WPCNR West Side Story. By John F. Bailey. February 8, 2007: Mayor Joseph Delfino, four of his commissioners, the Executive Director of the BID, and members of the Mayor's staff made an earnest and positive start to the "renaissance of South Lexington Avenue" last night. The energetic Mr. Delfino, in a virtuoso peformance, acted more as emcee of the meeting, taking questions for 3 hours as he and his staff sought the ideas and dreams that Winbrook residents, merchants and property owners have for their East Post Road and Lexington Avenue neighborhood.
The Mayor did not ruleout eminent domain to achieve cooperation among business owners, but held out hope that compromise and negotiation would make eminent domain unnecessary. The Mayor also said another meeting would be held with the neighbors after the BID vote had been taken. The Mayor said a mix-use of affordable housing on Lexington Avenue was the city's idea on how to revitalize, but said only if the neighborhood agreed with him.
Mack Carter, Executive Director of the White Plains Housing Authority, galvanized the community with an earnest declaration that the residents needed to express their vision for the kind of face they wanted their neighborhood to have, and to create for their children the atmosphere that would help their children fulfill their potential. Carter criticised the present establishments landlords rented to along the Lexington Avenue across from Winbrook, saying that had to change to change the neighborhood.
Carter said many of the stores were much higher priced than stores elsewhere in the city for food goods and that the food was not good food for the residents, being of the fast food nature. He also criticised the multiple liquor stores on the Lex stretch. Carter's talk which I have just sketched here galvanized the audience who agreed with encouraging comments that Carter was right on the money.
Mayor Delfino started the meeting telling the residents that "Winbrook is here to stay," imploring the residents to contribute their ideas how how they wish the west side of South Lexington Avenue to look. He had his Commissioner of Planning, Susan Habel, and Commissioner of Public Works Joseph Nicoletti explain the street scape designs scheduled to be installed on South Lexington Avenue this summer, beginning at Main Street and working South towards East Post Road. The Mayor announced a $1 Million grant secured by Senator Hillary Clinton for the street facelift. A more precise explanation of the grant is expected from City Hall Thursday morning.
About twenty speakers came to the podium and spoke on concerns and visions. Topics that the residents said needed to be addressed to make the neighborhood prosper was the need for jobs for young people 14 to 25. One speaker said the youth unemployment rate in the neighborhood was 45%.
At least seven persons spoke on the need to improve the Thomas H. Slater Center. The Mayor said he was waiting input from the ministers of the area and anyone else who wished to give the city their ideas for upgrading the center.
There were a few comments about the need for affordable housing in the area, but they were far outweighed by complaints of residents about parking, fears that Albert Moroni (Commissioner of Parking) was going to install meters along Winbrook curbs.
There were about five persons who stressed the need for more minorities and minority contractors to be hired on jobs in the future Lexington Avenue rebuilding. The mayor responded by agreeing at Mack Carter's suggestion to create a Directory of Minority Contractors to provide to contractors as the rennaissance hit Lexington Avenue.
The Mayor said that beyond the streetscapes the character of the neighborhood would depend on what the neighborhood, the property owners on Lex and East and West Post Road would envision it to be. Later in the meeting the Mayor said his vision was to build more affordable housing and said he would work to rezone to make the Lex stretch multi-use zoning (mix of residential and retail) which the Mayor said would enhance the value of property owners' parcels.
The Mayor said affordable housing was the city's vision of what would uplift the Lexington Avenue neighborhood but hastened to make it clear to the residents that if that was not what they wanted, the city would not force it.
Asked by one property owner if the city would use eminent domain to acquire properties, the Mayor said the city and the Common Council had not used eminient domain in the past and was reluctant to use it. He said he hoped to negotiate with property owners to convince them to bring about the new businesses that could revitalize the stretch. One resident suggested a large supermarket with better prices. The Mayor explained he did not think that was possible because of the parking requirements most large supermarkets required for viability.
The Executive Director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, Rick Ammirato, explained the benefits the BID would bring to the area, and said that a meeting would be held in March to explain all the BID could do to business owners in the Lex corridor, to be followed by a vote. He said that if 51% of the business owners or 51% of the largest property owners voted against joining the BID, he would attempted to assemble businesses on an individual basis to join the BID. He noted that The Galleria is in the district and is currently not in the BID.
Mayor Delfino told WPCNR that after the BID decision was made, he would hold another meeting with the neighborhood just as he did tonight to encourage them and draw out from them more reaction and to articulate more of their vision.
The neighborhood support for the renaissance coming to Lexington Avenue was there.