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Iona College to Withdraw Controversial Mayflower Dorm Project

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Iona College to Withdraw Controversial Mayflower Dorm Project

August 01, 2011 - 21:41
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Iona College Dorm

UPDATED (see below)

Newly installed Iona College President Dr. Joseph E. Nyre will hold a news conference tomorrow at 11:30 AM at City Hall to announce the college will withdraw its 10 story dorm proposal without prejudice.

Nyre reportedly learned shortly after assuming his new post that Iona College is at overcapacity in the existing dorms in the CR district by a significant amount.

"They were violating the very zoning created specifically for them", said attorney Greg Varian who has been a leader in working to craft an alternative to the original plan.

The CR zoning was amended to permit the three existing dorms.

With the beginning of the school year fast approaching and no place to legally house students, a deal has been struck under which the college will withdraw its proposal for a 10-story dormitory at the site of the old Mayflower Elementary School and, in exchange, the New Rochelle City Council will consider increasing the permitted capacity for a two-year period with the possibility the new capacity limits will be made permanent.

Bob McCaffrey President of the Mount Joy Neighborhood Association and a leading opponent of the proposed dorm, is satisfied with the current outcome.

"It looks like an opportunity for everyone going forward." said McCaffrey. "Dr. Nyre has been speaking with the community directly and we anticipate more open communication going forward working with the City and the community."

Varian sees a tremendous opportunity for the college and for the neighborhoods around the college.

"The best solution is one that meets their need and turns it into a benefit for North Avenue," said Varian. "One that benefits them and benefits the City at the same time."

In the meantime, Iona College and the City government will work together with the community to create the housing needed by the college.

UPDATE: The City of New Rochelle just issued a press availability statement, Joint announcement by Iona College and the City of New Rochelle: Officials from the City of New Rochelle and Iona College will make an announcement regarding student housing and College development on Tuesday, August 2 at 11:30 am in the Rotunda at New Rochelle City Hall, 515 North Avenue, New Rochelle, NY. Neighborhood leaders from the area surrounding the Iona campus will also be in attendance.

UPDATE/EDITORIAL COMMENT: In announcing today a three-part plan to address the desire of Iona College to increase the number of students living in student housing, Mayor Bramson mentioned in passing that "the actual population has exceeded the local limit". The plan calls for the City of New Rochelle and Iona College to embark on a Joint Planning Exercise on Student Housing which will take input from the local community. That was the fluff.

The real deal is that in exchange for Iona College voluntarily withdrawing its Mayflower Dorm proposal, Bramson promised to deliver a City Council resolution to increase the local occupancy limit on the existing three dorm block for two years to bring Iona College into compliance with local zoning ordinances and fire department regulations. The Mayor did his best to lightly skip over this quid pro quo by quickly introducing a series of guests - Dr. Nyre, Greg Varian, and representatives of the neighborhood associations around the college. No matter how strenuous an effort the Mayor made to praise Nyre, it could not conceal the fact that Iona College has, in the past, repeatedly, stated that the new Mayflower Dorm is vital to the viability of the school. Now they are "voluntarily" withdrawing their plan? Something is not quite right in this deal.

DrNyreIt was an odd press conference today. The postponement of the construction of a college dorm would not, one might think, generate much interest from the media yet there were television crews, and reporters from print, radio and the web on hand. All the local media outlets were represented.

Despite the self-congratulatory tone of the statements by New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson and Iona College President Dr. Joseph E. Nyre, the deal announced today was made to mask significant violations of New Rochelle Fire Code and Zoning regulations. Much to the Mayor's dismay, during the Q&A with reporters after, I asked the Mayor to expand on the limits on the existing dorms, what those limits are and how much the college had exceeded those limits.

Bramson danced around the answer as best he could, saying that the limit of local zoning was 700 students for the three building block but under the agreement the local zoning would be brought into line with the New York State Dormitory Authority requirements. He did not say what those requirements were. Dr. Nyre stepped in to say that students were not at risk due to the violations of the zoning laws and fire code; that the New York State fire inspectors had inspected the building. I was prepared to press the point on getting the second part to my answer when Ned Rauch of the Journal News picked up the ball and asked Mayor Bramson for the second time how many students were in the three dorms. Bramson revealed that 850 students were in the three dorms or that Iona College was at about 22% overcapacity.

This means that the City of New Rochelle Building Department or Fire Department was either not inspecting the dorms or they were inspecting the dorms but taking no action for what appear to have been repeated violations or they were not provided accurate information by the college. Likewise, for the New York State Fire Inspectors. So, either the City and the State both knew that Iona College was in violation of the fire codes and did nothing or failed to properly inspect the buildings or were misled. As for Iona College, they clearly made a conscious, deliberate effort to violate the zoning and fire code and chose to hide this fact while pursuing the development of a fourth dorm.

It is not, as has been claimed and since reported, that the City of New Rochelle first learned of the violations when Dr. Nyre self-reported, say sources familiar with the matter.

Ned Rauch of the Journal News talked to City Manager Chuck Strome about the violations.

City Manager Charles Strome III said the college would not face any fines for the longstanding violation. He said the city didn't know anything about it until Nyre mentioned it. Asked if the city ought to have been aware of Iona's overcapacity issues, Strome said that with just three inspectors, "I don't have time to do anything proactive like that."

Of course, there might have been more time if former building inspector Tino D'Abruzzo had not been spending his days sitting around the Sound Shore Fishing Club or John Caldararo was preoccupied with his court appearances for drunk driving. A third building inspector, Tom Taylor was fired over a year ago following allegations of sexual harassment.

Officially, this overcapacity issue came out of the permitting process. So, at some point the City (i.e., Mayor Bramson) had Iona College over a barrel at a time when the Democrats are looking to pick up votes in the neighborhoods around Iona College. The Democrats can now claim they blocked Iona College from building the Mayflower dorm before the November election but Iona College can still build the dorm after the election and in the meantime, Mayor Bramson will make legal the illegal overcapacity of the existing three dorms.

Once you understand the true nature of the deal, the reason for the press conference becomes obvious. That the Mayor was so pleased to be holding the press conference more so. His displeasure and getting a question that addressed the fact that Iona College has been significantly at overcapacity also becomes clear.

In point of fact, if you believe that the New Rochelle Fire Department has good reasons for determining acceptable building capacity, students were put at risk; either that or the building capacity requirements of the New Rochelle Fire Department are not really laws but more like "guidelines". That might be news to many restaurants, bars and other public facilities in New Rochelle.

This is not hypothetical. There was a fire at Loftus Hall in March, 2011 when the entire, overcapacity building was evacuated.

Neither the Mayor nor the College President explained why it is safe to temporarily waive capacity limits for three existing dorms, jumping it up to 850 form 700, then, if no deal is reached on a fourth dorm, dropping it back down to 700. Why would fire safety in one building be contingent on deal to develop a parcel of land to build some other building? I would not want to be either of those two if there is another fire like at Loftus Hall and the evacuation does not go well due to crowded conditions in the building not to mention a more serious event. More to the point, the Mayor is making the City of New Rochelle directly liable if there is some incident at the Iona dorms. Is the City being indemnified?

The Mayor has gone so far as to add as an agenda item to the August 9th, 2011 Special Meeting a written statement that the City's zoning codes will not be enforced during the Fall 2011 semester at Iona College:

In order to proceed, it is requested that the City Council order a Public Hearing in September and that the City refrain from enforcing the zoning occupancy restrictions for the fall of 2011 semester while this matter is being considered by City Council.

By doing so, the Mayor has compounded the City of New Rochelle's direct liability if there is an incident in any of these three dorms. This strikes me as highly irresponsible.

Someone in our local government might want to ask whether Mayor Bramson is trading the safety of 850 college students away to pick up some votes in District 3 and District 5?

It sure seems that way.

There are 15 Comments

another great piece of news topped only by the appearance of Gabrielle Giffords on the floor of the House for the Debt Ceiling, etal vote.

Mt Joy can be proud of Bob, Greg, and residents throughout the City who spoke up on this issue. Sanity has prevailed and I hope the trend continues. If there is a process message,it is to focus on the DEIS to ensure that it is not overly limited or self serving. If there is a community message, it speaks for itself. An awful lot of people got behind this and I cannot recall any member of the Council speaking out, or at least doing so loudly enough to be heard, on what amounted to a fundamental issue around property rights, open dialogue and collaborative planning.

Appreciate getting this information early in the day and Slainte to Bob Mc Caffrey.

warren gross

Warren,

Read the council agenda and you will realize that Noam has struck an illegal deal with Iona. Iona will put the proposed 10-story dorm on hold for 2 years. This was only agreed to because currently Iona is operating over capacity in its other dorms. The max allowed by zoning is 700 and Iona houses 850 students. The proposed resolution requires the City to refrain form enforcement of zoning occupancy codes until the issue can be resolved. What happens if there is an emergency and someone gets hurt or worse before the code can be changed? What safety improvements have been made to existing dorms to ensure the safety of another 150 students? That means Noam will ram through the zoning change and in return Iona will put off the dorm for 2 years, well after the November election. Iona continues to abuse this community while reaping profits hand over fist. Think about this; 150 illegal students times $30,000 equals $4,500,000 per year for many years while placing the public at risk.

I have read it and the new president of iona confirmed it. nothing in my posting suggests otherwise. my intention was to congratulate the new iona administration, bob mccafferty, and the mt joy association for at least deferring and i think likely winning this battle. I also suggested changes to the DEIS process; if you notice this particular example, it is skewed toward a single option for the new dormitory. It is embarrassing that the city did not take due diligence for the occupancy rate.

so, we agree my friend and not quite sure how you read it otherwise. doesn't matter you are a fine citizen and have my fullest confidence and respect. that said, you might consider going to amazon and purchasing a book by the former comptroller of the us by the name of david walker. walker's book, titled Comeback America and should be required readidng.

Anthony, a house divided cannot stand. we need to find common ground. for example, i am recommending something akin to tax abatement, not for new development, but for retaining small businesses to stay in new rochelle. i meam valued small businesses such as the Kaffeine that was being asked to pay a $69,00 per square foot renewal rate. There must be a role for government in such a process. what we lack is the recognition that our current systemm of republican vs democrat, liberal vs conservative is divisive and too political. there must be, forgive the big words, a new paradigm a system that knows and understands that we live in a new age and require new forms.

My quarrel with the administration is that it is secular and unaware of these matters and talks about things called "grand bargains." my quarrel with the local GOP is that they have talked out of the wrong side of their mouth by offering no ideas, plans or processes to address our two major issues, tax relief on property taxes and the failing school system.

my personal disappointment is that people of your quality and the fine mind of a john d are not used. it may be too late for you, but john d belongs in any forum that deals with urban issues. bob oox may be divisive to many, but wasting his considerable knowledge on a failing schooll disrict is simply bad business.

so we will disagree on a number of matters but you will always get the courtesy and respect you deserve from me on any points of disagreement.

I really hope to see you soon.

warren

Warren PLEASE deal with the issue at hand, don’t go off on a philosophical tangent. This is not about politics, conservatives, liberals or working together. This is about Iona bartering with Mayor Bramson to legalize Iona’s unlawful overcrowding of their dorms. Do you understand the quid-quo-pro that took place here? Iona withdrew their plan for a max of two years; with the understanding that the city would not enforce the law or penalize Iona for violating the law. The new Iona president admitted to being 150 students over the city code. Anytime there is overcrowding, whether it is in the Iona dorms or in a slumlord tenement in the west-end, lives are put in jeopardy. Do you support the city council passing legislation that authorizes a criminal act?

bob calm down. some people say you are divisive. So what, live with it.

Anthony this is precisely the issue at hand. If you check on the frequent public sessions regarding the dormitory, it was largely about the construction of this new dorm. That is what I commented on.

bob, you take a largely complementary posting and turn it into an indictment. Again, if you or anyone else has evidence against Bramson, St Paul, me, or anyone else present it or call it what it is, your perception that the Bramson administration and its members are crooks,corrupt, and so forth, present it and stop using your considerable verbal skills to escape a clear responsibility to be fair. Your
righteous and misplaced anger over the use of a word is all too common and it is getting old by now.

Anthony, stop with the theory argument each and every time we discuss something. Sorry if context and something other than what pleases you troubles you. It is how columnists, commentators, and others familiar with issues and not wedded to the negative viewpoint act. Disagreement is fine.

This is exactly why TOTS has such a selective audience. You rarely see anyone challenging you on any point as you hide behind your definitions of relevancy, meaning, ideology, anger, and frankly, you are often in dire need of really understanding just how biased you are concerning the political arena. You have no appetite for the middle ground and a huge appetite to strike out against who you disagree with.

But, at the risk of getting you both riled up, I will stay with my views which many people find both thorough and well thought out and hold to my views about each of you which I think are balanced and fair. I admire Anthony for his determiantion and decency and Bob for his investigative skill (although his conclusions can be problematic) and his absolute authenticity on issues on the district.

you might spend some time looking at the dismal record of those you support in the City, the irrelevance of some of the campaign strategies run recently in District 4 (a vin number on an engine for example -- that is where you really got to me as my organization the Atlantic Bank of New York vacated Tower 2 a scant 3 months before the horrific terrorist attack. We were on the 106th floor, I was the fire warden for the 100-106 floor and I lost many friends from AON, Fuji Bank, etc....

So lectures from you two are can sometimes be pretty upset. We can talk more when you point to one thing St Paul or Tarantino have done to advance the development of small business in downtown New Rochelle. Trangucci had one moment of deserved renown, but did little to advance the commercial growth either. All thse guys have done is talk with little or no knowledge as to what an abatement is and that discussion should have ended years ago. Maybe if either of you were in a position to work actively in venture or development, you would understand what incentives represent in trying to resuurect a broken city and fill Paduano's holes in the ground.

Yes, much was done imperfectly, priorities were ofren misrepresented, and there is lot not to be proud of in the city. But, if either of you would show the reader some evidence of large multinational or corporate development, lending or equivalent experience it would be welcome.

You are perfectly safe in this blog because anyone who might not agree with you is either apathetic, cowardly, or as some said what is the use.

Maybe you should look at the "non-theoretical" facts facing this city and country and get off your high horses and try to heal or at least be positive.

That is it.

warren gross

Robert Cox's picture

I just find your notion of "some people say" amusing. In other words YOU say I am "divisive" but you do not want to own your own words so you lay it off on some unnamed groups of people.. If YOU think I am "divisive" then just say so rather than refer to the great and mystical "they"; you won't hurt my feelings :-)

Finding some humor in the way you express yourself is not an indictment nor is it intend ended as such.

I wish I was so powerful as to be "divisive", that I would have the ability to alter people's minds and cause them to think and act in a certain way based on my power over them. I just tell the truth. It feels like hell.

NOTE: For those younger than Warren, during the 1948 Presidential election campaign, Democratic candidate Truman delivered a speech attacking the Republicans. During the speech a supporter yelled out "Give 'em Hell, Harry!". Truman replied, "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell." "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" became a lifetime slogan for Truman supporters.

As usual Warren you didn't answer the question. Do you condone council approval of an unlawful action? I am happy for the neighborhoods surrounding Iona as they will get a reprieve and Greg Varian deserves kudos. That said should that reprieve come at the expense of an illegal action? That's all I asked but as usual you pontificate and attack me as opposed to dealing directly with the issue I raised.

As far as what good I have done; I challenge you to match my volunteerism from the Bronze Keystone award (20-years of service) to the NR Boys & Girls Clubs, the NR Citizens Police Academy, NR Consumer Affairs to the NR Traffic Committee just to mention a few. I ran for the NR Public Library board to support my opposition to a new tax backing my opinion with action and putting myself and family under public scrutiny.

So sit there and type away, pontificate all you want and God bless you for having an opinion but don't question my community service.

Robert Cox's picture

I would submit that no one who understands the problems of corruption and incompetence in New Rochelle the way I do would say that I am "divisive" (i.e., my supporters). Likewise, I would say that those who do not share my view of the corruption and incompetence in New Rochelle would call me many names before they got around to "divisive".

The only people who I see or hear using the term "divisive" to describe me are those pretending at being objective when, in fact, they support those I call out on corruption and incompetence but attempting to use a faux objectivity to appeal to the uninformed or undecided. It is an attempt to appear reasonable and open-minded while carrying water for the corrupt and incompetent people leading our City.

Come on now this is a smoke screen Noam and the boys went to iona and said let's hold this till after the election's in Nov, and then after there elected they will give Iona what ever they want.
Wake up New Rochelle !!!!! Noam just want's the neighborhoods around Iona to like him i got this done for you Noam will say at the news conference on tuesday.
Then he will go around the room and shake your hands and after Nov he'll piss on your leg. Give me a break.

Great job from the Mt. Joy Neighborhood Assoc. We could have used their knowledge and organization when we were dealing with the Mercedes Benz dealership on Main Street.

We did not receive support from Mayor Bramson, Barry Fertel and Douglas Hocking. Developing 90% of property should be outlawed. I guess quality of life will not be part of the east end. Since chairman Hocking worked on the Green New Rochelle project, I was very surprised that he allowed this project to be built.

Lesson learned organize your neighborhood, speak out at meetings and get out and vote.

Robert Cox's picture

A major influence on creating Talk of the Sound was some similar issues that existed 3-4 years ago (Ward Acres, the Wykagyl Shopping Center, etc.).

No one ad hoc neighborhood or single-issue group can generate significant media coverage that builds support, helps identify like-minded people or otherwise causes developers to re-think steamrolling regular folks. It has always been meant to be one of the ways Talk of the Sound can contribute to New Rochelle is providing a ready-made water cooler around which issues like Mercedes, Iona College Dorm and other topics can be surfaced and debated.

While issues come and go, while impacted neighborhoods change, Talk of the Sound stands ready with a built-in audience to give a boost to the next neighborhood groups that want to organize and get their message out to level the playing field.

If you want to pay back Fertel for his never ending voting for whatever Bramson wants no matter how stupid, if you want to remember him for what he did to the Dog Owners @ Ward Acres, voting for Cappelli's MOU extension number 15 clearly the best way to do this is to support ILYSE SPERTUS for COUNCIL District 5.
www.ilysespertus.org

Let's not forget about the closing of New Roc Ice Rink and how Fertel was "sympathetic" to the cause because his kid played ice hockey. At least he got to play at New Roc. "Pathetic" is more like it. Only wish TOTS was around when thousands of kids and their parents got the short end of the stick and our New Ro leaders helped close the rink. Thousand of dollars now going to rinks in Pelham, Mamaroneck, Rye and Mt. Vernon, not to mention all the lost revenue spent on parking and downtown restaurants by skaters, spectators and parents.

Ice Rink at City Park? Believe it when you see it, watch for the slick campaign promises. Ice rink at New Roc? Now Monroe's basketball court, New Ro Ice Hockey organizations never got a chance to bid on the space. Just shows you how politics work in New Rochelle . . . for shame. Boy, this would make a great investigative story...

Are you better off than you were 4 years ago? 8 years ago? The "For Sale" signs all over New Rochelle should give you a hint. You know what the answer is. It's time to vote 'em out. Spread the word.

This is an excellent analysis of why the Iona Dorms should not be allowed to operate at capacities above the allowable zoning codes. Fire safety is an important issue which should not be political.

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