Letter to the Editor: Reader’s Digest proposed development

Lobbyists should be required to identify themselves as such
January 18, 2008
by Steven Swirsky

Dear Editor:

In your January 11th article regarding the first scoping session on January 9 in connection with the town board’s consideration of Summit Greenfield’s latest proposal for the “over-development” of the Reader’s Digest property, you reported that the “last speaker was a representative of the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region, an industry association based in Armonk,” and that this speaker “had come to recommend Summit’s proposed development to the town board.”

However, you may not have been aware of what I believe is a very important fact, and one that the town board and the citizens of our community should know. According to the Building and Realty Institute’s website, one of that organization’s activities is “lobbying” on behalf of its members. While I cannot say for certain whether Summit Development, Greenfield Partners or anyone associated with either of these participants in the proposal to turn the Reader’s Digest property into a mixed use development is a member of the institute, a quick look at the institute’s website and page three of the July/August issue of its aptly titled publication “Impact Building & Realty News” (Vol. 6, No. 6) posted on the site, you will discover an almost full page—and totally one sided—article, full of quotations from the developer, touting Summit Greenfield’s latest plan for hundreds of condos and unlimited commercial tenants as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Are lobbyists allowed to appear at these scoping sessions?

I don’t know whether our town’s laws allow Summit Greenfield the right to have lobbyists appear and speak on behalf of this project, holding themselves out as “experts” in the field of real estate development and opining as to what the founders of Reader’s Digest would think about this proposal as if they could read their minds from beyond their graves. I believe that if their lobbyists are going to appear at our town’s forum and offer their views, they should be required to identify themselves as such to both the town board and the community before they do so.
While I know that federal and state governments require lobbyists to register and identify themselves, I do not know whether local governments such as the town board have similar protections in place. Fortunately, our community probably has not needed this until now. It looks like the time may have come.

By the way, while the speaker from the Building and Realty Institute claims that the Wallaces, the founder of Reader’s Digest, would applaud Summit Greenfield’s plans and their vision for our town, somehow I have a hard time accepting the idea that the Wallaces would really appreciate the value of Summit Greenfield’s plan, including its goal of tearing down the Wallace Auditorium that has been such a part of Chappaqua life for so many years and replacing it with an apartment house.

Yours truly,

Steven Swirsky