Spirits are high in Port Chester these days—and not just because a slew of high-end gastropubs and a couple of distilleries have opened there in the last few years. The elevated attitudes reflect tangible results of the village’s campaign to bring revitalized retail, smartly targeted residential, and long-overdue mixed-use development to the formerly gritty area along the New Haven tracks between Rye and Greenwich.
“Port Chester has exactly what the market has been looking for,” says Tom LaPerch, director, Houlihan Lawrence Commercial Group. “There’s transit-oriented development, attractive demographics, the Sound Shore environment. A lot of older buildings are being repurposed, and they’ve done a beautiful job with Main Street redevelopment.”
Those assets—and more—are attracting major developer interest in the 2.5-square-mile village. An eclectic dining and nightlife scene continues to blossom amid a well-known mix of Latino restaurants, while nearly 1,000 units of new rental housing are currently in various stages of approval/financing/construction.
Whole Foods opened a market on Boston Post Road in 2013, taking advantage of one of Port Chester’s biggest assets: its spot on the map between upscale Rye and Greenwich, Connecticut. “Our location is very fortunate,” says Chris Gomez, Port Chester’s director of planning and development. “We’re surrounded by some of the wealthiest communities in the country, and our transit station gives easy access to both Stamford and New York City.”
Gomez says the real fuel firing the development boom is Port Chester’s aggressive master plan and a massive 2013 rewrite of zoning rules. In addition to encouraging mixed-use development, he says the crux of the zoning changes provided incentives downtown around the train station. “The incentives were in the form of density bonuses for either height, or floor area, or number of dwelling units in exchange for a public benefit defined in our code,” Gomez explains. The code calls for public benefits including developer donations for open space, a fund for a downtown parking garage, and a housing rehabilitation program.
Nearly 1,000 units of new rental housing are currently in various stages of approval/financing/construction.
“The incentive program was directly responsible for bringing the developer to the table for the 50-unit rental project at 120 North Pearl Street,” Gomez adds. “The project was originally slated for only 38 units, but the developer paid [an additional] $190,000 to the village.” That amount, Gomez says, was the first of the public benefit donations, and it set a precedent: Developers must pay 15 percent of the assessed value of the project for any bonus square footage they seek. He points out that Port Chester also has a very active industrial development agency that’s able to offer tax abatements and credits if a developer can show job creation or other economic benefit from a project.
“A lot of New York City developers are looking at assembling land in Port Chester now that we have the bonus program in place,” Gomez says. “I get calls weekly.”
G&S Investors, operators of the mega retail development known as The Waterfront at Port Chester, has proposed another major project that plans 30,000 square feet of retail space on two floors, topped by 79 residential units on a currently vacant lot across Westchester Avenue from the AMC Loews Cineplex.
One of the biggest projects since the construction of the Waterfront some 15 years ago took another step forward recently when the Port Chester Board of Trustees moved toward public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the 15-acre site of the former United Hospital on Boston Post Road and I-287. Starwood Capital plans a $300 million, 730-unit mixed-use development targeting millennials and Baby Boomers that will also include retail and restaurant space, medical offices, and a 138-room hotel. Public hearings are expected to continue for at least another six months.
The site is within a 20-minute walk to the Port Chester train station, which fits in well with the village’s emphasis on transit-oriented development. “We were getting a lot of pressure in the northern part of the village for tear-downs and assemblage of lots,” Gomez explains. “But we wanted that development to be in the form of smaller units targeting millennials and empty nesters downtown where the land around the train station has been underutilized for mixed-use development.”
LaPerch observes that rising interest in Port Chester is bringing with it another sign of impending prosperity. “Pricing is starting to firm up, which means Port Chester has been found in a good way,” he says. “We’re optimistic about the opportunities. The town seems to have a ‘what can we do for you?’ attitude, which is great.”