The gloves were off at the WCA’s annual Breakfast with the County Executive when Westchester County Executive Rob Astorio took on what he described as the “fake news coming out of Albany.” But all was not contentious; the Smart Growth panel that followed Astorino’s State-of-the-County address, projected an optimistic picture of growth for Westchester in 2017. Here are the highlights:
In his address, Astorino charged that Governor Cuomo’s campaign to shut down Indian Point will hurt the region and have serious repercussions in Westchester.
“There was no one in the room, only himself, Riverkeeper, and Entergy -- no one to represent the one million residents of Westchester or the 8 million residents of New York City,” he charged. “Indian Point currently supplies 25% of the region’s electricity. Will there be any other source of energy available when the plant is scheduled to close in 4 years?” He cited job loss, revenue loss to the county and its municipalities. “Can we withstand the continuous assault on business by government?” Astorino also chided the governor on his promise to provide free tuition at SUNY colleges. “It’s not free. Someone has to pay for it, and that’s going to be us.”
But these opening salvos didn’t dampen the optimism voiced shortly afterwards when the WCA’s Smart Growth Panel took center stage.
According to moderator Bill Cuddy, who chairs the WCA’s Blueprint for Smart Growth, there are 1,600 multi-family housing units in the pipeline in Westchester County “and that number could stretch to over 2,000 in 2017.” In the previous ten years, there were merely 400 new housing units constructed per year, so that’s a sea change.
He said that we will see more and more development in the downtowns of Westchester's largest cities, where smart growth principles are embraced. "One of the components of smart growth is super-speed internet service or gigabit broadband," he said. "Super-speed broadband will facilitate distance-based learning, population health connectivity, and attract the financial services which need the speed to respond to the market and clients. It also will have great implications for cyber-security and closing the digital divide." Cuddy is executive vice president at CBRE.
Panelist Moses Gates, director of community planning and design at the Regional Plan Association, pointed out that the entire region is experiencing a population boom. “We’re finding that people [millennials, empty nesters and others] are seeking smaller downtowns, and we will see more mixed-use housing. Westchester will set the tone for rest of the cities throughout the region. The key is a quick planning process. Everybody is fairly supportive of smart growth.”
Panelist Joan McDonald, WCA’s Strategic Advisor, said that in 1990s, smart growth was about transportation and land use. People wanted to live, work, and play near mass transit. “Today, Innovation, technology, and broadband fit into the definition," she said. "To advance projects in Westchester, you need political will. If we get behind them, the mayors, city managers, and town supervisors can do a great job selling the projects to the community.”
Seth Mandelbaum, member of the WCA’s Smart Growth Housing Task Force, and another panel member, said that repurposing Corporate Park Drive is creating “a brand new walkable community where people can walk from home to work, to [the future] Wegman’s, to Lifetime Fitness. It’s a whole new neighborhood.” Mandelbaum is an attorney with McCullough, Goldberger & Stoudt.