Chuck Strome knows a thing or two about New Rochelle because the city manager has seen more than a thing or two in his three decades in local government.
“I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now,” says Strome, who is retiring at the end of the year. “I was coming to the Throggs Neck Bridge on Saturday and couldn’t believe the skyline – I was here when there was no skyline.”
Nothing was developed in New Rochelle during the first 20 years of his career, the city manager says.
But today, it’s a different story.
“Despite Covid, despite other things going on with the economy,” Strome says, “we have 11 buildings under construction, 10 completed and leased, and another 10 that are approved.”
The goal, Development Commissioner Adam Salgado said, is to create a “15-minute city” downtown, “where everything you need to live, work, play and shop is within walking distance. less than 15 minutes from home. That’s the driving force, and we want to layer that with sustainability practices, looking at things like heat islands and planting green infrastructure, planning green infrastructure.
Strome and Salgado point to their 2015 rezoning, which was amended last year, as the catalyst for change.
They say the new zoning rules provide specificity and remove elected officials from the final approval process, which speeds things up considerably.
“We’ve removed significant barriers,” says Strome.
But New Rochelle didn’t just hand over the keys to the city to developers.
“In our modified zoning, we added lessons learned from the first wave of development,” says Salgado. “There is a renewed commitment to climate justice, social equity and affordable housing that we have made by refining the zoning code. We have increased the level of requirements for developers to have the privilege to build here.
The development commissioner notes that state and federal grants have allowed the city to develop a linear park connecting downtown to the Lincoln Avenue corridor, a historically disenfranchised, mostly African-American community.
“[The grants] allow us to add amenities, open spaces and pedestrian connections between neighborhoods impacted by previous development practices, bringing people physically and psychologically into the fold,” says Salgado.
The city also now requires developers to allocate a percentage of all work to minority and women-owned businesses or local hires. New Rochelle has also created a fund to help boost minority and women-owned businesses looking to meet this requirement.
The city also added requirements for developers in terms of obtaining funding that requires 15% of the total labor cost to be awarded to minority and women-owned businesses and/or local hires, while adding a fund to boost the capacity of the minority-owned business community to meet the need created by all this development.
The developers embraced the rules, Salgado says, because they provide certainty and clarity.
“We gave them a very specific roadmap and guidelines for compliance,” he says, “which made planning and implementation easier.”
Strome, the city manager, notes that what might have once been traditional (and underutilized) retail space may now be filled with day care centers or gymnasiums. A developer, he notes, recently included a black box theater in his plans — typically, a four-wall, floor, and ceiling performance space, all painted black.
Salgado says developers who add to cultural infrastructure are eligible for a “community benefit bonus” — incentives or bonuses given to a developer in exchange for certain community benefits or amenities. In New Rochelle, the city will help with projects such as the black box theater to make them a reality.
Although Strome believes in market forces, he knows the city must meet its new, younger residents where they live.
“We are launching a virtual program where we want to give people the opportunity to tell us what they would like to see downtown,” explains the city manager. “We don’t want people to live here and go elsewhere for everything else.”
Salgado says he won’t lose sight of the city’s longtime and less fortunate residents.
“We want to make sure they reap the benefits of this revitalization,” says the Development Commissioner. “We make sure to be as inclusive as possible when making investments so that all boats come into port.”