As Westchester County officials look for ways to entice developers and businesses to the aging office parks along Interstate 287, the county's busiest roadway, the key will be to meet the needs and enhance the strengths of a major transportation hub.
More than 155,000 cars use I-287 every day, up from 127,000 in 2010, according to Westchester County's principal planner, Tracy Corbitt, who gave the figures during a presentation before a county planning board Tuesday morning.
As the only major east-west route cutting through Tarrytown, Greenburgh, Elmsford, White Plains, Harrison, Rye, Port Chester and Rye Brook, the highway also is used heavily by trucks, which account for more than 5.8 percent of total traffic. The question is how to bring in projects that can enhance what the area has to offer.
"Transit and development can go together," she said. "The goal is to build development around transportation centers."
The big-box office parks that now line Westchester Avenue along both sides of the I-287 corridor began with the first IBM building that opened up in 1960, with construction of additional large complexes by major corporations coming in subsequent decades.
Now the problem is that many of those corporate headquarters are outmoded and sit on properties that usually end in culs-de-sac, making through traffic impossible. Sidewalks are also rare, planners say.
Zoning laws have been changed in White Plains to allow the single-use offices to be repurposed as other types of mixed-use developments. Harrison is working on rezoning that will allow big-box office eyesores to be reinvented as stores, restaurants and/or private homes. The rezoning proposal, in the form of a new comprehensive plan, would include building new access roads between the various office parks.
One of the challenges in redeveloping the sprawling corridor is to create projects that will not negatively impact nearby downtown White Plains, which has been revitalized as a destination for office workers, shoppers, medical patients, new residents and New York City commuters who rely on the White Plains Metro-North station.
Part of the dream is to create walkable downtowns around the county that will attract young people who are "looking for more urbany places where they can go to bars and go shopping," Corbitt said. "The key is to do something that won't kill the success of White Plains."
Board member Mark Rosen said that going forward, it would help to examine more examples of redevelopment around the country. When it comes to the I-287 corridor, he didn't see how mixed-use development could work as it has in Brooklyn, Manhattan or even cities like Boston. "This is in the middle of nowhere," he said. "You have to get there by bus and walk up hills. How do you build a Faneuil Hall in Harrison?"
In looking forward, Planning Board Commissioner Ed Burroughs said that quite often, the most successful projects are spearheaded by a single developer with a vision. From there, he added: "We really have to build a network of many municipalities around the corridor. It's a lot of pieces and a lot of players."