Op-Ed:  Baffled by parents’ lack of awareness and concern over rezoning of Chappaqua Crossing

Monday, June 28, 2010
by Gregg Bresner

I am writing today as a resident and parent of two children in our school system and not in my capacity as a member of the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education.  In looking at the issues that confront our community, I am baffled by the apparent lack of attention to the proposed massive residential development at the Reader’s Digest property (Chappaqua Crossing).

Given how vociferously school parents in this community have expressed concerns regarding changes to class size, student programs, the superintendent selection process etc., I am perplexed and concerned that these same people have not focused on the Reader’s Digest rezoning situation which, in my opinion, represents a very serious and visible threat to class sizes and programs.  It is almost as if this community is ignoring the elephant in the room.

The case here is very simple.  If the development goes forward as planned (the developer has already suggested that the 55-and-over age restriction on Chappaqua Crossing be removed), the education costs of the new children enrolled in the District will likely be borne in large measure through either drastic and deleterious cuts to our current programs, increased class sizes and/or hefty increases in the property taxes of residents outside of Chappaqua Crossing – you and me.

The economics of an education in Chappaqua

The Chappaqua School District will spend approximately $26,400 per student in the 2010 – 2011 school year. The proposed residential development at Chappaqua Crossing is projected to provide an incremental $1.29 million per year – or approximately $4,628 in annual property taxes per condominium unit (there are 278 proposed condominiums in total). Essentially, the first student enrolled per unit will be have to be subsidized to the tune of approximately $22,000 per student by existing New Castle taxpayers ($26,400 per student for each additional student per unit thereafter).
To the extent that more than a total of 50 students enroll from Chappaqua Crossing, current New Castle taxpayers will have to pay approximately $26,400 for each additional student through higher property taxes.  The average number of enrolled students per household in New Castle is approximately 0.7 per household (single family homes are closer to 1.2 per household), which would imply enrollment of 195 to 333 new students from the 278 proposed units at Chappaqua Crossing.  Remember, you also have the dynamic of “empty nesters” wanting to move to Chappaqua Crossing selling their homes to younger families with children.

Assuming the range of 0.7 to 1.2 students per household, an increase in annual property taxes of $3.9 million to $7.5 million (with compounding increases in the future) would be needed to pay for these new students from Chappaqua Crossing.  Keep in mind that this increase is over and above the district’s current fiscal challenges and before considering any costs from the effect of potential over-crowding of the Grafflin and Bell schools, increased busing costs and the costs and time associated with a likely redistricting.

Where will the money come from to fund these new students?

Are we taxpayers willing to have our taxes increased by $3.9 to $7.5 million per year simply to provide investment return to a private landowner that currently provides less than 1% of our school taxes at the Chappaqua Crossing site?  I think it is reasonable to assume that taxpayers will demand school budget savings to offset these increased costs. Given that over 90% of the school budget is allocated to program offerings and people (salaries, benefits, special education, transportation, etc.), it is hard to envision a scenario whereby teacher layoffs, higher class sizes and reduced course offerings would not be needed to offset the higher taxes attributable to new enrollment from Chappaqua Crossing.

This rezoning has

not yet been approved

by the New Castle Town Board.  There is still time to act.

Gregg Bresner is a resident of New Castle and will be serving the third year of his first three-year term on the board of the Chappaqua Central School District this coming school year.

• To see NCNOW’s article on the town and school boards’ joint discussion of this topic one year ago, click here: “Town and school boards put their heads together to prepare for June 23 Chappaqua Crossing hearings,” 6/19/09. 

• To see NCNOW’s article on the two boards’ discussion in October 2009, click here: “Town board and planning board discuss effect of Chappaqua Crossing on schools,” 10/9/09.

• To access NCNOW’s archives containing a list of all articles and letters to the editor on this subject (nearly three years’ worth), click HERE.

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

In either capacity, thank you for writing this.

Part of trouble of course is the indirect way in which the operating expenses of schools are paid for, which is simply how it’s done. But, as a relatively new resident, who chose CCSD specifically for Greeley when we relocated to New York, I had no idea that gap between what an average household pays in school taxes and what the district pays to educate each child was that large.

Forgive the naive question: But how is that difference paid for on a continuing basis?

By John C Abell on 06/28/2010 at 7:23 am

If you’re baffled, it’s because you’re missing the point that everyone is very busy, exhausted on the subject. If you want action and positions to be taken, create a simple, fact based, easy to understand ( i.e. with graphics and simple math ) to show everyone.

Yelling into the wind is rarely productive.

By Zippy on 06/28/2010 at 7:39 am

Bravo! Glad someone who has children in the school district is tuning in to the serious problems raised by the Crossing.  Please pass on your concerns to the Town Board. Try to get updated accurate information from the school consultants.  Many errors have occurred in the draft FEIS answers particularly when it comes to possible taxes that this large complex will be paying.

By NJH on 06/28/2010 at 8:15 am

Thank you for bringing this to our attention - I hadn’t realised the huge impact on our schools and taxes.

By Sueb on 06/28/2010 at 8:37 am

Here’s how it’s done, Mr. Abel: the $107 million budget covers 4200 students that come from half the 6,000 households in New Castle.  Whereas each household might have on average .7 to 1.2 students (as Mr. Bresner suggests), the half of households with children has .14 to 2.4 students each. So first of all, those of us without children in the system subsidize the half who have children attending schools (as those before us subsidized us).  But the tax figures Mr. Bresner refers to are average condominium taxes, and condominiums get a tax break.  Let the developer of the Reader’s Digest property consider only single-family residences, if any.  That would be fairer.

By Taxpayer on 06/28/2010 at 8:45 am

If these numbers are for real, what are our elected town board officials thinking?  How can they be giving serious consideration to the developer’s proposal?  Don’t they understand we’re here for the schools—and not to make a rich developer richer? If they haven’t approved this yet, when DOES it come up for approval?

By Then what is our town board thinking?!? on 06/28/2010 at 8:49 am

If the town board knows about this, how can it have gotten so far and taken so much attention and energy?  Just say no.

By Just-say-no on 06/28/2010 at 8:52 am

if these numbers are true, then this is all we should have been talking about at budget time.  this IS an elephant in our future budget numbers.

By If these numbers are true... on 06/28/2010 at 9:00 am

Would our town board really approve a 278 unit condominium development without an age restriction ? It would defy all logic and would be an unmitigated disaster. Please tell me it isn’t possible. Tax sharing in our town is already unjust and this would exacerbate the existing inequity. Did Hugo Chavez win a recent election that I missed ? Is the developer an advanced hypnotist ? Let me know where to meet and I’ll have my torch ready. Dear Town Board, I know you’d never approve such foolishness. Aren’t the EXISTING residents the ones in charge ? Gregg - I stand ready to help. I apologize if my efforts to date have minimal but I’m prepared to step it up.

By sw on 06/28/2010 at 9:12 am

How interesting to me that you are “baffled” by the lack of attention given to the Chapp Crossing proposal and concerned that school district parents are not focusing on the related issues. Many like me are fatigued and exhausted by the many proposals, budgets, and programs that exist in our school system that were passed and implemented with strong endorsements from our school board.

Many blindly support the school board and vote for all that you endorse believing that it is what is best for our community. Those opposed have given up. I am specifically talking about the unnecessary and hugely expensive second middle school and all the budgetary strains it has created. The school board wanted this second middle school and did all it could to eventually get it passed. Experts told us that the population bubble would pass and we would be left with an underutilized school. That is what is happening now. We have twice the needed support staff (cafeteria, maintenance, office staff, grounds crew etc). Enormous overhead and operational costs are required to run this second and unnecessary school all at taxpayers money. We hired a middle school full of teachers to staff Seven Bridges Middle School. We have an expensive second shift of busing needed to get these kids to school. There were several viable options presented that would have greatly reduced the financial strain we are currently experiencing. I am in favor of any proposal that keeps my taxes down.

The school board ignored the many warnings of Chapp residents and tax payers. The school board ignored the experts that correctly forecasted the shift in demographics and students. So forgive me if I am a little dubious about your inquiry as to “why isn’t anybody paying attention”? The school board was certainly content when many residents weren’t paying attention to the $50 million budget that was passed to build Seven Bridges Middle school.

By Emptynester on 06/28/2010 at 9:31 am

The problem with age restriction is that the developer could go to the state and have it lifted if 80% of the units were not sold to seniors.  Since the Town Board is looking at this development as open age units, now is the time to make sure the units are decreased in numbers to match what could be expected from the taxes.  Condo units are assessed as though they are rental units.  What a strange way to assess owned units.

By NJH on 06/28/2010 at 9:58 am

For the record and follow up to my previous post… I have children that were in elementary school and middle school at the time of the Seven Bridges Middle School budget vote. I opposed it then (while I had kids in the school system) as I oppose it now. To be clear I do not want to be characterized as an empty nester that votes against school board proposals because I no longer have children in the school system. I understand the importance of a strong and nationally recognized school system and its positive effect on the value of our homes. Eventually we reach a tipping point where high taxes drive away residents and high taxes become an obstacle to new and young families moving in. We are fast approaching that tipping point. Chappaqua Crossing may appeal to some because of the tax revenues it will generate. The school board should recognize that it plays an important role in our taxes and therefore Chappaqua Crossing is partially a result of their actions.

By Emptynester on 06/28/2010 at 11:36 am

While I appreciate the “Emptynester’s” frustration, I know Mr. Bresner and he has only been on the school board for a year or two.  We know the family and they are relatively new to town.  They most likely did not even live here when Seven Bridges matter was discussed.  To throw stones without knowing the facts is not constructive.  More importantly, what does that have to do with Chappaqua Crossing situation?  People should try and keep their eye on the ball…

By Robbie K. on 06/28/2010 at 11:54 am

Janet Benton is the only current school board member who was involved in the building of Seven Bridges—from its demographic study to its approval and construction—none of the others.  Only Ms. Benton.  I wonder how she views our middle school expansion now that we are—and will be—strapped for funds for a long, long time.

By History Lesson on 06/28/2010 at 12:07 pm

If I understand Mr. Bresner correctly, it would be better for the school district if the property lay fallow than if the project is built.  The district would lose around $1mm in taxes if there were no taxes but will lose around $4+mm if it is built and there is a low average number of school age children who live there.

The town on the other hand wants it built regardless because it would be a net winner on taxes versus services performed for the development. 

This is where the school and the town’s interests differ greatly!!  The town has a $37mm [half from taxes, half from revenues] budget while the district has a $107mm [generated from taxes] one.  Do not let the town claim to have helped the residents while shifting the burden of the project onto the same people who pay town taxes, the school district tax payers.  It is interesting that the schools have no say in this while the town can approve yet they push the burden onto the school tax payers.  Essentially, if this is approved, the town will have increased your school taxes by about 4%.  It is not the town and the district that have different interests, it is the town council members and the residents.  The taxpayers are the same either way.  Call me crazy, but I would rather my town taxes went up by $1mm than my school taxes go up by $4mm.

If you think your taxes are too high, if you opposed the school budget increase, if you think roads are already too crowded, then tell Barbara Gerrard and her cronies to stop the insanity.  If you are for a transfer of wealth to the developer (your welath to theirs), if you support a new police station without regard to cost ($4+mm increase in school budget) then continue doing what you are doing; do nothing.

By JGB on 06/28/2010 at 12:19 pm

I agree with EmptyNester and would like to address Robbie K’s question “what does that have to do with Chappaqua Crossing?” The school boards action- in the past and NOW- greatly determine the taxes New Castle residents must pay. Regardless of who is still on the school board from the Seven Bridges Middle School vote, we are left with a huge school budget unnecessarily bloated by an unnecessary middle school. When municipalities are in need of revenue (tax dollars) they are more apt to allow and embrace projects that in better times would likely get rejected. With such a strain on our budget and increasing taxes I fear that Chappaqua Crossing will get support because of the taxes it will generate. That is what Chapp Crossing has to do with the school board Robbie K. I also voted against Seven Bridges and the redistricting it created. I was dismayed that the school board was able to get the budget passed while many in the community were apathetic. This is the same apathy Mr. Bresner observes.

By TaxandSpend on 06/28/2010 at 12:44 pm

Shame on all of us for not challenging the Town Board more aggressively and participating in the process.  As a parent of two students in CCSD, one in Greeley and one in 7 Bridges, and a person who works in the City and comes home and helps with dinner, homework, raising the kids, etc., like any good parent, I am as guilty as the next one for abdicating my voice to our “elected representatives”. We’re electing these people and then allowing them through benign neglect to make decisions based upon their own narrow lens yet will affect us all.  I hereby declare to change my ways and attend more of these meetings instead of letting them have their way with us after we gave them the power.  Gregg Bresner is right and it’s up to us.  By the way Empty Nester, 7 Bridges averages about 25 pupils per class.  Do you really believe that Bell could have absorbed that increment?  I think not.

By Marc V. on 06/28/2010 at 2:16 pm

To Marc V….I was very involved in community affairs and consumed by the middle school debate back when the school board pushed for and got enough votes to pass the budget and build Seven Bridges Middle School. There were many good options and alternatives including restructuring grades and schools, adding to elementary school size, and even building one new Middle school to house all students. Expanding Bell was the worst of our options and was only one of the many the school board dismissed. We knew the population would peak and yet we built a long term EXPENSIVE problem to solve a short term solution. So when you point out that there are currently 25 pupils to a class in 7 Bridges as if to prove a point you ignore all the other options and possibilities that were available back then. It is ridiculous that a “small town” like ours has 2 middle schools requiring double the faculty, double the maintenance, double the busing and required redistricting that divides the community. BTW Marc V did you vote for or against the recent budget? While many very good school systems around us voted to maintain or even lower their budgets CCSD is going higher!

By Patty Dear on 06/28/2010 at 3:53 pm

I think that most people with even a little common sense believe that the Town Board is not going to allow some developer to shred up our beautiful community with traffic and higher taxes so they (the developer) can make a buck.

Chappaqua Crossing has every right to try and change the zoning to benefit themselves; and unfortunately, in our litigious age, the Town Board has to follow all the rules to show the developer they are fair. The standard “just say no to rezoning” without proper documentation to and from the applicant will guarantee a long legal fight.

On the other hand Mr Bresner, thanks for reminding us that as Yogi would say” it’s not over till over”.  Complacency is not a good thing.

Maybe we are the silent majority, but I have every confidence that Barbara Gerrard and the other members of the Town Board will do the right thing and protect us.

By M.Harris on 06/28/2010 at 5:06 pm

If the town board allows a condo development at the RD property, they will be out on their ears in the next election. There will be no market for high-end condos for a very long time, if ever.  Ergo… these condos will be low-end, which is nice for purposes of having a range of living possibilities available in town, but puts the NUMBER of units OUT OF OUR CONTROL. 

The developer will press to construct whatever higher and higher number of tax-advantaged condos his bottom line demands as prices remain flat or fall because units aren’t selling.  And once he has permission to build ANY residential at ALL, on what grounds will the town board ever be able to say they can build no more of them?  On the RD property or any other vacant property in residential areas?  This is the beginning of massive condo construction. The residents who opposed residential were on the right track.  Keep on it!

By Just the Beginning... on 06/28/2010 at 5:56 pm

If this board approves a condo development in a business park surrounded by a sea of parking lot, these units will not sell at any premium.  And for very little tax money an undetermined number of units (to be determined by a market ailing well into the future) will have low-priced access to very expensive K-12 educations.  How can this sustain itself?  What did the BOCES report say?  If I remember correctly, it was largely in agreement with the developer, that 278 condo units would attract no more than 60-ish students.  Are they kidding?  Who moves here—to a NEW development—without kids? There aren’t a lot of kids at the mature condo developments in town because kids there are growing up or HAVE grown up. Democrats will lose office if they sell out the town to a condo developer. Republicans must be salivating.

By Republicans get ready... on 06/28/2010 at 6:13 pm

We’re trying, but the town board is playing this very very close to the vest.  They’re issuing their documents little by little, but nothing else.  No one knows what they’re thinking and that’s making people very very nervous.  People will come out pretty annoyed—and, as usual, IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER, IT LOOKS LIKE! Who, by the way, believes the BOCES report?  60 kids from 278 condos?  And why not fee simple, like other residences.  A condo whose market value is $500K pays far less tax than a comparable $500K single family house.  Make everything single family.  Then see how the developer’s appetite for them will decrease.

By We're trying, Mr. Bresner!!! on 06/28/2010 at 6:24 pm

We’re trying, but the town board is playing this very very close to the vest.  They’re issuing their documents little by little, but nothing else.  No one knows what they’re thinking of possibly approving—and that’s making people very very nervous.  People will come out pretty annoyed—and, as usual, IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER, IT LOOKS LIKE! Who, by the way, believes the BOCES report?  60 kids from 278 condos?  And why not fee simple, like other residences?  A condo whose market value is $500K pays far less tax than a comparable $500K single family house.  Make everything single family.  Then see how the developer’s appetite for them will decrease.

By We're trying, Mr. Bresner!!! on 06/28/2010 at 6:28 pm

Thank you, Taxpayer. I guess what I don’t know is the total school tax revenues from those 6k households, and how short it falls from the $104 million budget, and what the reasonable estimate of revenue to cost of the CC project. Clearly there are many households which are subsidizing others—again, how these things work—especially in so affluent a community as this. I know that is the case, based on typical numbers provided here, even though our taxes are relatively modest and because we have only one child in CCSD. If anyone can point me to these figures online I would be grateful; I have not been here long enough to have grown weary of yet another school funding debate.

By John C Abell on 06/29/2010 at 7:17 am

Mr. Bresner - thank you for this article.  I, for one, immediately recognized the impact on our taxes/student-teacher ratio, etc. once proposals for Chappaqua Crossing were issued. Like many, I have no time during the week to attend meetings or whatever, but if you could clarify the words “There is still time to act” in more specific terms, that would be great.  If I can vote on this issue, I will.

By Protect our Community on 06/29/2010 at 11:08 am

I think the perception of many is that the continuation of this process reflects some implicit endorsement by the town board.  It should be clear by all of these responses that the community’s opposition has not subsided.  The development project was a bad idea then and it is a bad idea now.  The known risks are too severe and the town can ill afford a mistake of this magnitude.  Hopefully, the town board takes notice.

With respect to the school budget process, to a large extent it misses the forest with excessive focus on the trees.  There are big issues along the lines of what Greg raises that get very little attention.  GASB 45 is an accounting standard that has compelled the district to recognize a liability on the order of $100 million for future non-pension related benefits (i.e. healthcare).  Tax revenue will need to amortize this liability over a period of no more than 30 years (in addition to increased annual allocations due to the switch to accrual accounting).  The expected impact on taxes is likely to be significant and it is already baked into the system, yet there is essentially zero disclosure to the community.  Many will be surprised when the recent modest tax increases return to double digit levels, but they shouldn’t be.  The GASB 45 requirements have been known for years.  The lack of adequate disclosure on this topic creates an information void with respect to all other budget and related decisions.  That has to change.

GASB 45, or GASB Statement 45, is an accounting and financial reporting provision requiring government employers to measure and report the liabilities associated with other (than pension) postemployment benefits (or OPEB). Reported OPEBs may include post-retirement medical, pharmacy, dental, vision, life, long-term disability and long-term care benefits that are not associated with a pension plan. Government employers required to comply with GASB 45 include all states, towns, education boards, water districts, mosquito districts, public schools and all other government entities that offer OPEB and report under GASB.

GASB 45 was instigated by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) in July 2004 because of the growing concern over the potential magnitude of government employer obligations for post-employment benefits. GASB 45 will:

  1. Recognize the cost of OPEB benefits in the period when services are received.
  2. Provide information about the actuarial liabilities for the promised benefits.
  3. Provide information useful in assessing potential demands on future cash flows.

GASB 45 applies to the financial statements issued by government employers that offer OPEB and that are subject to GASB accounting standards. GASB 45 does not apply to private employers or trusts that are established in order to pre-fund OPEB benefits and for trusts that are used as conduits to pay OPEB benefits.

By Concerned Citizen on 06/29/2010 at 1:54 pm

I am a longtime New Castle resident and attorney specializing in litigation.  I could not help but notice above a comment that the Town Board may approve Chappaqua Crossing out of litigation fears.  If the Town Board is truly concernced about litigation risk, it should be focused on open-ended litigation from the residents.  I find it difficult to envision an argument that an official could approve this proposal and meet a “standard of reasonableness” that would protect from unlimited liability to the members.  I additionally would suggest to the School Board that it retain separate legal counsel to understand its right and duties here - school officials may have to ultimately try to pursue an injunction to stop the Town Board from moving forward on this development in order to protect is fiduciary budgeting responsibilities to the community.  This will be interesting to watch.

By Legal Eagle on 06/29/2010 at 2:09 pm

Chappaqua Crossing as it is proposed by the developer is without question wrong for Chappaqua.  Please write the Town Board and tell them so!  This town doesn’t need 278 more Condos or 500+ more residents. We simply don’t have room and can’t afford the necessary infrastructure for all these additional children and families.  Thanks to all of the comments explaining the tax impact…it is, in fact, worse then I realized.  Is there a compromise out there? Just saying no to the development is not a good outcome either.  What about allowing for the construction of townhouses only?  That will reduce the number of units significantly and if they are taxed as single family homes the school taxes won’t have to increase so dramatically to cover the additional students.  There are a lot of bright people in this town…maybe its up to us to help the Town Board come up with the right answer.

By Chappaqua Lifer on 06/29/2010 at 5:18 pm

We just moved to town with a little guy in tow, and we choose here for the schools of course. We have a few yrs before he is in the school district. When would this be voted on, and is it just a “board” who votes? What can residents do here to get our voice heard? I hate feeling helpless, so please post how to help ensure this town maintains its integrity and its excellence—that’s why we are here! Why else would we cough up these ridiculous taxes. I am still trying to understand what all our tax money is even going towards!!

By New to town on 06/29/2010 at 9:13 pm

I agree with “New to town.”  What are we supposed to do except write to the Town Board, which as far as I can tell has ignored all previous pleas to stop this out of control development?  All I see are a lot of delaying tactics, but no one who’ll actually fight for the interests of the community as intesely as the developer is fighting to get whatever they can.

By KB on 06/29/2010 at 10:26 pm

I’m sure that all of the New Castle town residents who do not reside in the CCSD (that’s right folks, town residents attend 5 different high schools, not just Greeley) are thrilled by the suggestion that the town gives up any potential increased tax revenue from the development of the RD property to save CCSD residents on their school taxes. Unfortunately, the Town Board has to serve the interests of ALL of its residents and that includes those who live in the Ossining, Pleasantville, Byram Hills and Bedford school districts. If you CCSD folks have problems with your school taxes, that is an issue for you to discuss with YOUR elected school board, not OUR (collectively) town board.

I would suggest that the town only agrees to approve residential development at Chappaqua Crossing in conjunction with a town-wide reassessment which values ALL residential property in the town at full market value regardless of the form of ownership. This will also end the subsidy of existing condominium owners by single family homeowners. The town cannot afford to see the tax revenue from Chappaqua Crossing drop to next to nothing and have the RD property sit vacant as the owners are prohibited from either building a residential development or renting out the office space (due to the restrictions on the number of tenants) by the NIMBYs.

By West Ender on 07/02/2010 at 10:15 am

In response to the outcry from this community opposing the Chappaqua Crossiing development, I would like to hear from members of the Town Board.  What is happening?  Why are we not being kept informed?  Since we have the excellent forum of our community newspapaper, I suggest that the board keeps us up to date by writing a report on what is happening in this process and submitting it on a regular basis to NewCastleNOW.  I echo the comment that the process has been far too protracted. When is the board going to say No?

Some of us have already discussed among ourselves just what the attorney stated: namely, a lawsuit by residents if Chappaqua Crossing is approved as a residential development since we sill undoubtedly suffer increased taxes and monetary losses from property devaluation.

I am heartened to see that Chappaqua residents have become active and aware of this serious issue.

By Another Concerned Resident on 07/02/2010 at 12:28 pm

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