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Frustrated Developers Bemoan Pace of Politics in Port Chester

One developer says the pace of things in Port Chester is enough to make investors "walk away in disgust."

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
concert hall.

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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PC Expat January 18, 2012 at 08:33 PM
"Weinberg's company has tried to assuage concerns about school overcrowding by tailoring the proposed units to young, commuting professionals and empty-nesters." So we can ban families with children from living there? I think HUD would have something to say about that. Mr. Weinberg should go back to doing what he does best - stealing other people's land.
Susie January 18, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Let's hope "Engineers from both sides have recently agreed to most terms on repair work" aren't the same engineers who approval the bulk head the first time
Concerned View January 19, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Weinberg aka G&S sure make a lot of noise when they don't get what they want. When they don't hold up their end of the deal, they're very quiet. Let me know when the bulkhead is repairs are finished. Let me know when the intersection improvements, part of the original deal, are completed. G&S never did put up the gate to block the unsightly view from Abendroth, saying that nowhere in the universe is a rolling gate manaufactured that would fit. Yeah, right.. Maybe G&S is in a hurry to build an 8o unit residential complex without any parking requirements because the Board is going to adopt an updated Comprehensive Plan with updated zoning in the Fall of 2012. The Board is right to not consider G&S' project or allow the application to be made until G&S resolves their substantial to-do list. As for Mr Ravikoff, he wants the good old days to return where he can get his projects approved with a handshake and no documentation.
John B January 19, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Hear Hear
Nancy Mattson January 20, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Clarification, G&S is different from Robert Martin Corp, who had their hey day in the 80's. Let us see, Wellington Green is not selling, Brookchester couldn't be rented out, and selling is not going so well, The Mariner is under construction. Just because someone says "let me assure you I can get it approved" doesn't mean it will sell. How many empty projects will we have? There are only three types of developements that will lower property taxes, nuclear energy plants, garbage to energy plants, and materials recycling facilities. And since we have one of each already in Westchester, I am not so sure about those! Who is going to buy or rent a residential unit without parking. These developers should give a uring sample first to test for drugs.
JJ January 20, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Boo Hoo for the developers that the "old days" are over for them. Port Chester is already overcrowded, the infrastructure bursting and the schools over flowing. I applaud the efforts of the "new" Village leadership to set things back on track again. The keys to a great community is cogent planning, strict adherence to the building codes and public input on projects. Port Chester is NOT a dumping ground; it's a great place that just took a wrong turn over the last few decades.
Aidan January 20, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Frustrated? Too bad. We're the seller ... and they're the buyer. We run the village ... not them.

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