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White Plains Mulls More Flexible Office Zoning

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- White Plains is exploring zoning amendments and updating its 1997 comprehensive plan to make office space uses more flexible with a goal of luring tenants into vacant office complexes.

Mayor Thomas Roach said the city was researching whether a “planned office park development” zoning category that allows developers to mix in residential, retail and office uses, might help drag down the 18.31 percent vacancy in downtown office buildings.

“What we’re trying to do is offer some flexibility to the property owners and potential purchasers. We don’t want to wind up with a string of mausoleums, which is what the possibility is,” Roach said. “This is a major concern countywide. That’s why we’re trying to take the first step here."

Roach, a Democrat, and the all-Democratic common council voted to refer the proposed amendments to the planning department, law department and environmental officers for further review. If passed, the new zoning would maintain the same ratio of developed and undeveloped space on properties while encouraging offices to preserve open space and integrate biking and walking trails that connect to the outside city.

Planning Commissioner Susan Habel said office spaces along Main Street, Mamaroneck Avenue and in the urban renewal zone have faired far better than the office parks on the far southern end of Mamaroneck Avenue and the western side of Westchester Avenue.

“There wasn’t a concept that office space was going to become the bane of Westchester County’s existence, rather than the boom of Westchester County,” Habel said while explaining that zoning had forced office owners to struggle to accommodate research and labs, universities or recreational facilities. “We need to move into a more creative land use regulation that works with the major property owners in these areas to be able to reoccupy their vacant space, but not necessarily with an office.”

However, the new zoning category would still allow the city to control how these properties get used.

“The entire site is planned, you cannot go in there and just plop down some other use,” Habel said. “You know where you have to preserve the open space. You know where you have to provide walking paths. You know where parking and pervious and impervious will be controlled.”

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