Town-Gown discussion on Chap Xing, tax certioraris, “Sell-Bell,” mandate relief
March 14, 2014
by Christine Yeres
When Board of Ed and Town Board officials met on Wednesday to talk about issues common to both, BoE President Jeffrey Mester brought up the recurring “Sell Bell” mantra and asked Superintendent Lyn McKay to explain why it’s not in the cards. They also discussed development at Chappaqua Crossing and Summit Greenfield’s tax certiorari claims totaling $6.5 million.
“Two years ago, we actually studied very carefully the enrollment in the district,” McKay explained. “What was projected and whether it made sense to consolidate into one middle school.” She also looked into different configurations—one 5-6, one 7-8, a 6-7-8—but even the district’s projections of a decrease of around 100 students over five years, she said, was not a steady decline, but up-and-down. “Even with that, there simply isn’t space to put all the students in one of the middle schools.” Plus, she said, “we expect overall enrollments to go back up.”
“You can always crowd students into a school,” McKay continued. “You could not have an academic commons area, you could have ‘art-on-a-cart,’ but it’s not sound educationally—and we do so well educationally.”
Although there might have been a $1.2 million savings “if we were able to do that, we can’t.” Reconfiguring to one 5-6 and one 7-8 might bring savings of between $500,000 and $1.2 million, “but we chose to go to a schedule [of longer periods in the middle schools] that saved us money.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow added that when the district did the analysis McKay was describing “we didn’t include any of the possible developments. Since then, there are a couple on the table.” Those are the 111 condos approved at Chappaqua Crossing and the Hunts Place affordable housing project the. “And if we were to ‘Sell Bell,’ and that becomes condos, are they going to be fee simple?” “Fee simple” dwellings are taxed as single family houses, rather than as condos. Sixty of the 111 approved condos at Chappaqua Crossing, Supervisor Rob Greenstein confirmed, are still required to be taxed as “fee simple” rather than as condos, according to the original approval by the town. Condo taxes are generally between one-third and one-half the taxes of fee simple dwellings.
Then there’s the busing time, noted Mester. Sending all middle schoolers to one middle school location would likely increase the time spent on buses for many students.
Improving downtown Chappaqua with a renovated Bell field
Greenstein observed that “in terms of improving the downtown, if Bell field can become a place for turf and lights, and bring businesses to downtown that could be open till 9:00 p.m., these would certainly help the town and us.” There was no mention of Chuck Napoli’s plan for parking at ground level with a raised Bell field as its roof.
Greenstein, Board of Ed member Warren Messner and Judy McGrath had, together, paid a visit to Albany to lobby representatives for mandate relief. They had seen “five hundred guys in orange T shirts lobbying for roads all over the state to be repaired,” Greenstein reported. “So if other people are there,” he observed, “we have to be, too. From what I see I don’t think we have lobbyists. Some groups have paid lobbyists there all the time. It has to become a much more organized effort. We’ve got to have people. There’s power in numbers.”
TB member Jason Chapin noted that members of the community such as Judy McGrath and Jim McCauley are involved in organizations like Best4NY, and Lisa David of the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association. And, he said, various municipal organizations such as the Westchester Municipal Officials Association are interested and involved as well.
Mester made it clear that although the high school’s traffic problems were primarily “the result of too many people not taking the bus,” the district was very interested in the idea floated by Summit Greenfield to “make changes to help alleviate” the congestion at the intersection of Roaring Brook Road and HGHS, whether to “redevelop the high school entrance [a third lane was proposed] and around the curve to the parking lot” as well as a traffic light. “We appreciated the plan,” said Mester, “to allow more volume inside” the high school grounds. And he reiterated his interest “in having the developer expend some of his funds to alleviate those traffic problems.”
“I see Felix Charney [of Summit Greenfield] a couple of times a week now,” said Greenstein. “I saw him this morning, in fact. We’re working very closely in a number of areas. The fact is there’s already traffic problems on 117. If that property is fully utilized as all office, or all residential, there’s going to be traffic problems. At some point it’s going to be fully utilized by somebody. So traffic is a major-major issue and he’s well aware there are problems. The fact is, though, that the imagery we use—if Chappaqua Crossing is a bubble, you can’t just worry about what goes inside that bubble, but you have to worry about 117, the school, downtown Chappaqua. We’re going to make sure that what happens inside the bubble is great for the developer and great for the town—but also the outside-the-bubble is going to be taken care of too.”
“You should be part of the conversation,” said TB member Lisa Katz to Board of Ed members, “in terms of safety, and that this is an open campus. And to make sure you’re comfortable with whatever might be developed.”
“We appreciate that,” said Mester. “We don’t want to be directly involved in your negotiations, but we submitted a letter saying what we thought the issues were.”
Tax certiorari claims
“We’re back in discussion with them, we met last week about the certiorari [tax assessment adjustments] claims,” said Greenstein. “That’s definitely an issue that affects both of us—you more than us.” [The certiorari claims are for around $1.5 million from the town; $5 million from the schools.]
“They’re asking for $5 million,” said Mester. “Obviously, though, it’s a negotiation. You ask for more than you expect to get. And we’ll settle on something much lower, we hope.”
“What they’re looking for in rezoning has no effect on the certiorari claims,” noted Greenstein, “but we’re trying to resolve as many issues as possible and are working to put any discrepancies behind us.”
“It makes sense to wrap the whole thing up,” said Mester, “shake hands and get on with our lives.”
“And if we can get a Chappaqua Crossing turf field out of it at the high school . . .” said Greenstein.
“We could call it ‘Summit’s Green Field,” said Mester.
“We’d call it whatever they want!” said BoE member Alison Kiesel.
Cashing in district property
The school district is getting ready to go to the town Planning Board for approval to subdivide the 20.46 acre Zauderer property—a wooded area around Gary Drive and Buttonhook Road zoned for two-acre residential—into seven residential lots.