At a hearing held in mid-November, residents of New Rochelle, New York were finally given an opportunity to comment on a proposed 308,000 square foot Ikea furniture store. They gave city officials an earful. More than 400 people packed City Hall, while hundreds more stood outside.
So many wished to testify that the city was forced to extend the hearings over five nights, taking 18 hours of testimony from more than 200 residents. All but a handful opposed the project. They were joined by officials from the neighboring towns of Mamaroneck and Larchmont, whose borders abut the proposed store.
Much of the credit for the large turnout goes to Westchester Residents Against Ikea Now (WRAIN). The group held a massive rally against the project last summer, phoned 7,000 households in the days leading up to the hearing, and lined up testimony from experts.
Opponents contend the store will create a traffic nightmare, undermine the community’s quality of life, and destroy dozens of local businesses. Ikea estimates the store will attract 20,000 visitors on a typical weekend day, the equivalent of one-quarter of New Rochelle’s population. The traffic will substantially lower nearby property values, according to Eliot Sklar, a professor of land use at Columbia University.
Ikea’s proposal hinges on government help. City officials plan to use eminent domain to clear the 16 acres needed for the store, condemning much of the City Park neighborhood and razing 26 local businesses employing 400 people, two churches, and the homes of 160 residents.
In addition to 26 condemned businesses, the superstore is likely to harm New Rochelle’s 31 local furniture stores, many of which may be forced to close.
Ikea contends the store will generate $4.2 million in local sales and property taxes, as well as 350 jobs. But these numbers fail to take into account the revenue and jobs that will be lost as local businesses close and home values decline.
Although the mayor and several city council members have expressed strong support for the Ikea, opponents hope the hearings have made clear that a favorable vote might cost them their jobs come election day.
Meanwhile, in a related development, a federal district court returned New Rochelle’s lawsuit against neighboring Mamaroneck to the New York Supreme Court. The lawsuit was filed after Mamaroneck adopted an ordinance that enables it to review and reject large development projects, such as the Ikea, that are situated just beyond its borders.
The federal court dismissed New Rochelle’s claim of due process and equal protection violations. The court concluded that the law did not necessarily violate the Commerce Clause, but might under certain circumstances. The court left that issue open and returned the case to the New York Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments on the law’s validity under the state’s constitution and municipal home rule law.