Letter to the Editor: Statement from Chappaqua Crossing in response to NCNOW Op-Ed by Gregg Bresner

July 2, 2010
by Geoff Thompson

Gregg Bresner’s Op-Ed article (see Op-Ed: Baffled by parents’ lack of awareness and concern over rezoning of Chappaqua Crossing by Gregg Bresner, NewCastleNOW.org, June 28, 2010) on the impact of the Chappaqua Crossing plan on the Chappaqua schools is completely off base.

His analysis is refuted by the School Board’s own experts and grossly misstates the financial impacts of our project. And by ignoring the large excess capacity already existing in the Chappaqua Schools – which is expected to increase in future years – Mr. Bresner irresponsibly seeks to frighten parents and taxpayers into opposing the single best opportunity to improve the Town’s and School District’s challenging financial condition.

Geoffrey Thompson, spokesman for Chappaqua Crossing
Thompson & Bender
From NCNOW’s archives:

The school board’s comments, a summary of the BOCES report:
Board of Education Comments on DEIS

The BOCES report:
BOCES Long-Range Planning Study for CCSD

Appendix to the BOCES report:
Appendix to BOCES Long-Range Planning Study for CCSD

Background—NCNOW article on the joint meeting to discuss DEIS comment by the Board of Education:
Town and school boards put their heads together to prepare for June 23 Chappaqua Crossing hearings
June 19, 2009

Want to catch up?  From NCNOW’s archives:  Click here for access to links to all our articles on this subject.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

This problem can be summed up pretty quickly: In business, there is expected risk.  The property was purchased with a stated zoning.  The owner continuously seeks to keep changing that zoning.  If the residents do not want the Board to change the zoning again, it is their right to say, “No.”  If the owner does not get the expected/hoped for return, so be it.  For the owner, it’s business.  For the residents, it’s personal—we live here, and we pay our taxes out of our own pockets.  I do not believe this would be in the best interests of our town or my family.  If the truth lies somewhere in the middle, I suspect it lies closer to Mr. Bresner’s version.

By Colleen Soule on 07/02/2010 at 7:52 am

OK, I’ve done my homework and read the links to the school board’s discussions of this matter.  I find it hard to believe that the spokesperson for the developer doesn’t understand the difference between ROOM for more students PHYSICALLY and what it would cost to provide those students with TEACHERS AND BOOKS. I believe that the only way to ever decrease our school taxes is for the school population to decrease.  I understand why the developer might want us to keep that population growing: so that we can accommodate any new students drawn by condos across the street from the high school.  But IT WILL COST US more to educate them than we receive from those condos in taxes.  Period.

By Just read the docs on 07/02/2010 at 8:42 am

How can Mr. Thompson call the proposal to build 278 or even 250 condo units an opportunity to improve our town’s and school district’s “challenging financial condition”? It will do the opposite: it would only improve the developer’s challenging financial condition—and, in this housing and commercial real estate market, it might not even do THAT.  If we allow residential units AT ALL, we give up total control of HOW MANY UNITS to the developer and market conditions. No one knows what cliff that will take us over.

By Highly misleading on 07/02/2010 at 8:51 am

I appreciated Gregg Bresner sharing his perspective and thoughtful arguments last week. I’d have appreciated a reasonable and thoughtful rebuttal from the developer. I’m a big fan of laying out facts and hearing good debate.

Instead, the developers spokesperson chose to make a reasonably bizarre point about “excess capacity” in the school system and then to attack Mr. Bresner.

Seems like a consistent pattern from this developer. The town had clear zoning rules in place when the developer purchased this property. They’ve tried to bully the town into changing the rules to improve their return. It’s clear their project will have a major impact on our town and we need to remember that as we move forward.

By CivilandThoughtful on 07/02/2010 at 9:03 am

Does the developer think we’re dopes? He or she certainly addresses us as though we are.  I can understand raising the tenant limit from four to something more—not unlimited, either—but never residential. NO ONE should be thinking of building 200+ units in this town.  We can’t afford it.

By The developer can't be serious. on 07/02/2010 at 9:09 am

Perhaps the developers of Chappaqua Crossing should talk to the County Legislature about using part of their property to satisfy the affordable housing settlement with the feds. All of this talk about the developer “knowing the rules” when they bought the property sounds very nice. If you back the developers into a corner where they see no possible way to profit from their investment, don’t be surprised if they come up with a plan to circumvent your refusal to work with them and cut their losses. You may find their eventual solution to be more distasteful than upscale condos.

By Affordable Housing on 07/02/2010 at 10:29 am

Part I

For starters, you accuse Mr. Bresner of irresponsibly seeking to frighten parents and taxpayers, which (to put it mildly) implies some lack of objectivity on his part.  While it is clear why you, as the developer’s spokesperson, might be somewhat less than objective, it is not clear why Mr. Bresner, as a parent and member of the school board, would be acting in anything other than the best interests of the town.

Now moving on to the Boces report that you reference.  By all appearance, this seams to be a comprehensive review, but it is worth exploring the details.  In the analysis of Chappaqua Crossing, for simplicity let’s focus on Scenario II: 278 units with no age restrictions and 56 affordable units.  Under this scenario, the projection of 61 additional children in the school system is equivalent to 0.22 children per household in a development of 278 units.  Intuitively, this seems like a low number and is quite a bit lower than Mr. Bresner’s assumptions, so it is worth exploring the basis for this calculation.

Can’t fit this, so I’ll follow with a Part II

By Concerned Citizen on 07/02/2010 at 10:35 am

Part II

Fortunately, the BOCES report provides a reference for this calculation, a Rutgers 2006 paper Residential Demographic Multipliers, Estimates of the Occupants of New Housing, which can be found online.  While it is not explicitly stated in the BOCES report, one can infer that BOCES used the average in the Rutgers paper for single-family attached units at a certain price point and number of bedrooms, which is quite a broad universe.  I cannot find any reference in the Rutgers paper to adjustments based on the quality of the school system.  Obviously, in our case we are talking about units that would offer access to one of the best school systems in the country—and at condominium tax rates, well below average for the community.  Mr. Bresner utilizes data specific to Chappaqua.  It would be appreciated if the developer could please explain why we should use the BOCES calculations?

Moving on, you seem to be emphasizing the projection of surplus capacity.  In fact, I was there when you presented an expert that used this surplus capacity as rationale for attributing zero cost in terms of additional infrastructure for the increased school population coming from Chappaqua Crossing.  Zero!?  Simply put, this is junk analysis.  Surplus capacity is an asset and it has significant value.  To ascribe a value of zero only furthers the case against your objectivity and that of your “experts”.  From the town’s perspective, if there is excess capacity, there are numerous alternatives with a far better fiscal profile.  In terms of development, single-family homes on individual lots (either on the RD property or elsewhere) would clearly be a better alternative than high density/low tax development.

By Concerned Citizen on 07/02/2010 at 10:37 am

As a resident, I found the Developer’s response offensive. I have spent the time to research this matter on the internet and through the Town Hall. From what I read, the Readers Digest property (a/k/a Chappaqua Crossing)pays approximately $700,000 in annual school taxes and is now grieving again to reduce down to $300,000 per year.  That is nothing. We have over a $100 million budget. That property apparently used to pay over $3 million annually, but the owner keeps grieving it down.  This developer has no stake in this community!!  No wonder he won’t address the facts in Mr. Bresner’s letter.  How can we trust a developer who has no meaningful stake in our community??  Will they keep grieving once they build the condos too?

By New Castle Research on 07/02/2010 at 10:45 am

Is he kidding .... Overcapacity in the school district?  My sons in third and fifth grade already have more kids in their classes than many New York City public schools. And with property taxes being grieved at a record pace and property values declining precipitously, the tax base decrease will cause even more cuts leading to fewer teachers and larger classes.  I pay a healthy property tax bill and paid a high price for my home precisely for the schools.  If that asset is diminished, by more students and fewer service? That would be a disaster for my kids and for the value of my home.

And what happened to Chappaqua Crossing’s foundational arguments that they were 55 and older and no kids would be there to add to the school district burden?  I guess that was so clearly ridiculous and they lost credibility they abandoned it. And are now rationalizing again to fit their financial goals.

Lets not forget, Chappaqua Crossing’s owners are financial buyers. I run an investment business too. You take risk and by it’s nature you don’t always make money.  They knew what they were doing,  knew the clear restrictions on the property, paid a high price and the economy shifted. That’s business. Nobody forced them to buy the property   

Perhaps they should consider selling  it to someone that will develop it in a conforming way.

Sent from my iPhone

By Whippoorwill on 07/02/2010 at 11:47 am

Chappaqua crossing would have looked better if they didn’t respond at all. Now they just look petty and inaccurate. This just keeps proving Mr. Bresner’s point.

By Wow on 07/02/2010 at 11:50 am

Did the school board actually TELL the developer that the taxes generated by condos would cover only a few students and that the rest of them would be subsidized by us all?  Did they spell that out to the developer?  If not, they’ve made a big mistake—as bad a mistake as overbuilding ten years ago. The developer seems to think that the school board believes there’s plenty of room for more customers!

By Ask the school board... on 07/02/2010 at 12:16 pm

When we moved to Chappaqua in the early 1980’s, it was a sleepy little village with one restaurant.  Going across town was a breeze.  Now it takes 30 min to go across town during rush hour.  The last thing we need is another 250 housing units.  Town is already too crowded.  We have zoning laws to control land usage.  I hope Chappaqua Crossing remains strictly commercial zoned.

By Crowded Town on 07/02/2010 at 12:22 pm

One further thing, perhaps it might be worth considering the risk that the projections of surplus capacity might not materialize.  Before any consideration of Chappaqua Crossing, I think it is reasonable to assume that there would not be any decline in the town’s housing stock.  With that as a given, a decline in enrollment would imply growth in the population of those without children or with fewer children.  With the ever increasing level of taxes, it would appear likely that past history may not be the best indicator of the willingness of empty nesters to stick around.

By Concerned Citizen on 07/02/2010 at 1:11 pm

To All,  Be aware that it doesn’t matter where in town you live, the taxes to be paid by the developer will not only impact the schools but also town taxes.  The current report online says that the developer is not going to be covering all the increased cost of town services.  Also those of you in the Chappaqua Fire District will also feel an additional impact as more equipment will be needed. Fuzzy math does not help anyone.  The proposal is too big and getting more unattractive the more people dig.  PLEASE CONTINUE TO MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD.

By NJH on 07/02/2010 at 2:38 pm

If the board is afraid that if the developer doesn’t get what he wants he’ll sell the property and the town would have to deal with an as-yet-unknown entity ... they should get over it! 

The developer might flip the property the very day he gets permission to go residential—and the new entity would be starting with a great gift over which we would have zero control. Once we give the developer residential, he or another developer will take full advantage.  We would be fools to give them this power over our town.

By No time for fear on 07/02/2010 at 3:59 pm

Seriously, you call that a rebuttal?  How much time and thought did that take, 5 minutes?  Those of us with kids in the schools know that there is no “excess capacity.” Bottom line, these people just want money and probably think it’s funny that they can screw us over like this.  Stand up and fight this development.

By stand up on 07/02/2010 at 10:48 pm

I don’t know what use this property ultimately should be put to, but this proposal is so clearly not the answer for all the reasons set forth on the recent postings.  And I wholeheartedly agree that the so-called rebuttal from the developer is insulting.

By Long time town resident on 07/03/2010 at 12:04 pm

It’s pretty ironic that BECAUSE the board of ed insisted on overbuilding ten years ago (and remember: it passed narrowly—almost as many voters said NO), the current/future overcapacity should ten years later be used to foist a large residential development on the town that results in INCREASED school population and, therefore, school taxes.

Think about it: The only reason the Board of Ed was able to keep last year’s budget increase (and not this year’s) to zero is because we LOST substantially in student population and eliminated staff. Did the Board of Ed NOT tell this story to the town board?  “Yes, we have the SPACE to fit more students—but filling that space with students is extremely costly, i.e., has to be staffed.” The town board seems only to have heard the first half.

By Pretty ironic... on 07/03/2010 at 2:55 pm

Look, until the developer hears a firm No on residential, it will not use its collective imagination to make the best use of the commercial space. Its imagination is stuck on residential, the fast-buck that leaves taxpayers holding the bill. Tell them “No Residential,” then let them get serious about finding the right tenant(s)—or maybe the right buyer—who DOES have the imagination to keep this property a source of commercial tax revenue.

By Tell them no. on 07/04/2010 at 9:13 am

I agree with Pretty Ironic. We built an unnecessary middle school 10 years ago. The school board and its supporters did not heed the warnings and objections of many and today - as predicted we have a shrinking school enrollment. That under capacity issue now haunts us as developers can make the case that the school system has the room and should utilize resources. Of course our teachers will have their teachers union support every and all initiatives that will preserve and potentially increase the number of teachers. How can we possibly have passed an increased budget (higher taxes) at a time when student enrollment declines? What is the rational? If there was ever a time given the economic and financial climate that surrounds us to cut the budget this was it. Heaven help us if/when enrollment stabilizes or spikes. We missed a huge opportunity to cut the budget and now we have no choice but to entertain any and all proposals that will generate revenues. I am not a fan of Chappaqua Crossing but isn’t it ironic that those most critical are also the ones most responsible for putting us in the position to be beholden to such developments.

By IronicINDEED on 07/06/2010 at 10:32 am

In fairness to Thompson, I find it hard to believe that a school board member thinks that the incremental cost per student is the same as (or even close to) the average cost per student.

By Justsayin' on 07/07/2010 at 5:15 pm

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