by Mitchell Bard
Rising out of undeveloped land on the west side of the Saw Mill River Parkway in Dobbs Ferry, the buildings of Rivertowns Square are hard to miss. After six years of anticipation–some positive, some concerned, depending on whom you talk to—the large, mixed-use development is now springing to life.
With the luxury iPic movie theater and City Perch Kitchen + Bar restaurant opening in May, and the late June announcement that upscale grocery Brooklyn Market would open a store later in the year, (replacing the earlier announced Mrs. Greens), the community is close to experiencing the full effects of the site’s addition to the rivertowns.
About 85 percent of the retail space in Rivertowns Square has been leased, according to Robert Greenstone, the chairman and CEO of Greenstone Realty, the company responsible for the retail portion of the development. The company is particular in choosing tenants, he said, making sure each retailer meets the needs of the community and doesn’t overlap with existing businesses. “We are looking for stores that people go to and are delighted to find there.”
Greenstone identified a bicycle store, an independent bookstore, an optician and a toy store as the types of businesses he would like to see added. In addition to the movie theater, casual restaurants Chipotle and Chopt (a salad bar) are already open, as is the cosmetics chain Ulta. He said leases have been signed for a children’s recreation spot – My Gym, the frozen yogurt place Menchie’s, a children’s educational Learning Center, Lombardo’s Italian restaurant, a GoHealth urgent care center and Buddha Asian Grille. He anticipates that all of the businesses with signed leases, including the Hilton Garden Inn hotel on the site, will be open by December.
The development also includes 202 one- and two-bedroom apartments, 50 of which have already been leased, according to John Noone, the executive vice president of Lincoln Property Company, which manages the apartments. He expects the building to be fully leased by the end of the year. Many of the residents, he says, are New York City commuters looking for convenience. “We wanted to create a walkable neighborhood,” he said. “The residents can come home from the city and have all these amenities at their doorstep.”
Dobbs Ferry began public hearings on the proposed development in 2011, prompting some residents to express concerns about the increased traffic and other potential problems. “Having gone through a lot of these community board meetings, it was useful to listen to people,” Greenstone said. “They were our eyes and ears on the ground. Dismissing them does not make for a better project.”
With the development now partially up and running, Greenstone said there has been “zero pushback,” and there does not seem to be any organized public opposition. A look at comments to some of the posts on the LoHud and Rivertowns Square Facebook pages, though, shows that there are still concerns about the traffic.
Judy Kalvin-Stiefel lives on Ogden Avenue, about a quarter of a mile from Rivertowns Square, and she said she has seen an increase in traffic problems in the area since the development opened, especially during rush hours. She said the Saw Mill River Parkway backs up by Rivertowns Square during these times, as does the traffic circle in the development, with cars at a standstill all the way back up Ogden Avenue.
“That traffic circle is a ridiculous nightmare,” Kalvin-Stiefel said. “There’s so many different areas of people trying to get in and out of that traffic circle.” Things will get worse, she fears, once the hotel, supermarket and other businesses open and the rest of the available apartments are rented. “I know the developer claimed they fixed all the traffic issues, but they did not,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what the traffic is going to be like once everything has been completed there.”
Also of concern to Kalvin-Stiefel is the increase in trash on Ogden Avenue. Once the project is complete, and if the traffic and garbage concerns are not alleviated, she thinks that the organized opposition effort that formed when the development was first proposed will be revived.
Mount Kisco resident Deborah Camacho, who uses the Saw Mill River Parkway to get to and from her job as a broker for Halstead Properties in Riverdale, also had traffic concerns when Rivertowns Square was first proposed. Those fears were fueled when the development opened and traffic increased on the Parkway near the complex. She was pleasantly surprised, however, when traffic dissipated after the development’s grand opening. “I thought, ‘Here we go, it’s going to be a nightmare,’ but after about a week, the flags went down, the police weren’t there anymore, and everything started flowing,” Camacho said.
While acknowledging the increase in traffic, Dobbs Ferry resident Alissa Salerno, who worked in the village’s Building Department when the development was proposed, thinks the benefits to Dobbs residents of creating a positive environment for people to visit far outweigh the inconveniences. She is excited about the new options being offered and has already eaten at City Perch and found it to be “amazing.”
“[Rivertowns Square] is a whole brand new fun thing for our children,” Salerno said. “In 10 years, where are [my children] going to be hanging out? Down there. Not at the bus stop, not at the aqueduct, not at the riverfront where the train tracks are and kids are drinking and the tracks are right there.… I’d rather drop off my daughter and son [at Rivertowns Square] and say, ‘Here’s $30, have fun and enjoy yourself,’ rather than them being in town, walking around aimlessly, God knows what they’re doing.”
Eric Bernstein, a licensed real estate salesperson at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty in Dobbs Ferry, also sees Rivertowns Square as a positive addition to the community. He said that while rivertowns residents are often opposed to development that can change the character of the villages, compromise is needed because of a shortage of housing, retail and restaurants, especially for a big part of his clientele: young people looking to move to the area from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. “Retail makes an area more attractive,” Bernstein said. “My customers are used to a lot of choices for food services and retail.”
Traffic is a concern, he acknowledged, but it’s a concern in the whole tri-state area, and new developments like this one can be a catalyst to help persuade state officials to address the traffic and come up with solutions. He also doesn’t see Rivertowns Square hurting the property values of the surrounding homeowners. “It makes those properties more of a ‘close-to-all location,’” Bernstein said. “To be close to retail, where, once you are home, you don’t have to travel far to get what you need, is very attractive.”
Rivertowns Square is located at Exit 16 off the Saw Mill River Parkway.