Regional Plan Association Case Study: Downtown Development Done Right

RPA, Untapped Potential, November 16, 2017 | New Rochelle is a case study of a municipality that streamlined its planning and approvals process to enable TOD and successfully stimulate economic investment. In 2011, as part of the New York & Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium, New Rochelle issued an RFP for a TOD Smart Growth Study to develop a framework for creating an active, pedestrian-oriented mixed use district around its downtown intermodal transit hub. The study identified districts within the downtown with significant development potential and opportunities to improve connectivity to the transit hub. It also provided zoning recommendations and outlined next steps for advancing the study recommendations, including initiation of a master plan development process and simultaneous update of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Following through on these recommendations, New Rochelle issued a request for proposals for a master developer for the downtown and the City Council unanimously designated a master developer in 2014. The city then worked with the developer and the community to create a recommended action plan, which envisions a complete city center, with a mix of homes, offices, shops, hotel space and community and cultural facilities. The public engagement effort employed to create the action plan was one of the most robust ever undertaken by New Rochelle. Hundreds of community members were engaged in person at dozens of meetings across the city, and thousands more engaged online.

New Rochelle

After preparing the required generic environmental impact statement pursuant to New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), in December 2015 the City Council immediately moved forward and adopted a formbased Downtown Overlay Zone as well as a corresponding Community Benefits Policy, paving the way for both significant economic development in the city’s downtown and specific benefits to its residents. The new zoning provides a clear and transparent roadmap for developers, and sets design standards and community benefit requirements for creating a sustainable and attractive city center. The new zoning allows for up to 12 million square feet of new development, including 2.4 million square feet of prime office space, 1 million square feet of commercial space, 6,370 housing units and 1,200 hotel rooms.

New Rochelle’s efforts to enable and encourage development are already showing dramatic results. More than ten projects with over 1,000 new homes have received site plan approval in the two years since the new zoning was adopted. Current development projects approved in the downtown range from a 28-story mixed use building with 280 apartments, commercial space, and a theater; to an 80-room hotel, to a six-story building for live-work artist space. With these projects and others in the pipeline, the vibrant, transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly downtown envisioned during New Rochelle’s planning process is becoming reality.

You can read the RPA’s full report here.