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UPDATED Monday, July 19, 2010
Editor’s note: At the regular Town Board meeting last Tuesday, July 13, Town Supervisor Barbara Gerrard read aloud her Supervisor’s Report, which in large part addressed issues about Chappaqua Crossing that have been raised recently on the pages of NewCastleNOW.org through three letters to the editor and over 70 comments on those letters. Click HERE to see those three letters and the commentary attached.
NEW: Superintendent Gerrard’s July 13 Supervisor’s Report has generated an additional 40 comments on this topic, so we are rerunning the article to facilitate further discussion.
Supervisor’s Report, July 13, 2010
The Report this evening is a brief update on the Chappaqua Crossing application currently before the Town Board as lead agency for the application to increase their permitted number of commercial tenants and to receive approval for a residential community.
There are some hard facts both Summit Greenfield and the Town and all its taxpayers have to accept – and that is the imminent departure of the one-time sole corporate owner and then tenant, Reader’s Digest Association. There isn’t anyone in the entire Town who ever wished for Reader’s to depart from Chappaqua. Many residents were one-time employees there, or had family members who were.
But any analysis of the Chappaqua Crossing application must first give recognition to that overriding economic fact. And once Reader’s Digest is gone and no longer paying rent to the property’s owner, there will be changes. Without any additional revenue stream, I believe everyone understands that the commercial property owners would most likely be successful in challenging their real estate assessment. For commercial properties in New York State the value is determined by rent rolls. No rent, or a small amount of rent, makes a compelling case for reduced value and therefore reduced taxes – to the Town and to the Chappaqua School District. So for anyone who believes “nothing” should happen on the site, that “nothing” results immediately in higher taxes for all of us. No Town or School District expenses would go down, but there would be significantly less tax revenue from the property, which automatically results in an increase for all of us.
Recognizing that that option is undesirable for everyone, it falls to the Town Board to analyze the potential impacts of every portion of the application, and that is why the project, over five years later, is still under exhaustive review.
A few recent statements have been made that are in error, and I wish to make a few matters clear for all. It has been suggested that the applicant has “suddenly” decided to not use age-restricted housing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is our understanding that the applicant is still intending to market the non-work force housing to “active adults – 55 and over.” And the plans for the proposed units contain mostly 2 bedroom units, with layouts designed for that demographic. It is this Town Board which insisted that the applicant have the entire project reviewed as not age-restricted because the comments that came in last year at both sessions of the public hearing made it clear the public (1) did not believe that having 55 or over would mean no children in the school district; (2) that the age restriction may not be economically viable, if not immediately then sometime down the line when the first generation would want to sell or will their property to “younger than 55-year olds;” and (3) that there was the issue of enforceability – which could conceivably be an issue for the Town.
The Town Board announced early last fall that we would analyze the impacts of any proposal as if there were no age restriction for purposes of impacts on the school district, while still reviewing the project as age restricted (because that continues to be the applicant’s economic decision) as to the issue of impacts on our Seniors Programs and our first responders’ preparedness. We thought it was clear that this was the Lead Agency’s determination for review purposes, not a change from the position of the applicant.
In addition, there appears to be some confusion concerning the methodology about how any residential units, should they be built, would be taxed. Although the applicant currently proposes some condominium units, which would be taxed as all condominium units are in New Castle, as commercial property and therefore dependent on – in some cases, “fictitious” rent rolls, the applicant has also proposed town house residences, which the Town would anticipate to be owned in fee simple as single family homes are and would be taxed accordingly.
Although the Town Board continues to discuss this project openly and all our minutes are posted on our web site, we regret that the above information has not reached some residents, and we hope this will offer some clarification.
There is currently a spirited discussion concerning whether the applicant should be allowed to create any residential units on that property because of the impact on the school district. Of course we are all concerned about maintaining the high quality of education this School District has been recognized for for so many decades. I have seen estimates of the potential number of school children range from 49 to 72, with some guessing there would be even more. It needs to be put into the context of a school district that is currently anticipating a sizable decrease in enrollment, possibly a decrease of over 200 students or more in the next several years. The BOCES report to which the School Board and the Town Board look for such demographic information is well researched and is the kind of information that is routinely used for guidance for such planning purposes. When one is considering the cost of educating each student, fixed costs per student go up as enrollment goes down, and the School District itself estimates that 27.1% of the cost per student is capital and administrative.
What all this means is that there are many, many variables to be considered in weighing the impacts of such an important project.
The applicant has indicated through its counsel that it will be presenting a further refined Alternative to be considered which purportedly will be addressing some of the issues raised by the public and the Town Board over the past 12 months. We look forward to seeing those refinements, hopefully before the end of this month.
In addition, the Town Board and the Chappaqua School Board have scheduled a joint meeting for August 10, 2010, at which point we anticipate having the opportunity to review many of these issues affecting the entire community.
Barbara S. Gerrard
For NCNOW.org‘s archived material on Chappaqua Crossing and Reader’s Digest, click HERE.