Two of Port Chester's biggest developers gave elected leaders an earful Tuesday night, praising the village's potential while blaming village politics for holding up projects and scaring investors away.
Although the economic downturn has put a damper on development in most other places, the economy hasn't put much of a dent in Port Chester's ongoing revitalization. Developers are ready and willing to build in Port Chester, but blame the village's history of infighting, acrimonious politics and languid municipal pace for stalling projects and scaring off other potential investors.
Almost a decade since it closed, United Hospital has become a blight on the village's main corridor, a decaying building peppered with boarded-up windows, surrounded by overgrown, neglected landscaping. , the Capitol Theatre functioned mostly as a piece of nostalgia, underutilized despite its long history.
And expansion around the waterfront has slowed to a crawl despite plans to expand and revitalize commercial and residential space around the $100 million theater and shopping complex.
That includes ," which is now a parking lot at the corner of Westchester Avenue and Main Street, opposite the multiplex. Developer Robert Weinberg, a senior partner at G&S, said his partners want to pull $25 million they've reserved for an 80-unit project because elected leaders won't refer it to the planning commission.
"We're ready to build the damn thing," Weinberg said. "We tailored the building to what [planners were] recommending. We've been working on this for years. We can't get you to move."
Two main issues, both political, have held up development at the site. Elected leaders are to approve any new residential project, for fear of introducing more children into an school district. The second issue is emotional, spiteful or smart, depending on the viewpoint -- Republican trustees have said they won't send the project to the planning board until the collapsing waterfront bulkhead is repaired. The bulkhead was part of the original $100 million development deal with G&S.
Engineers from both sides have recently agreed to most terms on , and Weinberg's company has tried to assuage concerns about school overcrowding by tailoring the proposed units to young, commuting professionals and empty-nesters.
"I really don't think we needed to string them along on a referal to planning. It wasn't an approval, it was a referral for God's sake," said Mayor Dennis Pilla. "It sends a message not only to them, but to every developer, that we're extremely difficult to deal with."
Marvin Ravikoff, who owns the and several other properties in town, said the languid pace and development roadblocks are enough to negate the upsides of building in a promising downtown.
Sounding frustrated, Ravikoff said elected leaders should work with "desirable businesses" and "accomodate them more quickly, so they don't walk away in disgust."
Ravikoff has had his share of successes and set-backs in Port Chester. One of his most prominent tenants, USA Bank, failed last year, but late 2011 brought about the renovation and re-opening of the Capitol Theatre as a
Weinberg urged trustees to send his proposal to the planning commission, so central questions -- like the potential impact on schools -- can be answered. In the meantime, he said, the village won't make progress on the revitalization front if elected leaders won't budge.
"Get the downtown to make money for you, and lower your taxes for people in town," he said. "You've got everything going for you."
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