Iona Conditionally Gets New Rochelle Waiver

The college wanted to extend an dormitory occupancy waiver for an additional five years.

was conditionally granted an extension of a waiver of city occupancy regulations for its dormitories by the New Rochelle City Council.

The unanimous vote took place Tuesday after much discussion and a lecture on the council's duty to process by Mayor Noam Bramson.

The college proposed in 2010 a 10-story dormitory that would house 400 students. Residents were highly critical of that proposal.

Iona officials discovered in mid-2011 the number of students it had in on-campus housing exceeded what was allowed by the city's zoning regulations, though the college was in compliance with state Dormitory Authority rules and the fire code.

City zoning regulations permit the housing of 696 students. The college most recently had 850 students in the dorms.

The college scrapped its dormitory plan and formed, with the city, the College-City-Community Planning Committee that was tasked to find solutions to Iona's development needs versus the neighborhoods surrounding the North Avenue campus. The college was subsequently grants a two-year waiver of occupany rules.

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After working for several months, the committee recommended the approval of Iona's request to extend the increased number of students able to be housed in its dorms by an additional five years.

The extension, if granted, would be contingent on the approval by a two-thirds majority—or eight of 12 members—of a final report by the College-City-Community Planning Committee that includes the recommendation of the extension.

Some on the council, such as Councilman Albert Tarantino, R-District 2, questioned why the college shouldn't be given a yearly renewal to its waiver.

"When we had the public hearing," he said, "there were a lot of neighborhood people against the extension," adding that he wondered if there wasn't a disconnect between the neighborhood representatives on the committee and the neighbors they represent.

"During the public hearing, none of those neighborhood leaders got up and spoke," Tarantino said.

Bramson said he believed the committee wanted to speak with one voice and that the recommendation it issued conveyed what that one voice wanted to say.

But when the question was raised by Councilman Barry Fertel, D-District 5, which includes Iona and the surrounding neighborhoods, of the possible outcome if the request was voted down, Bramson gave a history of the friction that existed between the college and the community.

"What has happened up until now has been a mess," he said, but that finally the college and the neighborhoods were sitting in the same room talking.

While the process to date has made progress, Bramson said it was in midstream now.

"I think this process is entitled to run through to its conclusion," he said.

"The alternative is to go back to square one," Bramson said, "the same broken model that has been frustrating everybody."

He said it would be easy to vote "no" and have it all fall apart. 

"And when it hits the fan, we can wash our hands of it and say it's not our fault," Bramson said.

He said, while there is no guarantee the process will conclude successfully, the council needed "to demonstrate leadership and determination required to see it through."

"It could be a failure," Bramson said. "We can be darn sure that if we reject this resolution it will lead to the process falling apart, that there's no chance of success and we will be right back in the same morass that has not served anybody.

"And I think all the people involved in this deserve better than that," he said.

The first resolution that passed declared that the waiver of occupancy rules had no impact that would trigger a state environmental review. The second resolution was the waiver of occupancy rules for an additional five years contingent on the planning committee's two-thirds majority recommendation in its final report.

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