August 04, 2016
Starwood says in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that the project will not “detract or directly compete with downtown Port Chester’s retail and commercial base given the relatively limited amount of square footage devoted to commercial uses.” However, in the preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement (pFEIS), the company admits that no study has been performed to make sure this is true:
There have been no specific market studies conducted for the Proposed Project. The Applicant has relied upon the collective experience of its design/development team that has planned and built an extensive number of mixed use developments throughout the country…
Given all that is at stake, it is simply not enough to rely on an analysis based solely on the “collective experience of [Starwood’s] design/development team.” The downtown area is too crucial to our community to let this project proceed without knowing that it won’t cause harm to businesses in the area. This is especially true because negative impacts on the downtown area could have a disproportionate effect on the Latino community, which has been at the heart of the revitalization of downtown. It’s not fair to the Latino businessmen and businesswomen who have done so much to rebuild Port Chester for our Village to allow this project to proceed without more careful consideration of this issue.
We should be wary of another Starwood claim, that existing Port Chester restaurants and retailers need not worry because the planned 90,000 square feet of shops and dining establishments in the project will be designed to cater only to the tenants of the new development. In fact, Starwood contradicts itself with regard to this claim in several instances. For example, in its application for tax benefits from the Village Industrial Development Agency (IDA), Starwood says that the new project will be “an attraction and a destination for residents of Port Chester as well as the County of Westchester.” Similarly, the company notes in its DEIS that the proposed project “is not an island disconnected from the rest of the Village.” Indeed, if it were an island, then Starwood would not also use the DEIS to tout a certain component of its traffic plan as “a positive for the retail and restaurant uses providing such uses with more visibility from potential patrons.”
On behalf of our friends in downtown Port Chester, we worry that a new business district is developing along this stretch of Boston Post Road with the Kohl’s shopping center and Whole Foods already in the area, and now plans for 90,000 square feet of new shops and restaurants. This area could draw consumers away from downtown. We also worry that property taxes could be raised to make up for the loss of revenue from tax abatements awarded to Starwood. And we’re concerned that space at the project will be rented to international chain stores able to pay rents high enough to fuel the inflation of commercial rents downtown.
As we have explained repeatedly, we aren’t opposed to this development. But we do believe that the project must be done right. The Village must make sure that Starwood studies the impacts this project could have on downtown – and then develops a plan to make up for any negative impacts.
We owe at least that much to the business owners who helped make Port Chester so attractive to Starwood in the first place.