November 28, 2016
By Katrina Hohlfeld
New York, NY -The word “responsible” reverberated from the walls throughout the latest gathering of the Sustainable Port Chester Alliance. This policy-savvy, community oriented group of people opened their doors for a panel on Thursday, November 17, to discuss Starwood Capital’s plans for the United Hospital site.
After sitting on the property for months and offering vague plans for development, it seems very likely that Starwood has no intention to actually build on the site. With affordable housing already an issue in Port Chester, Starwood’s next move will have a drastic effect on the community. The Alliance is doing everything in their power to make this valuable building opportunity mean the most for Port Chester and it’s residents.
Efficiently moderated by Joan Grangenois-Thomas, a long-time resident and small business owner, each panel member illuminated a specific aspect of the current situation. After describing the nature of the Private Equity Real Estate Fund that controls the United Hospital site, Ben Bennet of Locker Associates determined that Starwood is moving towards liquidation. The Starwood strategy in the past has been to get a property rezoned to increase the value and then sell it to another developer at a profit. During their time in Port Chester, 43 families were evicted from the workforce housing at the 999 High Street building on the hospital site. Where else could these families afford to go? It is clear that the workforce housing that existed on this site needs to be not only replaced, but also expanded.
While there is a 10% affordable/workforce housing set-aside for multi-family residential districts, the areas of Port Chester that are zoned to include this building requirement are not the locations where building is happening. According to resident Richard Hyman, who has done extensive research on the housing situation in Port Chester, there is no affordable housing being proposed by Starwood. This is simply an irresponsible use of the property. Many developers do understand the importance of including affordable housing in their business plans, and Port Chester’s neighbors have seen such plans be successful. And yet Starwood refuses to include even the 10% that could make such a difference. In light of how much housing Starwood has already removed, the Alliance hopes to regain some ground by requiring Starwood to include 20% of affordable housing in any development plans.
The Sustainable Port Chester Alliance is not simply focused on preventing Starwood from flipping the property. The issue runs much deeper. As Grangenois-Thomas succinctly said at the close of the meeting, “We just want to see responsible building”. Another panelist, Dave Hancock, expanded on the opportunities that such responsible building could include. In his capacity as a Consultant to the City of New York on apprenticeships and project labor agreements, Hancock focuses on bringing public policy into communities in order to increase access to career opportunities for those community members. By introducing a pre-apprenticeship program in Port Chester, residents who wish to apply will have a tangible chance to shape the face of the city in which they live and spend their money, not to mention learning valuable skills and earning a living wage. Unsurprisingly, Starwood refuses to even discuss introducing a pre-apprenticeship program.
It is clear that the decisions made in the coming months will determine what Port Chester will look like for generations to come. The goal of the Sustainable Port Chester Alliance is to continue responsibly building a town that can both welcome newcomers, and support the people already there. If you are interested in aiding this cause or learning more about upcoming events, please visit www.portchesteralliance.org.