is comprised of several buildings “architecturally at odds with each other.”
Gioffre pointed out that buildings of 8 stories were permitted, as of right, as recently as 2013 and that the way the building is designed, it would not look like a mass block, but rather like several buildings.
“This proposal would stimulate the local economy by attracting more businesses. We’ve all heard millennials and the ‘live, work, play’ mantra as it relates to mixed use developments. And there is a shop component, which is very important for economic growth.
“This proposal will provide housing opportunities for young professionals and empty nesters, and provide residents (who have) discretionary income for local businesses. It will also provide employment opportunities.”
– Applicant’s Anthony Gioffre of Cuddy and Feder
“This is the poster child for Transit Oriented Development,” Gioffre said. “This proposal is conveniently located less than 1/3 of a mile from the train station. The Bee-Line Bus stop is in immediate area. It is convenient to highways, and off street bicycle parking is proposed within the building.”
“We’ve been hearing about a potential economic downturn,” Gioffre continued. ” We’ve been at this several years and cannot wait further.”
“Granting variances will benefit the community in terms of business growth, will stimulate the market for existing and potential businesses, and will reduce parking stress experience.” – Applicant’s Anthony Gioffre of Cuddy and Feder
During public comment, Joe Kantorski, chair of the Byram Neighborhood Association said quality of life would decrease for local residents on both sides of the state line.
“There are times you can walk faster than you can drive,” he said of his forays into Port Chester on foot. “But it’s more dangerous. It’s called capacity failure.”
Kantorski also said Tarry Lighthouse would set a new precedent on Main Street, and change the character of Port Chester’s downtown forever.
John Ravitz, of the 100-member Business Council of Westchester, said he was delighted to support the development.
“We appreciate that it will serve as a strong catalyst to stimulate Port Chester’s downtown,” he said.
Also in favor of the development was Dennis Schack who owns Sam’s Restaurant. Mr. Schack said he felt badly for businesses being squeezed out, but believed development was inevitable.
“Why halt development?” he asked. “They’re coming anyway. …Developers are buying large swaths of downtown Port Chester.”
Several people who oppose the development noted the historic significance of the block.
Architect Norm Davis, born in Port Chester and an Advisor to the Greenwich Preservation Trust, said the development would displace a block with significant historic value, including a foundry dating to the early 1800’s that is the last remaining factory of the Industrial Revolution.
He said two dozen buildings on Main Street have been recognized at the state level as worthy of recognition.
“All the goals can be done without destroying the block,” Davis argued, adding, “We’ve seen what happened in Liberty Square, (Westchester Avenue, North Main Street, South Main Street and Lower King Street) where the quirky nature of Port Chester was destroyed by development that turns its back on Main Street. This (Tarry Lighthouse) will also turn its back on Main Street by replacing a historic building that serves other purposes.”
Matt Popp, a landscape architect from Byram, said while the developer argues he has “hardship” based on working within a flood zone, there are also hardships on the neighborhood, including health and safety.
“The free-for-all cross walks – you’re adding a lot more people but not improving the crosswalks or traffic,” Popp said. “There is no public outdoor space. You have 200+ units, you might have 100 dogs. Where are their dogs supposed to go outside? There is no outdoor usable space.”
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said he supported both economic development and projects that respect tradition. But, he said, “This project does neither. You have proposals before you that are very good but you could not have picked a worse venue.”
Camillo said the project would add to traffic congestion, and he feared EMT, fire and police would have problems accessing Greenwich residents.
“Certain times of the day it’s a parking lot. This will make it worse. We’ll consider any and all options including the possibility of closing the road on our end. It’s not an empty threat.” – Fred Camillo, Greenwich First Selectman
Joan Grangenois-Thomas, of Port Chester said Peekskill, NY was an example of a town doing a good job repurposing old buildings, and noted the existing area in Port Chester is vibrant.
“We have plenty of people coming in,” she said. “Consider the businesses on street level and second floor…We have beautiful restaurants that will be impacted. They can’t pick up and move easily.”
Grangenois-Thomas said from what she’d seen social media, Port Chester residents object to the development. “It’s the wrong project, in the wrong place.”
“Folks love Port Chester with its rusty, dusty form” – Joan Grangenois-Thomas, Port Chester
Samarpana Tamm, from Byram, also talked about traffic congestion and pedestrian safety. “When lights change, cars don’t move,” she said of the intersection of Mill Street and North Water Street. “There have been two accidents involving pedestrians on Mill Street this past yer. I can’t think of a worse place for a new building.”
“You said there is a perceived lack of parking. It’s a definite lack of parking,” Tamm added. “You also mentioned the new building would promote people to come to Port Chester. Well, don’t you think that’ll cause an increase of traffic?”
Tamm presented a petition against the development she spent “a few hours” circulating, achieving about 100 signatures.
“I’ve not spoken to one person who is in favor of this,” she said.
CT State Rep Steve Meskers, (D-150) warned that Port Chester might start to look like White Plains.
“Traffic studies done by developers are traffic studies done by people hired by developers. There is inherent conflict,” Meskers said. “What I heard was 240+ apartments, 340 parking spots and 350 employees,” he continued, going on to say that with residents, customers and clients of the retail businesses at least 600 or 700 people would need to get there. “That’s about 700 cars,” he said.
Al Shehadi of Byram noted the applicant’s traffic consultant looked at four intersections and concluded, the intersections operate at good levels of service after the opening of the proposed project.
“Does anyone think they currently operate at acceptable levels of service?” he asked.
He also questioned the applicant’s reference to a “gift” of additional parking to the community. “It’s clear it’s for the use of the building,” he said.
Like Mr. Davis and Ms Grangenois-Thomas, Mr. Shehadi questioned the applicant’s claim that there are no historic buildings on the site, and asserted that Port Chester has a historic downtown with a maritime feel.
Challenging attorney Gioffre’s statement that the existing buildings are “at odds with each other,” and that at the other end of N Main St (Liberty Square by Costco), the waterfront development is “consistent,” Mr. Shehadi asked, “Do we want consistency?”
He said a new State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) study that includes Port Chester indicates there are two historic buildings on the site.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the result of the SHPO survey is that it becomes a national historic eligible district including North Main Street,” he added.
Andrew Palmeres, from Port Chester, defended the project and criticized Greenwich’s First Selectman’s assertion that more traffic would threaten emergency services’ ability to get to their destinations.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, Port Chester is a village in name only,” Palmeres said. “You can’t use that as justification to deny this development. I heard a threat of shutting down a bridge. What kind of neighbor threatens a neighbor for trying to better their village?”
Joshua Koerner, a resident Port Chester’s historic Lifesaver building for 19 years, held up a photo of an empty pit in White Plains near the Crowne Plaza and the Cheesecake Factory, where a developer had run out of money .
“The developer should not be the only one with cute renderings. See this frozen wasteland?” Koerner asked. “Demo is so full of hope and anticipation. This was supposed to be a development….We might be left with a giant hole in the middle of Port Chester.”
Koerner said he discovered violation notices attached to two of the Tarry buildings for Failure to Obtain Mandatory fire Safety Inspection.
“This is not the hallmark of good building management,” Koerner said.
Koerner said this upcoming summer Wegman’s Supermarket plans to open in Harrison and he expects it will be hugely popular.
“Mill Street will be in their path or fill up 95. It’ll have a dramatic impact on traffic flow,” he said. “Cashiers, baggers and stock clerks won’t live in Harrison or Rye. They’ll live here. I know that because they had a recruiting office right across the street from The Waterfront.”
Wegman’s website says the company is hiring 500 employees in anticipation of the June 7, 2020 opening of a 121,000 sq ft store at 106 Corporate Park Drive in Harrison.
Meanwhile, he pointed out that the Key Food Supermarket building on Midland Ave is empty.
“It’s visible from space! Why not put up some housing there?” Koerner asked. “Put affordable housing there. That’s what we need if you want to make this a better place to live.”
Lastly, he said existing business owners in the area are already making Port Chester a better place to live and their needs should come first.
• On Saturday, Feb 22, there will be a site visit at 11:30am for the planning commission, Port Chester’s traffic consultant AKRF, and interested members of the public to look at the existing conditions.
• The item is last on the Planning Commission’s Monday, Feb 24 agenda (not a public hearing.) That agenda includes another proposed tall building – 9 stories high at Broad St and Irving Ave (right across from the Port Chester Train Station) with a brewpub on the first and second floors, office spaces on the third through fifth floors, and a total of 22 residential units on the 6th floor through 9th floor
• The next ZBA meeting with Tarry Lighthouse on agenda is scheduled for Thursday, March 19 at 7:00pm at the Court Room at Port Chester Police headquarters, 350 North Main Street.