Open Letter: Gregg Bresner responds to Geoff Thompson’s statement from Chappaqua Crossing

Tuesday, July 6, 2010
by Gregg Bresner

Editor’s Note: Gregg Bresner’s original Op-Ed article, “Baffled by parents’ lack of awareness and concern over rezoning of Chappaqua Crossing,” published Monday, June 28, 2010, generated 32 comments. Geoff Thompson’s Letter to the Editor in response, “Statement from Chappaqua Crossing in response to NCNOW Op-Ed by Gregg Bresner,” published Friday, July 2, 2010 generated 22 comments. Bresner’s response to Thompson, “Open Letter: Gregg Bresner responds to Geoff Thompson’s statement from Chappaqua Crossing,” published Tuesday, July 6, 2010, generated 16 comments.

In light of these 70 comments, we have decided to rerun Bresner’s “Open Letter” to keep the forum open for further discussion. The prior two articles can be reached by clicking on their titles above.

Open Letter: Gregg Bresner responds to Geoff Thompson’s statement from Chappaqua Crossing

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Mr. Thompson:

I write in response to your letter purportedly addressing my Op-Ed piece of June 28th (”Statement from Chappaqua Crossing in response to NCNOW Op-Ed by Gregg Bresner,” NCNOW.org, July 2, 2010).  Again, the opinions I express below are as a resident of New Castle and not statements as a member of the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education.

I am not going to dignify your personal attacks on me with any retort.  Let’s simply stick to the facts. Here are the exact excerpts from the Chappaqua School Board submission to the Town Board on September 25, 2009:

“With this submission [members of the Board of Education]…seek to emphasize the potential financial burden associated with student enrollment resulting from the development of Chappaqua Crossing.  That enrollment includes school-age children residing in Chappaqua Crossing units and from new families moving into homes in the CCSD where previous owners have relocated to Chappaqua Crossing. We are concerned that, to the extent that Chappaqua Crossing units do not pay their “fair share”, this financial burden will be borne by all other CCSD taxpayers.”

“The impact of any projected enrollment increase resulting from development of the site can be estimated by dividing an anticipated incremental tax revenue figure by the$25,246 per pupil cost to reach a breakeven number of students. The number of students above or below the breakeven number of students would be multiplied by $25,246 to determine the net effect to CCSD taxpayers. As noted above, using the NC incremental tax estimate, the breakeven number of students is 51… If the development results in enrollment greater than the breakeven number, student costs will be subsidized by all other district taxpayers. Every student over the breakeven number would increase the burden on the existing CCSD taxpayers by the $25,246 per pupil cost.”

Mr. Thompson, perhaps you and the developer should re-read these reports.  The only difference between my Op-Ed piece and the School Board submission is the increase in per pupil cost from $25,246 in the 2008/2009 school year to the projected $26,400 for the upcoming 2010/2011 school year.  This increase reduces the breakeven number of students from 51 to 49.  I would hardly characterize my use of “50” students as “irresponsible” and “grossly misstating the financial impacts” of the Chappaqua Crossing project – those are your assertions and they are unsupported by the facts.

Mr. Thompson, measuring education in terms of physical capacity makes absolutely no sense.  School districts will always want to maintain surplus physical capacity in order to have the flexibility to reconfigure classrooms, expand laboratories, create resource rooms and add student reading libraries.  Our school buildings are not manufacturing facilities where you are working to maximize production per square foot of space.  These are schools in a community where parents care deeply about class sizes and programs.  In order to educate a student you need teachers, curriculum, textbooks, computers, desks, supplies, blackboards, transportation, etc.  You cannot simply put students in an empty space and educate them for no incremental cost.

The School Board Has the Ability to Reduce the Budget If Declining Enrollments Should Occur

With respect to the prospect of projected future enrollment declines, you should the read the public presentations of the Chappaqua School Board over the last several years.  It is absolutely clear that the primary reason that School Board has been able to dramatically reduce the growth of the annual school budgets (growth of 0% last year and budgeted for 1.9% this year) without impacting class sizes and programs is due to declining enrollment.  The democratically-elected community school board members have had and will continue to have the ability to reduce future budgets in response to lower enrollments.  Isn’t that the best alternative for this community as opposed to a risky development plan that has the potential to dramatically increase class sizes, congestion in the community and our property taxes? Perhaps if you and the developers actually lived in this town and had your children in our schools you would feel differently.

Let’s Cut to the Chase

There is no way to reliably project – or, as a practical matter, limit—the future school enrollment of children from Chappaqua Crossing today.  If high-density condominiums are approved, the developer will pursue a sales and marketing strategy that will maximize sales.  My strong suspicion is that that strategy will be to sell expensive condo units that offer families unlimited access to the “renowned Chappaqua school system” at highly discounted property tax levels.  Or, if expensive condos fail to sell, to press the town for approval for an increased number of less expensive units.  There is simply no way for the community to protect itself against these scenarios, which could likely result in the enrollment numbers even higher than those I highlighted in my Op-Ed piece.  There are only two appropriate financial solutions to adequately protect our town from the potential consequences of your proposal:

1)    Propose a substantially smaller number of housing units and tax them as “fee-simple”, so that residents of Chappaqua Crossing pay their fair share of taxes to the Town of New Castle and the School District; or

2)    Place a large percentage of any gross cash proceeds of residential sales in a cash escrow account for the benefit of the town’s property taxes – to the extent that the school enrollment exceeds the breakeven level,  the cash in escrow will be paid to the Town of New Castle to offset the increase in property taxes.


I would suggest that if you would like to take further issue with my Op-Ed, rather than writing personal attacks we should debate your specific factual concerns in public before the community at the Town Hall.  You pick the time and I will be there.

Gregg Bresner

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.

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• 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.


Comments(22):
We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Thank you, Gregg Bresner, for framing the issues. I hope Geoff Thompson takes him up on his offer to debate.

By This says it all. on 07/06/2010 at 7:48 am

I’ve just read the financial report from the town board’s consultants. It’s on the town website at this page:

http://chappaquacrossingreview.mynewcastle.org/index.php/feis-reviews-and-comments

and is called “Preliminary Review of CC FEIS—Fiscal Impact Statement.”  It deals mainly with fiscal impacts to the town, which, depending on the methodology used, end up thus:

Marginal Cost Methodology (FEIS Methodology 1): costs are exceeded by revenues in the amount of $58,772

Limited Average Cost (FEIS Methodology 2): Costs exceed projected incremental revenues by $72,000

HR&A (the town board’s consultants)Preliminary Estimate of Full Average Cost: Projected municipal costs to the Town of New Castle exceed projected incremental revenues by $330,000

I’d like to see the tax figures for the school district set out in the same fashion.

By Go Bresner! on 07/06/2010 at 7:58 am

This is a great response, Greg, and I would love to attend that debate.  The Chappaqua Crossing people are all public relations firm, legal strategy, and business plan.  They care exactly zero for the future of our kids and our community.  The last time they “went public,” at a town meeting, they brought in ringers from other communities to “support” Chappaqua Crossing. 

We shouldn’t put up with any further machinations by this corporate entity that made a bad decision to buy property that had not been rezoned, in a community where people had not been “born yesterday,” and is now trying to shove its business plan down that community’s throats with, inter alia, tacit threats of legal action if the community does not knuckle under.

The Reader’s Digest property should not be turned into a “free tax” zone filled with either expensive, or cheap, condos.  The developers can stake out their property with cute signs, but cute signs don’t equal a zoning change.  We aren’t impressed.

By Lawrence Farms East Resident on 07/06/2010 at 7:59 am

Yup. I noticed also that for the town fiscal picture, using the marginal cost methodology yields PLUS $59,000, the limited average cost ends up MINUS $72 and the HRA method of full average cost winds up MINUS $330,000

By I noticed it too. on 07/06/2010 at 8:06 am

When will the town board tell us their thinking?  We’ve heard little other than the fact that they are NOT considering any proposed development to be age-restricted.  But are they seriously considering allowing a condo development?  Of 278 units?  250 units?  These are the last figures I’ve seen.  The 250 number was proposed in Alternative G.

By Town board responsibility on 07/06/2010 at 8:34 am

While I find Geoff Thompson’s comments to be misguided and self serving I can not help but also view comments by the school board (Bressner) to be the same. If it were not for the decreased and FOREWARNED decrease in student population our school budget (and taxes) would be on a much steeper upward trajectory. That we have a declining student population and still could not deliver a lower or even zero budget increase is irresponsible. Fewer students do in fact marginally bring down some costs but the white elephant in the room are the 2 middle schools including the relatively new and already underutilized Seven Bridges School. Even as fewer students enroll the fix costs associated with this school do not go away. At the middle school level we now have double the maintenance staff, double the upkeep, double the cafeteria expenses, double the busing etc etc etc….To argue that the Chappaqua Crossing proponents are hiding something and bending the facts is a bit disingenuous considering it was the school board that pushed for and got this extra middle school in spite of expert warnings on demographics and in spite of considerable opposition from the community. Imagine the sad financial state of things if we had a stable student enrollment. We could not even deliver a zero increase budget with declining enrollment. Perhaps Mr. Bresner will address an increasing school budget which leads to increased taxes at a time that our property values decline. Young families will have many options as to which community to move to. Other school districts are improving and in many cases are equal to CCSD. Those communities have lower taxes and a more vigilant school board. The current financial state of affairs at the school level and at the town level have opened the door for Chappaqua Crossing because of the tax revenue it will provide. It should have never come to this!

By Residentbeware on 07/06/2010 at 8:38 am

This open “debate” (starting with Mr. Bresner’s initial letter) has been the first time I’ve been able to really understand the direct impact on our schools and students. Thank you, Mr.Bresner - I would be at that debate too, if he accepts your suggestion smile

By Thank You! on 07/06/2010 at 8:43 am

Gregg,

You are right on target.  Thank you for taking a clear and reasonable stand on the true costs to the community of giving a break to the developer.

By Chappaqua Resident on 07/06/2010 at 8:44 am

What’s the town board waiting for? We’re getting reports and reports from the town board’s FEIS assessment.  But who can make sense of, for example, the traffic report? The town board should be helping us to make real sense of these reports, not just refer to this page number and that page number.  What’s the STORY? The school board, at least, has shown us a coherent, comprehensible STORY!!!!

By Yes! Give us a real discussion! on 07/06/2010 at 9:24 am

I, too, would welcome a forthright debate on the issues presented by Chappaqua Crossing’s application for rezoning that lays out the true costs to taxpayers, town and school district.  But why do all these Chappaqua Crossing events come to a head in SUMMER—when people are away and distracted?  The town board should put this off until fall.

By Why always summer?!?!? on 07/06/2010 at 9:27 am

There can be no question that the developer cares little for the health of our schools or our town. And his anemic response to Mr. Bresner’s well documented concerns makes clear that those concerns are valid. Why would the town even consider what amounts to a financial “bailout” of a developer by removing the restrictions on the property which were well known to the developer at the time he purchased it?
Thank you Mr. Bresner for your hard work on behalf of our community.

By Long time resident on 07/06/2010 at 9:37 am

The Town Board’s primary concern should NOT be the impact on the CCSD. It is not the Town Board’s job to prevent increases in enrollment or school taxes in the CCSD. It is the Town Board’s duty to make sure that any development on the Readers Digest property is consistent with what is best for the Town of New Castle which, although many seem incapable of making the distinction, is not the same as the Chappaqua Central School District. For those Town of New Castle residents who live in the Bedford, Byram Hills, Pleasantville and Ossining school districts, increasing the tax base of the Town is probably more important than an endless debate over how 50 more students living in condos across the street from Greeley is going to destroy your school system.

Reassess the entire town. Treat ALL condos and co-ops the same as single family homes. Determine what the site (and market) will support without the tax subsidy that condos currently receive from single family homeowners and approve a development plan. It’s really not that big a deal.

By West Ender on 07/06/2010 at 10:53 am

West Ender:

While I hear and appreciate your frustration with those of us who live in Chappaqua, the CCSD is not our sole concern.  I live in Lawrence Farms East.  The entrance to our area—which is accessible via only a few access roads—is on Route 117, almost directly across from what would be one of two entrances to Chappaqua Crossing.  Traffic on 117 is already so heavy in the mornings, particularly on weekdays, that it sometimes takes us five minutes to make the turn onto 117.  Moreover, due to visibility difficulties on a curving road, and the heavy traffic during rush hour, there are often accidents at the intersections between 117 and residential roads.  Just last winter, our neighbor’s son was in such accident—fortunately, no one was injured—when a car speeding down 117 barreled into his car as he tried to make the turn.

The last thing that residents of Lawrence Farms East and Lawrence Farms South need is a large community of residential condos on the Readers Digest property; our traffic is bad enough already.  The impact of many new residents on traffic and traffic safety is an important issue for Chappaqua.

I do agree with your suggestion that condos and single-family homes should be taxed at the same rates, and that single-family home owners should not be subsidizing condo owners.

By Lawrence Farm Resident (second post) on 07/06/2010 at 11:59 am

The safest course for the town is to keep the property for commercial purposes.  Lift the four-tenant restriction. It’s outmoded—especially now that RD is decamping.  The 90,000 square feet rented now by Northern Westchester Hospital, Fiber Media and the Mt. Kisco Medical Group could be bringing in close to $1 million (at @ $10 per square foot for commercial rental, a price-per-sq-ft mentioned by the town’s financial consultant). Now the developer needs to get serious about reuse of the RD building, empty as early as Aug-Sept now, but paying rent through Dec.  What about a continuing care facility for seniors such as the Kendall at Phelps?  The RD property is proximate enough to NW Hospital to be convenient.  This was talked about at the very beginning of this process, when Jan Wells was supervisor, and it was suggested by residents in the first application by this developer. Why did we forget about it?  Bring it back! More Seniors + Supplying Health Care = Future Income Stream.

By No residential, period. on 07/06/2010 at 1:56 pm

Debate. Yes. By the way, the other problems - traffic, support and infrastructure merely compound the reasons why this financial buyers should not be given a multimillion dollar gift by the residents. They bought the restricted property at a time when leverage was abundant, cheap and on easy terms, they overpaid, took the risk and came up short. That’s business.

By Whippoorwill on 07/06/2010 at 5:17 pm

I am opposed to residential housing at the RD Property.  Summit Greenfield should not expect a re-zoning simply because they made a bad investment based upon the belief that New Castle would bend to their wishes.  It is bad for traffic and our schools.  What I do think would be a good idea, however, is for Summit Greenfield to swap the RD property for the property where Bell is located and to move the middle school to the RD property.  That would provide a Senior High School / Junior High School campus, with lots of room for a pool and fields, all of which are sorely needed.  Then Summit can develop the downtown property with commercial and a smaller number of residential units, which would benefit the town and is appropriately located.  Not sure legally how to get this done, if Summit Greenfield could take a write-off or something else, but I have floated this idea by many New Castle residents who are in favor of this idea.

By Reader's Digest Neighbor on 07/07/2010 at 2:18 pm

Come on, man, where is the debate here ? Chappaqua needs more condos like the world needs more terrorists. There is no grey area ! The math does not need to be calibrated, construed, or bandied about - the financial detriment to New Castles residents is staggeringly obvious. Gregg Bresner is my new superhero. The ball is in the Town Board’s court. Don’t let us down folks.

By steve w on 07/09/2010 at 8:39 am

Make any housing “fee simple”—i.e., assessed in the same manner that houses are, for taxing purposes.  No tax-advantaged condos.

By Simple Answer: Fee Simple Dwellings on 07/09/2010 at 10:16 am

The developers have implied that Chappaqua residents object to the condos out out of elitism and snobbery, because we don’t want less affluent people in town, or wish for the town to maintain its current, semi-rural, small-town character.  This suggestion misrepresents the attitudes, interests and rights of the citizens of Chappaqua.

My family bought in Chappaqua for two reasons.  The first was, of course, the schools.  The second was the park-like, small-town atmosphere in residential areas and the village.  We did not want to live in a crowded suburb; we wanted the “country”, with a quick commute to NYC.  We weren’t looking for “elites”, but rather quiet, space, trees and privacy.

We paid extra these values; our plain-vanilla, 40 year old colonial cost at least 25% more than it would have in, for example, White Plains.  Our mortgage and taxes reflect that price, and we hope that our house will retain its value.

Our deal did not include 200 condos across the road on the Readers Digest property.  For us to now ask that the Town enforce our deal, is not “elitism”, but rather a reasonable request that the terms of an arm’s length bargain be honored.  While we may not have a legal right make such a request, I think that we have an ethical one.

While towns do evolve, Chappaqua Crossing would not be such an “evolution”, but rather would rapidly, and purely to accommodate the developer, impose upon Chappaqua many new residents and, necessarily, a more-crowded, less private culture.  Why should those of us who are honoring our deals, be disadvantaged because the developer is not willing to honor his?

For these reasons, and all of those posted on this site, I hope that the Town Board tells the developer that there will be no “retrading”—“a deal’s a deal.”

By Lawrence Farms Resident on 07/09/2010 at 10:58 am

Mr. Bresner,

Your brilliant presentation of the facts reveals the urgency of this issue and we hope that the Town Board takes notice.  It is TIME, Town Board, to end this process.  It is obvious that Chappaqua residents are in full support of the decision to deny the application for rezoning of the RD property for residential use. Let the developer do whatever they wish to do.  If they litigate, Chappaqua residents will fully support the board in responding in kind.  Of course, I am sure Summit-Greenfield recognizes that initiating litigation opens a Pandora’s box for a potential countersuit.  Perhaps, we can recoup some of the damages the Town has suffered throughout this tortuous and rancorous process!

Mr. Bresner, you have presented a masterful exposition of the facts.  Many thanks!

By A Forty-Year Chappaqua Resident on 07/09/2010 at 12:59 pm

Bravo, Residentbeware! You raise a very good question. Care to comment, Mr. Bressner?

We are a young family with two children who haven not yet entered the Chappaqua school system. We’re actually considering moving to a new community because of the school board’s clear lack of fiscal responsibility and disregard for the sustainment of our lovely community.

By Chappaqua Parent on 07/09/2010 at 1:32 pm

With Northern Westchester Hospital moving all out patient departments to the Crossing, maybe it is time for the developer to look at going another direction with NO HOUSING for this site.  All current designs are not attractive.

By NJH on 07/09/2010 at 11:34 pm


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