ULI New York and ULI Westchester/Fairfield Host First UrbanPlan for Public Officials Workshop
Innovative program provided municipal leaders from New York and Connecticut with invaluable hands-on real estate training
On Friday, October 11th, ULI New York and ULI Westchester/Fairfield reconvened a number of the key stakeholders from the Village of Sleepy Hollow Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) assembled two years prior, in November of 2017. Beneath gray skies, they spoke to a packed room of industry and local community attendees at the Sleepy Hollow Senior Center. Village Mayor Ken Wray joined real estate developer Jonathan Stein, of PCD Capital, and Dan Blum, CEO of nearby Phelps Hospital, in a conversation guided by the Sleepy Hollow TAP Chair, Kim Morque of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners.
The genesis for the TAP was multi-faceted: for years, Sleepy Hollow had been contending with the loss of its primary source of industry – a General Motors (GM) assembly plant, an influx of new immigrants to the community, and shifting land use needs and pressures. Most acutely, however, the study was precipitated by the recent approval and imminent construction of the Edge-on-Hudson development on the site of the former GM plant. Released in August 2018, the TAP’s findings – titled A Vision for Sleepy Hollow: Managing Change and Building for Diversity – set out a series of key recommendations for addressing the village’s challenges, leveraging its opportunities, and preserving it’s unique but evolving character.
After an introduction from ULI New York Executive Director Felix Ciampa, Morque kicked the session off with an introduction to the town, the TAP process, and the study findings. Sleepy Hollow is a town of 10,000 people, located 25 miles north of New York City along the eastern side of the Hudson River in Westchester County, just north of Tarrytown. (In fact, until 1996 – when it changed its name, following the closure of the GM plant – it had been known as North Tarrytown.) The TAP’s specific area of study was not the village writ large, but rather a section of town south of its main commercial corridor, Beekman Avenue.
In summary, the TAP set forth a number of recommendations for the village of Sleepy Hollow. It focused on the issue of connectivity within town: how the Edge-on-Hudson development would integrate with the downtown core, strategies for managing pedestrian access and mobility in the context of an elevation that sloped away from the waterfront, and means for improving streetscaping, wayfinding, and sidewalk infrastructure. It also addressed placemaking objectives: encouraging support for restaurant row, relocation of an existing greenmarket, and activation of the downtown core through artistic exhibitions and community occasions. The TAP also laid out guidance for long-term growth management, including updates to zoning, parking requirements, and the village comprehensive plan.
Mayor Ken, as he introduced himself, started his remarks by explaining the motivations for sponsoring a ULI TAP. As a small village with an annual budget of just $21 million, Sleepy Hollow relies on its connections and partnerships to help it tap outside resources, including specialized talent. In this capacity, ULI helped him and the Village Board of Trustees address complex issues with a level of expertise and attention that they would have struggled to do alone.
From there, he spoke further about the town, its history, and its culture. He explained how the town sought to both draw upon its heritage and to expand in novel ways. Though proud of its connection to “The Legend,” Sleepy Hollow aims to be recognized for much more. As part of the bicentennial of the Legend, Sleepy Hollow has been partnering with an expert on the Legend’s author, Washington Irving, to help spread awareness of the many other lasting imprints he left on American culture, including the popularization of English Christmas traditions in the country, the nickname “Gotham” for New York, and the association of New York with “Knickerbockers.” At the same time, the village has honed in on the tradition of storytelling to facilitate an effort at capturing and telling stories from the cultures of its new immigrant populations. In addition to the programmatic efforts to support community cohesion and local identity, Mayor Ken spoke of his efforts to create a physical public square. That vision is set to be realized soon on a 28-acre parcel of the former GM plant, to be called the Village Common.
Following Mayor Ken’s remarks, developer Stein took the lectern and laid out a profile of the transformational Edge-on-Hudson project: $1 billion of total development cost, to include 1,177 residential units, 1350,000 square feet of retail, 35,000 square feet of office space, and a 140-key hotel, spread across 68 waterfront acres carved from the site of the former plant. Following a long and onerous entitlement and remediation process (the soil was heavily contaminated from not only the plant operations but because of the fill material that had originally been used to create the parcel), infrastructure construction had begun around 2015 to 2016. At present, the first phase of townhomes was being built by Toll Brothers, and the Hines had been selected to develop a portion of the project’s multifamily components in the second phase.
His remarks were succeeded by those of Phelps Hospital CEO Blum, who spoke from the perspective of a large local employer and stakeholder in the health and well-being of the community. First, Blum shared a bit about the hospital’s history, highlighting its origination as a consolidation of the Ossining and Tarrytown hospitals and the improvements in quality of care that had led it to become the only hospital rated four-stars by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in Westchester, Rockland, or Putnam counties. Blum went on to discuss the importance of being a part of a community that the hospital’s employees can and want to live in and feel connected to. Not only does the desirability of the hospital’s location affect its talent recruitment, but it facilitates a more holistic interconnection and involvement with the community’s health when medical personnel live and participate in the community. Blum also highlighted that a hospital’s workforce ranges the income spectrum – including surgeons and senior administrators, as well as nurses and facilities staff – so a “desirable community” does not means one that caters to just one socioeconomic stratum.
The discussion was followed by a tour of the Edge-on-Hudson development. On location, Stein pointed out how street orientation had been developed with view corridors towards the waterfront in mind. Mayor Ken pointed out where a village-owned parcel adjacent to Edge-on-Hudson was located and noted that following rezoning and SEQR, the village would be seeking interest from parties who might redevelop it. Shielded from the gathering rainclouds in the Toll Brothers’ sales office, Stein and Mayor Ken fielded additional questions about the development. Mayor Ken pointed out that the village had been collecting no property taxes on the Edge-on-Hudson land for the last 11 years of GM’s tenure, thanks to an abatement offered in hopes of keeping the plant open, and that the redevelopment had provided a valuable source of municipal income. In response to a question from a young woman in the audience, Stein discussed the site’s storm- and floodwater management and how both had to be completely re-vamped following Superstorm Sandy in 2013.
Once the questions had been fielded, most participants re-boarded busses which would take them back to town or to the near-by train stations. For the adventurous ones who stayed back and braved the blustering wind, Mayor Ken led a brief, but special visit to the old Sleepy Hollow lighthouse at Edge-on-Hudson’s fringe. It seemed a fitting testament to both the timeless and the evolving elements of the build environment. Installed in 1883 and operated until 1961, the lighthouse once provided ships safe passage down the Hudson River. Today it provides a picturesque vantage of the towering Tappan Zee Bridge and – beneath its vast span – the distant silhouette of New York City’s tallest buildings.