Should New Rochelle Grow Marijuana on David's Island?
Phil Reisman dives into this proposal that might surprisingly hold some traction.
Photo-illustraton by Frank Roberts, headshot photograph by Stefan Radtke
I have one word for the city of New Rochelle. Just. One. Word. Are you listening?
There’s a great future in pot. Think about it. Will you think about it?
New Rochelle owns the perfect patch of land to grow the stuff — Davids’ Island. Don’t laugh. New Rochelle City Manager Chuck Strome told me that city officials are actually open to the thought of commercial marijuana farming on the island.
New York will legalize recreational marijuana sooner or later, so it makes sense to get in on the ground floor. Sixty-three percent of New Yorkers like the idea, against 32 percent who don’t, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this year. A study by the state Health Department recommended legalization for adult use, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who would never be mistaken for Cheech or Chong, has shifted to a more favorable view of marijuana after initially calling it a “gateway drug.”
Already legal in nine states, recreational pot is a major cash crop, reportedly generating $9.7 billion in 2017 alone. This has not escaped the attention of speculators on Wall Street, where cannabis stocks are, pardon the pun, flying high.
So inhale everybody, and say hello to Mary Jane. For better or worse, state-sanctioned weed is coming, bringing with it a tempting source of tax revenue ($1.3 billion annually by one estimate) and a new member of the chamber of commerce — the entrepreneurial pot grower.
No one has figured out what to do with Davids’ Island ever since the US Army vacated in 1966, leaving its buildings to the ravages of nature, not to mention squatters and pyromaniacs.
There it sits, in Long Island Sound, a half-mile off the coast of New Rochelle, a 78-acre siren to a legion of dreamers who have spent a fortune on blueprints, studies, and consulting fees, only to walk away with nothing — except sore feelings. Mayor Noam Bramson once said Davids’ Island was “a blank canvas,” just waiting for the perfect idea to come along that made sense economically, environmentally, and politically. Pot growing hits the trifecta.
Oh sure, there have been ideas, dozens of ideas, most of them pipe dreams that went nowhere fast, like Con Edison’s desire in the early 1970s to build four nuclear reactors on the island after buying it from the city for $3 million. Frustrated, the utility ended up selling it back to New Rochelle for $1.00 — a fleecing that would have made Peter Stuyvesant proud. The taxable value of the island today is $14.8 million, according to Strome.
In the 1990s, Donald Trump wanted to put luxury high-rises on Davids’ Island, a plan that undoubtedly meant renaming the island after his favorite person — the guy he looks at in the mirror every morning. Ultimately, Trump did not succeed and, of course, he got mad and threatened to sue.
Last year, the city, figuring you gotta be in it to win it, offered the island to Jeff Bezos as a site for Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project. As expected, New Rochelle didn’t make the first cut.
There are only so many eccentric billionaires to go around. So what to do?
Well, the timing looks good. While Albany sorts through the politics of legalizing weed, New Rochelle happens also to be soliciting new proposals for Davids’ Island. Any and all comers will be considered — among them, presumably, anybody with a green thumb and a penchant for cultivating cannabis.
A 2010 Davids’ Island task force study noted that only 45 acres would actually be open to development. A number of reasons were given, but one factor was based on a prediction that the sea level in the Lower Hudson Valley will rise four feet by the year 2050.
The task force study imagines eight different development scenarios. Three of them involve housing of varying degrees of density while the others include: open parkland; a hotel-conference complex; a photovoltaic center; wind turbines and — bingo! — greenhouse agriculture. I don’t think there’s a huge market for lettuce, but marijuana? That’s something to ponder.
The study estimates that the island could support as many as 440 greenhouses, producing 4.4 tons of crops annually. That’s enough to satisfy even Bill Maher and almost enough for Snoop Dogg.
Call it Davids’ Island Gold.
The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think: email firstname.lastname@example.org