Letters to the Editor Nov 16

November 16, 2007

Questions for Greeley administration
about schedule change

Don Curry

Suggestion to Planning Board
regarding Readers Digest:
Remove residential application
from consideration now

Adam Gilbert

Questions for Greeley administration about schedule change

Dear Editor,

My son is just starting as a freshman at Greeley and, frankly, the planned schedule changes for 2008 mentioned in your recent article did not catch my attention until seeing your article.

Is there a record of what the Structured Study Group did, and of what it or the principal relied on to recommend the changes to the schedule that have been adopted by the high school? Also, is there any data showing that fewer, longer periods actually have a positive effect, or is the benefit theoretical at this point? Has anyone looked at the practical difficulties of maintaining students’ attention during substantially longer class periods of 60 or 80 minutes?

Support from faculty

And what is the actual percentage of teachers at Greeley who favor or oppose this change in the way classes are conducted, which seems like a fairly significant change? The article indicates that some are opposed, but it is unclear how many feel that way, and why. Also, my impression was that Greeley students have had quite a good performance record in years past, and indeed that is one of the factors that draw many families to move to Chappaqua. So is there really a problem that needs to be fixed? I would be interested in how other people feel about this.

Don Curry

Editor’s note: We will submit these questions to the Greeley administration and publish their responses when we receive them.

Letter to the Editor

Suggestion to Planning Board regarding Readers Digest:
Remove residential application from consideration now

Dear Editor,

I listened with interest to the replay of the Planning Board meeting held November 5. I was pleased to hear a number of board members expressing a position that I believe reflects the proper way forward here.

The basic facts remain unchanged. Although I am doing this from memory, I believe the following to be substantially accurate:  Summit Greenfield acquired the Readers Digest property for around $59 million. (The contract of sale is a matter of public record and is available on the website .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)).  Readers Digest leased back approximately 225,000 square feet. My recollection is that the rent is at $25 per foot per annum, or $5,625,000 per annum.

Since that time, SG has leased an additional 80,000 square feet to RD to accommodate its acquisition of The Weekly Reader and another 10,000 square feet to a government agency. Therefore, it would appear that around 315,000 feet are rented. If the rent is still at the $25 per foot level, then the annum rental income is $7,875,000. (These are triple net leases, which means that Summit Greenfield receives its lease payments from RD and RD pays expenses such as heating and lighting, maintenance and real estate taxes.)

Property acquired with zoning restrictions

At the time of acquisition, SG purchased the Readers Digest property knowing that the zoning in place provided for a single commercial user, and some limited use for single family home, one acre residential purposes. Regarding the latter, I do not believe that RD has the ability to construct more than a handful of single family homes (and reconstruct one home on the Roaring Brook Road side).

SG applied for a zoning change. The application was granted. They asked for and received the right to lease the commercial side to no more than four occupants, with one occupant leasing at least 225,000 square feet, and the remaining 3 occupants leasing no more than 171,000 square feet in total.

Following that zoning change, SG came in with its first mixed use proposal to add residential to the commercial. The town board recognized that the proposal was wildly out of character with the culture of our hamlet, and rejected the proposal, giving as its reasons: 1) that residents were very much in favor of keeping the property zoned for business/commercial; and 2) that the proposal did not comply with our town’s Master Plan. Note that in connection with that proposal, SG did not ask for a zoning variance for the commercial.  Indeed, they agreed to limit the total commercial usage to around 450,000 square feet.

Aggressive new proposal for uncontrolled commercial use

At the present, SG has come back with an even more aggressive proposal than the first. Instead of limiting the commercial use to the current zoning, they want to eliminate the zoning restrictions all together. Under this proposal, SG could lease the balance of the commercial space (aggregating 700,000) to 5000 and 10,000 square foot users. If we assume that roughly 300,000 square feet are already spoken for, this means that an additional 400,000 would be available for rent to multiple users.

Does the number of users make a difference?  Of course it does. You need control over the workforce. You need control over work schedules. That can be imposed by large organizations.  Smaller ones do not have that flexibility. The reason RD was a wonderful neighbor is that it had total control over its workforce, and provided for bussing and other means of ingress and egress.

To be sure, SG is willing to limit the total square footage to around 500,000 square feet – on the condition that we buy into the current residential plan. That plan is still very offensive. It still has a significant number of apartment buildings; it still has a huge number of new occupants; and it still will provide an inordinate burden on the roads and services of the community.

Traffic congestion created by commercial use alone substantial

Yes, I know about affordable housing and senior housing and the limitations on school age children. We should not fall for this spin. It is a dodge. We need to keep in mind that we would have, under the SG proposal, an additional 200,000 square feet of commercial space, leased to perhaps 40 tenants (at 5000 square feet each). If we assume one employee for every 250 square feet, that means we will have at least 2000 employees on premises each day. If we use a more realistic number of 100 square feet, the number grows to 5000 employees (and cars) each day. And I haven’t even addressed the residential piece, with its 278 units, its likely 556 automobiles, the continuous traffic in and out of the facility, etc. It probably bears repeating that 278 units are close to double the number of homes in Lawrence Farms East. You can do the math for your own neighborhood—and calculate the number of additional school children for 278 households if the age limitations do not hold.

Remove the current residential application from consideration

This long winded explanation is intended to reinforce the position, expressed at the planning board’s November 5, 2007 meeting by Susan Carpenter, among others, that we remove the current residential application from consideration. There is certainly no reason to consider the residential component whatsoever. SG bought the land subject to existing zoning, received a favorable change, and should stay within the zoning that it requested and received. (BTW, I have seen no evidence that the property cannot be leased on a commercial basis within the existing zoning. It is a function of supply and demand. If the asking rents are inappropriate, the space will remain vacant).

Remember too that the commercial zoning variance is a standalone application. SG wants it whether or not they receive any benefit on the residential side. Their only concession is that if they get the residential zoning change, they won’t use more than 500,000 square feet for residential.

We need to stay focused on the commercial zoning application. The residential component was and is and should be a non-starter. On the commercial zoning variance, we really need to understand SG’s position. They bought knowing that they could only lease to a single user. They obtained consent to have 3 additional tenants beyond RD. Why now unlimited tenants? 

SG should spend its effort to lease what they bought

From a pure economic perspective, assuming my numbers are right, SG is obtaining a reasonable return on investment. If they bought for $59 million and are receiving $5.6 million in rent (giving no credit to The Weekly Reader lease or the government lease), it sounds quite reasonable—even if they were paying taxes and operating expenses. I don’t understand why they don’t hire an aggressive broker, and just lease up the balance of the space. They had the right to lease no less than 396,000 square feet (a single user of 225,000 and three other users aggregating 171,000). I don’t know if The Weekly Reader space is treated as part of the RD space (in which case they still have the right to lease a significant amount of additional space). If the total number of users is now down to two (because there are leases to RD and the government), they still have the right to lease approximately 161,000 square feet to 2 other tenants.

SG’s efforts would be better spent on leasing what they bought pursuant to the zoning that they succeeded in obtaining. If the planning board is going to take a position, this is the one that I strongly recommend.

Adam Gilbert

Adam Gilbert, a resident of Chappaqua since 1991, is a strong believer in preserving the character of communities. He lives in Lawrence Farms East and keeps a well-worn copy of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities at his bedside.