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Westchester Officials Hope To Boost Development With New Zoning Playbook

With demand for larger-scale development in Westchester County at high levels, one of the biggest restricting factors for developers is municipalities and their zoning and land use procedures. But a new initiative is hoping to change that.

Pace University Land Use Law Center Executive Director Jessica Bacher and CBRE Senior Vice President and Westchester County Association Smart Growth Initiative Chair William Cuddy

Economic development and business advocacy group Westchester County Association has teamed with Pace University's Land Use Law Center to put together the Land Use Development Playbook, a set of resources, policy suggestions and process outlines to assist the county's towns and cities in updating their procedures.

“Communities often have out-of-date land use documents and zoning or inconsistencies between the two," Pace University Land Use Law Center Executive Director Jessica Bacher told Bisnow. "The lack of updated zoning results in a disconnect with the communities’ view of development and developers’ plans, and developers are often left guessing with what they should propose.”

The drive for baby boomers to downsize and stop owning homes, and some millennials' desire to start families in more affordable neighborhoods with better public schools, has Westchester well-positioned to capitalize on New York City's softening multifamily market — but only with the right development.

“We believe we’re at an inflection point where our municipalities have an opportunity to really grow and prosper and take advantage of the economic conditions and the impact of New York City,” CBRE Senior Vice President and WCA Smart Growth Initiative Chair William Cuddy said.

Rendering of Luxuria, the apartment building ELD Properties is building in Downtown New Rochelle

All municipalities should focus more on transit-oriented developments that reduce dependence on cars, and creating master plans for areas surrounding train stations is a major focus of the playbook, according to Cuddy. New Rochelle introduced such a plan, and Bacher noted New Castle as another town that has already done well to facilitate development.

Though some cities like Yonkers, White Plains and New Rochelle can work to achieve real mixed-use communities with office components, many smaller towns need to be guided toward baby steps around their stations.

“One of the questions is, do these zoning codes even allow for mixed-use communities?" Bacher said. "Tying together the conversations happening in the private sector and the municipal side is the goal of this project.”

With the announcement of the playbook, WCA and Pace have begun the public rollout process, which will culminate in the official launch at WCA's second annual Real Estate Summit on May 22. Leading up to and after that date, the curators of the playbook will work with municipalities on how best to tailor the suggestions to each community's needs.

“Our municipalities have home rule, so each of the 43 municipalities are responsible for their own regulations and policies," Cuddy said. “The policy playbook and recommendations that will be generated here will not be promoting standardization at the municipal level. It’s an empowerment tool for each municipality to create their own vision. It’s about the [planning] process that has the ability to improve, with new methodologies and technologies to advance more comprehensive plans.”