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White Plains Mulls Urban Renewal Zone Expansion

This article was edited July 25 to correct inaccurate boundaries for the newly designated urban renewal zone corridor. The Post Road/Lexington Avenue corridor spans from where Post Road and Maple Avenue meet Rathburn Avenue west up to, but not including Mamaroneck Avenue. The urban renewal zone also extends from where South Lexington Avenue and Court Street meet Post Road to where the two streets intersect Quarropas Street.

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Residents, including Arthur Jones, 65, greeted city hall’s decision to expand the urban renewal zone along Post Road and South Lexington Avenue last Tuesday with skepticism.

“They’re gonna break down some more buildings, but what are they going to put up?” said Jones, while enjoying “old school” music with friends in the shaded South Lexington Avenue side of the Winbrook Public Housing buildings. “It tears up a neighborhood. It’ll benefit people who have their hands out, you know, businesses.”

Jones and his friends said they supported expanding urban renewal projects if “it benefits the people” and focused less on supporting businesses -- which is what they say past urban renewal projects have done. Adding more benches, fixing up the streets, recruiting local supermarkets, providing more economical parking, and building affordable housing are neighborhood priorities, according to Jones.

“[Urban renewal] changed the whole city of White Plains. White Plains used to get people from all over to come here, but now nobody comes. There’s nowhere to park. There are a few lots back there, but nobody can afford them,” said Jones.

Last week the Common Council unanimously voted to expand the urban renewal zone and focus on a Post Road/Lexington Avenue corridor that begins where Maple Avenue and Post Road meet Rathburn Avenue up to where the two streets hit Mamaroneck Avenue. No property on Mamaroneck Avenue is included. The urban renewal zone also extends from where South Lexington Avenue and Court Street intersect Post Road to where the two roads join Quarropas. According to the Urban Renewal Agency’s proposal, at least 40 percent of the residents in each block of the corridor are of low and moderate incomes. The project includes 112 properties that are about a fifth or 21.5 percent vacant. The Urban Renewal Agency ranked 44.8 percent of the properties to be in poor condition during earlier surveys.

Nina Peace, 81, worried the urban renewal expansion would drive rents up and force her out of White Plains as she saw happen to many while living in Greenburgh.

“Urban renewal came through and took peoples’ homes,” said Peace, who now lives in Winbrook. “They had to pay us a little money. I don’t even recognize Greenburgh now ... When they do all the urban renewal the costs go up and where are we going to get all that money?”

Others near the corridor, including John Volpe, were optimistic about the urban renewal project’s expansion.

“All the empty lots here look crazy. If you were coming in from Scarsdale and you saw all these people walking through the abandoned parking lots that weren’t supposed to be there, what would you think?” said Volpe, 59, who owns a house on Maple Avenue near South Lexington Avenue with his sister. “I support it as long as I get a fair price for my house.”

Volpe, a Kmart employee, said he thought past urban renewal work did a good job of rooting out decaying buildings and eyesores like chicken coops. He said he thinks working to attract more businesses to White Plains would be good as long as the city doesn’t build more skyscrapers and high-rises.

“We still like the small town feel here,” said Volpe, who has lived in White Plains since 1954. “Hold off on the tall buildings, but let's get back to the war on poverty and fix this area.”

The Urban Renewal Agency and council have vowed to work closely with those settled near the corridor including the White Plains Hospital, the Coachman Family Center for Homeless Families and Grace Church Community Center, those who live in the 450-unit Winbrook Public Housing, the Highlands neighborhood, and the Fisher Hill neighborhood, among others.

According to the Planning Commissioner Susan Habel, White Plains won’t proceed until the city finds out if it received federal grants this winter. If the funding doesn’t come through, city hall will decide if and how it wants to fund the project. At that point, the planning board and council will hold pubic hearings to guide the project’s plan.

What are your thoughts on the urban renewal zone’s expansion? How beneficial have past renewal zone projects been? How beneficial will this project be? What do you think city hall should focus on when working on the corridor? Email your thoughts to strangle@thedailywhiteplains.com and we’ll include your response in future coverage.

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