Not Everyone Is Drinking the Kool-Aid
While urban development projects are all the rage, there are still plenty of risks—and critics.
Photo by Vinny Garrison/Flying Films NY
For many of the developers and politicos driving these ambitious downtown redevelopment projects, optimism is the reigning sentiment. But ambitious projects inherently come packaged with risk, and not everyone is convinced these downtown overhauls will pan out as planned.
Victor Scala—a 20-something Queens architect eyeing a new home in White Plains—notes that to many his age, Westchester is still that “suburb purgatory that many Millennials want to avoid.”
Further, some of the county’s cities are battling less-than-stellar reputations, Scala says: “Yonkers…still has that aura of crime and not being safe.”
Property management executive Jim Diamond also acknowledges some obstacles to success, like notoriously high property taxes and strict laws that could deter new business in these redeveloped downtowns. “Westchester has many cities and towns with truly high property taxes,” he says. “[And there are] policies and planning boards in place that generally discourage new investment from entrepreneurs.”
Diamond shares another potential pitfall: Abundant downtown redevelopment may pit Westchester city against Westchester city, breeding conflict among municipalities that traditionallly get along. “Cities may need to compete with each other to create…the most livable and comfortable downtowns,” he explains.
An additional challenge to contend with is backlash from those who are wary of the large-scale change coming to their communities, as well as critics who bemoan the negative effects of gentrification. (After all, while $3,000 a month for a luxury studio may sound great to a Manhattan outcast, it’s still out of reach for many Westchesterites.)
Media coverage of projects has been harsh at times, too. Outspoken detractors of the New Rochelle redevelopment plan, for instance, include Journal News columnist Phil Reisman, who has criticized, among other things, the “evangelical zeal” of master developer RDRXR, making comparisons to “what happened in Port Chester some 15 years ago, when an outside developer was allowed to run roughshod over the village’s merchants and residents.” And William O’Shaughnessy, president of WVOX, recently unleashed his fury in an on-air screed, accusing RDRXR of running a “stealth campaign with the eager acquiescence and encouragement of Mayor Bramson.
“We’ve offered them access to our microphones…on countless occasions,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But City Hall, it seems, prefers to do this whole thing…close to the vest.”
Close to the vest or not, it’s clear Westchesterites are keeping a close eye on what’s happening in their downtowns.