Letter to the Editor:News12 got it wrong; no majority in favor of Reader’s Digest development

June 26, 2009
by Lee Bowen

Dear Editor: 

I was quite surprised at the conclusion reached by News 12 in its coverage of our town board meeting regarding the proposed development at the former Reader’s Digest site. They reported that “a majority” of speakers supported the proposal. 

News 12 chose to interview Geoff Thompson, the developer’s publicist, with the rolling hills of Reader’s Digest as background, and allowed him to tell the cameraperson that the project his client is proposing is great. After adding footage from Tuesday night’s hearing, News 12 rolled the clip with its narrator concluding that “the majority” of speakers were in favor of the proposal. 

Residents of New Castle can see for themselves on NCCTV whether a majority of people who spoke at the hearing were in favor of the proposal. They were not. As a concerned citizen of New Castle who has lived here 31 years, I took notes that evening and recorded the following: 

Six people who are not residents of the town spoke in favor of the proposed development. 

Six people who are not residents of the town spoke in favor of the developer’s proposal. Of those six, four were professionals in senior health care or employed by Reader’s Digest, a tenant of the developers. The other two, a husband and wife, live in Briarcliff Manor. He works collecting refuse for New Castle and would prefer to live in Chappaqua but they can’t afford to. 

Twelve residents spoke who are not in favor of the proposed development. They either wanted more time to review the massive document or asked the town to hire professionals to do independent studies to confirm the developer’s claims on traffic, tax revenue and age restriction. 

Add it up, folks. There was no majority. And if you exclude the four health care professionals, the majority of speakers were against such a large development.

In favor of affordable housing done right

Lastly, I am a proponent of affordable housing. I am not in favor of squeezing 222 market rate condos into 20 acres within a commercial development. I am not in favor of an unlimited number of businesses sharing their traffic with children biking and playing near their homes. I am not in favor of a zoning change that may create a town within our town and the potential for medical and retail tenancies, which create more traffic than commercial businesses. And I am not in favor of building a larger condo development than any in New Castle. Currently Old Farm Lake holds that distinction, with about 175 units, part of a total of 610 condos in New Castle, at a range of prices. 

I am in favor of multi-family planning development as described by our town master plan, within our existing hamlets. I have been involved with A-HOME, our local affordable housing organization, for 13 years now. There are currently 16 people in our hamlet who are able to live here because of this organization and the support of our community members. They walk to town, bus and train. 

The model is simple and fits in with our neighborhoods so as not to be overwhelming in numbers or size of the buildings and, just as importantly, preserves the existing green spaces. That’s the ideal for our town, not three-story apartments. 

In favor of commercial development, just not over-building

I am in favor of commercial development at the former Digest site. But not at the expense of a zoning change that will allow the developer to take us on a rollercoaster ride with him when he discovers that 278 units are not enough for his bottom line, and he needs to call on those density bonuses his lawyers reminded us would enable him to build double that number. 

In this economy, we must be conservative in our plans for future development. In this small hamlet, we must conserve our green space, not just settle for “building green” as we develop whatever buildable lots are left. In the town of New Castle, our town board ultimately decides what the future holds for this site. Let’s help our board members in this decision. Carefully review the DEIS and tell them your thoughts and concerns. They need your input, not publicists’ or Channel 12’s version of the meeting. 

Lee Bowen

The author lives in the vicinity of the Reader’s Digest property.