LIBRARY SQUARE – New Development With Community Programs Faces Opposition From MV City Council

North of the Bronx, the Southern Westchester city of Mount Vernon is in many ways more similar to New York City than to anything else in Westchester County, with its dense housing stock and diverse population of African-Americans, West Indians, West Africans, and Brazilians, etc. Now it might soon be getting some New York-style density, in a new mixed-use development. This comes at a time when Mount Vernon taxpayers have been in a constant fight about unwanted development being built throughout the City of Mount Vernon, without no regard of what’s best for the city and a lack of a Master Plan for the city.

Direct Investment Development and Comrie Enterprises want to build Library Square — a mixed-use complex with parking, up to 320 units, retail and community spaces — at 20 S. Second Ave. The concept envisions renovating or razing the adjacent city-owned YMCA building but faces opposition from the Mount Vernon City Council.

While many other developers are being given the go ahead by City Government to build what they want, where they want, without any regard to what’s best for the City and it’s residents or what the taxpayers want, Direct Investment Development and Comrie Enterprises are proposing development that could be good for the city, but they are facing opposition from the Mount Vernon City Council. There is a fight to hold on to ownership of the defunct YMCA building, that the organization, the YMCA sold to the City of Mount Vernon before making a mass exodus out of the city, like they are attempting to do in White Plains now, because it was too expensive to stay and operate in Mt. Vernon. So what is really going on?

Let’s look at how we got here. The developers received a Memorandum of Understanding which is an agreement between two or more parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. The Memorandum was signed by then Mayor Ernest D. Davis in 2015.

Then, City Council President Marcus Griffith said in Lohud, a transit-oriented development like Library Square fits into city officials’ desire for more housing near the Mount Vernon East train station.

“We’re all about commuting into the city and that’s where we’re looking to make the city more dense,” Griffith said. “As far as the YMCA is concerned, there are different schools of thought as to what we should do. We think there may be something different we could do with that building.”
Not surprisingly, the new propsosed developments are all transit-oriented, situated near Mount Vernon’s three Metro-North stations, two MTA subway lines, and six nearby highways.

Westchester Magazine wrote in an article, “Is Mount Vernon the Next Urban Hotspot?” they stated: “With four different developers currently putting forth major housing plans there, the Southern Westchester city of Mount Vernon may just be the next big story in urban living.”

The neighboring municipalities are thriving with new development, Yonkers with the waterfront development, Ridge Hill Shopping Center and Movie Theater, New Rochelle with New Roc City and the Downtown Business Improvement District. The Northern Bronx has Bay Plaza Shopping Center with a 13-screen multiplex movie theater, department stores, and a supermarket. Pelham Manor has a new Dave and Buster’s and shopping areas. Why is it that in the past decade, everything surrounding Mount Vernon is thriving with new business and development except Mount Vernon? To add insult to injury Mount Vernon resident would have to go to one of the aformentioned municipalities or surrounding areas to get the services and recreation they can not find in their own city where they pay some of the highest taxes.

It is inevitable, change is coming to Westchester’s Wakanda. But are our government officials making the best decisions for its residents or just selling off all of our vibranium? That’s a question the taxpayers need to start asking.

So back to Library Square, after receiving the Memorandum of Understanding, the developers spent 1,000’s of dollars for research and studies and are now trying to find out why they are being turned down. The selling of the now defunct YMCA would having given the city $1.2 million dollars and this new development with the proposed services offered to the community at no cost to the taxpayers sounds like a win win.

Especially after the adding of a Dollar Store in the new building on Gramatan, (we couldn’t get any other business, Mount Vernon is not in need of another Dollar Store.) Then there is the colorful lego-looking building near Mount Vernon West Metro North Station. Also the 42 Broad Street project, a $90 million, 16-story mixed-use retail and luxury development with 249 market-rate units, that some residents of Fleetwood are still up in arms about, that the city approved despite their major objections and protest.

With Library Square you have a project that could actually be good for the city, what is behind the push-back from city government? Now while the current and former mayors very rarely see eye-to-eye on anything even Mayor Richard Thomas on Friday, June 2, 2017, joined by several major developers, announced a series of major projects coming which included the Library Square project. So what happened?

One Mount Vernon resident emailed Black Westchester about her feelings about future development in the city as response to a previous story we ran.
“The future is NOT in high rises…The future is in the hands of smart and sensible developments with an equally smart and sensible governing body and people of a City, Town, Village. Mount Vernon has choices and it should start by putting together a Comprehensive Plan and fixing the infrastructure. It makes absolutely no sense to anchor this City with ugly overbearing structures and land give away’s while the inner city decays. We should have business and residential development at the Mount Vernon EAST train station making it the gateway to City Hall, the Library etc. and that should be developed sooner rather than later.”

Is this the kind of development Mount Vernon needs and wants, the taxpayers should let their voices be heard and let their elected officials know how they feel. So what would the Library Square project bring to Mt. Vernon? What services would this development offer the community?

I contacted Carlton Brown of Direct Investment Development, LLC and Marvin Church and Diana Williams of Comrie Enterprises, LLC., to ask just that and they informed Black Westchester there will be 24,000 square feet of indoor amenities accessible to building residents as well as community residents.

The Service, Classes and Activity Ameenities include:

Black Box Studio
Art Gallery
Co-Working Spaces
Dance Studio
Yoga Classes
Spin Classes
Self Defense Classes
Computer Support
Monthly Chef’s Table
Happy Hour Meet Ups
Book & Poetry Readings
Live Performances
Personal Trainer and much more.

Now consider this. Are these worthwhile services that will be provided in the place of the defunct YMCA building that is closed and there have been reports of Black Mold. Yes we are told several hundred of dollars have been poured into the renovations, but the builing is still in need of much repair and the city does not have the money.

Now the city can keep ownership of this dilapidated building or get $1.2 million dollars for it and allow these developers to build a mixed-use complex with parking, up to 320 units, retail and community spaces. You the residents should decide. The elected officials work for you not the other way around. You decide what goes into your neighborhood and you let them know, not the other way around!

Developers are hosting town hall forum, May 24th to explain their plan to residents at the Dole Center.

For more information on the Library Square look them up on Facebook @LibrarySq.

A Few Words With Carlton Brown Of Direct Investment Development, LLC

Black Westchester caught up with Direct Investment’s Carlton Brown, a change agent for regenerative communities who those familiar with Harlem built the Kalahari project at 40 West 116th Street with the Black Box Theater, The Mist. He informs Library Square will be much like that. Mr. Brown discusses why he decided to build this project in Mount Vernon.

When we looked at the South Side of Mount Vernon, what we saw is that there was nothing being done in terms of Sustainable Development that contributes to Human Development. In other words, there was nothing making the South Side of Mount Vernon a better community. One of those things that we believe is that people do not live in buildings, they live in communities.

Everything that has been done on the South Side of Mt. Vernon is in the way of Seniors and section 8, but no building that is going to strengthen the community.

I like working with communities like this, because essentially. these are my people. Although I am not from Mount Vernon, these would be my relative and neighbors if they lived in another city. My mission is to build strong Black and Brown Communities.

Article originally ran in the May 2018 edition of Black Westchester Newspaper.