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Westchester Business Developers, Officials Gather In Tarrytown Conference

Marsha Gordon, president of the Business Council of Westchester, at the microphone, seated next to Robert Weisz of RPW Group and Tim Jones of the Robert Martin Co. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
A view of the Hudson River on Tuesday from Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, center, with his spokesman Ned McCormick after a Business Council of Westchester speech on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- At an economic conference on Tuesday, commercial developers and local officials agreed that Westchester must attract younger residents to remain vital 20 years from now.

About 200 business leaders and elected officials heard survey results indicating that most young professionals aspire to own a home with a yard someday. While the county population is more diverse than 20 years ago, workers between the ages of 20 and 30 cannot afford to live here.

The discussion, sponsored by the Business Council of Westchester, was titled "Navigating Westchester: Threading the Needle for Economic Growth."

County Executive Rob Astorino, as keynote speaker, reiterated some key thoughts from last week's "state of the county address." Astorino noted that New York state continues to lose residents to other states, including Florida, which welcomes about 800 new residents daily.

While praising "home rule,'' Astorino said Westchester continues to suffer from too much duplication of services (or a lack of shared services) among 45 municipalities, 47 school districts and 212 special taxing districts.

Astorino called for a moratorium on any new state regulations, blaming excessive rules for long delays in approving new development. "We measure projects in dog years,'' Astorino said.

Robert Weisz, chairman and CEO of RPW Group, the county's largest commercial landowner, said communities must be open to building taller, denser housing within their downtowns to attract young professionals now living in costly, tiny space in New York City. Weisz cited Harrison, White Plains and Yonkers as leading the way in creating residences in the middle of office space. "We need very busy downtowns. We need a lot of activity. We need density,'' Weisz said. "Companies are ready to hire 21 year olds."

Tim Jones, partner and managing member of the Robert Martin Co., added, "Twenty years from now, millennials are going to move to the suburbs. Ninety percent anticipate moving to homes with yards."

Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Ronald Belmont said his first luncheon after being elected was with the town planner and local developers. A cooperative spirit has led to streamlining the approval process and a "repurposing" of vacant space along Westchester Avenue, Belmont said.

Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin said she has encouraged residents to "think local, shop local. If they bought everything from, I would have had to raise their taxes 12 percent,'' to make up for lost sales tax.

Wearing a GenerationYonkers t-shirt, Yonkers Planning Commissioner Wilson Kimball highlighted the city’s marketing and advertising campaign. She said many cities have unused industrial spaces conducive to high-tech space and affordable housing. “If you have the political will, things can happen,” Kimball said.

They were joined in the discussion by Bill Mooney III, director of Westchester's Office of Economic Development, and Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester.

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