Vacant since the 1990s, the former site of a General Motors assembly plant is finally getting the attention it needs to revitalize the waterfront of a historic village 30 miles north of New York City.
Perhaps best recognized as the setting for Washington Irving’s 19th century short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the village will soon be the location of a new legend for the community, as civic leaders and developers give the low-lying, impervious brownfield site a new purpose as a resilient civic focal point and community destination.
Revival of the 97-acre site was split into two parts, beginning with a private residential project on the west parcel, known as “Edge on the Hudson.” The new condominium and apartment housing community is currently under construction.
To redevelop the remaining 29 acres on the east parcel, the Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation (LDC) was established by a group of community investors who are now the owner of the property. The LDC is creating opportunities for the riverside site to re-emerge as a hub of economic activity.
“When General Motors moved out, it left a significant impact on the local economy and eroded the downtown customer base,” said Abhijeet Shrivastava, urban designer and resiliency planner for WSP USA. “The LDC was formed to revitalize the downtown and create a ‘central park’ for the Sleepy Hollow community. It represents a reclamation of historic character of Sleepy Hollow’s Hudson River waterfront.”
When completed, the site will feature an amphitheater for performances, a civic center, athletic fields and courts, trails, a skateboard park, and a new Department of Public Works building.
Challenges Become Opportunities
WSP is collaborating with the LDC and the Village of Sleepy Hollow on the project, and is responsible for site planning, urban design, flood resilience and hydraulic analysis of the east parcel.
Some of the plans for the site include creation of a civic center, athletic fields and courts, an amphitheater for performances, a new Department of Public Works (DPW) facility, a walking trail and a skate park. The project will include improvement of the site’s storm water treatment, protection of its critical infrastructure, and overall strengthening of public access to the reclaimed waterfront.
“The goal of the project is to serve as a central passive and active recreational space for Sleepy Hollow’s 10,000 residents, and for the future population growth planned for the west parcel redevelopment,” Shrivastava said. “It will be an area of history, diversity, mobility and culture, serving the citizens of Sleepy Hollow and attracting the interest of residents in adjacent communities and tourists.”
Planning for the $50 million east parcel riverfront redevelopment began in 2015 and is moving forward to generate funds to start developing construction documents and final proposed design. It is currently targeted for completion in 2021.
An integrated approach was taken to turn design challenges into opportunities. The design concept highlights a holistic approach in urban design, engineering, construction, landscape design and flood modelling to re-imagine the flood prone area and create infrastructure that serves multiple purposes.
The DPW facility is relocated at the higher elevation and the civic space is designed at the focal street intersection to serve as an emergency beacons and relief centers. The resulting redevelopment is a key step in the village’s revitalization and reclamation of the waterfront in the face of risks from climate change and sea-level rise.
The site is located adjacent to the tidal portion of the Hudson River, facing both riverine and coastal flooding threats. As a result, the project relies on urban design, green infrastructure and resilient techniques to bind together the competing interests of multiple stakeholders, including: maximizing recreational public space; improving flood resistance and storm water treatment capacity; accommodating and protecting a DPW facility within a flood zone; and maintaining the economic vitality of the village.
“The most important technical aspect was to address the flooding issues in order for the site to be active all year long and help maintain the economic vitality of the community,” Shrivastava said.
Initially, the significant flood impact on the site, which borders both the Hudson River and the Pocantico River, had not been estimated. WSP’s analysis observed that without mitigation, flooding could reach up to eight feet above the existing elevation. Sea level rise flooding could also submerge the Metro North railroad tracks.
“Hence, the proposed design needed to address flooding on site and also protect neighboring properties from flooding,” he added.
While assessing site conditions, WSP determined that the existing maps created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps were inaccurate and outdated. A more accurate flood risk assessment was needed.
“We collaborated with our water resource team to build a hydraulic model to simulate flow for precipitation events, understand flow directions and work with site planners, engineers and landscape architect to address the water flow pressure on the site itself using a holistic, innovative approach,” Shrivastava said.
The plan is designed to address the compounded effect of projected sea level rise to 2070 and extreme event scenarios like Hurricane Sandy, which caused significant damage along waterways in the region in 2012.
The greenspace such as park, playground and porous parking lot are designed to be flooded in extreme scenarios while protecting critical infrastructure from flooding. The vegetation in a site-wide bioswale is designed to absorb the water, working in tandem with the robust storm water facilities that will be added to the site. The site will also use park elevation contouring to guide and store the storm water.
“When all these elements are combined, it addresses the extreme event flooding scenarios,” Shrivastava said.
Collaboration of the WSP team with LDC and Sleepy Hollow officials has been a key to the success of this project. The techniques being used to integrate resiliency into the site will set precedents for other projects and have already been influencing other similar civic programs in the region.
“Being involved in the project from the beginning, it has been very satisfying for me personally to design a plan that is future ready and in the long run will save the city and taxpayers a lot of money,” Shrivastava said. “As it addresses the element of climate change and resiliency, the plan will serve and stand strong for future environmental events. It will be a great place for the community.”