Originally published in the Westmore News in July, 2021.
A few years ago, Port Chester had a lot of meetings as part of an initiative called “Plan the Port.” People were invited to give their opinions about what they liked and didn’t like in Port Chester. The Village hired firms to scope out the houses, apartments, and businesses so everyone could agree on what we had and where we could do better. The Community Character Summaries in the Plan the Port initiative laid out some pretty stark points about what works downtown and what doesn’t.
“The big-box retail buildings, particularly the Loews theater block, are the least successful private frontage downtown. The lack of articulation and openings along the first floor present a blank wall to pedestrians and drivers alike. This creates an uncomfortable and uninteresting pedestrian experience despite the adequately sized sidewalk and street trees.”
“Downtown has several examples of the effect that building scale can have on the built environment. In the older part of downtown along N Main Street and King Street, buildings have a traditional scale and proportion. On the other side of Westchester Avenue, however, the scale of the buildings changes dramatically. The Theater, Costco, and the other retail stores in the block between Westchester Avenue and Purdy Avenue are massively scaled. In part because of the absence of real storefronts and streetscape elements, these buildings are very uncomfortable to walk alongside.”
The Form-Based Code was supposed to be the result of these discussions—it would take Plan the Port as a starting point and build upon what was learned from that. What was pitched to the people of Port Chester was that the Form-Based Code would “Create a Code that Allows the right Type of Development in the right Type of Places…The proposed new code would require that these types of projects/buildings fit the character of the neighborhood.”
However, the Board of Trustees never instituted a maximum lot width or a maximum building width, so now everything being built downtown will be on the same massive scale that has already been shown to be bad for Port Chester. If the Form-Based Code was supposed to make buildings “fit the character of the neighborhood,” how is allowing buildings the size of an entire block allowed?
The new Form-Based Code does not do for Port Chester what it was supposed to do. Did anyone in a single Plan the Port meeting ask for whole city blocks to be demolished downtown? Did anyone say they wanted a 12-story building at the base of King Street? Of course not—what people like about Port Chester is what Plan the Port noted as “successful”—the small-scale historic buildings with a mix of frontages.
So why are we getting rid of this?