The second-largest commuter railroad in the nation is pushing its first-ever transit-oriented development project in Beacon, N.Y. Project officials hope that the 18-acre plan in Dutchess County, north of New York City, will set a new standard in public participation levels and transit-agency-led initiative for other TOD projects in the congested Northeast.

Developers submitted proposals based on community’s conceptual plan.

Five developer teams responded to a Request for Expressions of Interest on Feb. 7. The RFEI was the result of five years of working with 20 stakeholder groups. “We built a 100% consensus,” claims Larry Rosenbloom, executive vice president of architecture and planning with Urbitran Group, New York City, a consultant to Metro-North Railroad, part of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “For a transportation agency like Metro-North to take the lead is unique.”

Design outlines in the RFEI include solving flooding problems, expanding platforms to accommodate 8-car trains instead of 6, making them handicapped-accessible and consolidating and adding to the 1,340 parking spaces currently scattered throughout the 18 acres into a garage facility. Land would then be freed for mixed-use and Hudson River waterfront development.

Responses will be discussed among stakeholders in preparation for a Request for Proposals later this year, says Randall J. Fleischer, Metro-North’s senior director for business development of facilities and marketing. “We’ll get a sense of what the private side feels can be accomplished,” he says.

Beacon, located about 65 miles north of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan on Metro North’s Hudson River line, is an older industrial city seeking revitalization. With its proximity to Stewart Airport, a ferry terminal and Interstate 84, officials hope the station will become a multimodal “gateway” for the Hudson Valley.

“We saw an opportunity to redevelop this corridor and create different land use patterns based on communities served by rail,” says Mark Strauss, principal with FxFowle Architects, P.C., New York City, a subconsultant to Urbitran. One key is to dispel concerns about density among residents. That helped Beacon officials agree to rezone the land around the station for redevelopment.

Metro-North’s ownership of the land also allowed rail officials to take the lead, adds Strauss. “Political leadership is needed” to make transit-oriented development work, he says.