Letters to the Editor: Reader’s Digest property

January 4, 2008

Hoping to stay in New Castle in Chappaqua Crossing condos
Claire Savino

An expert look at how the Reader’s Digest proposal will increase costs to the town and school district and undermine the tax rolls of New Castle
Mark S. Tulis

Hoping to stay in New Castle in Chappaqua Crossing condos

Dear Editor,

My husband and I have lived in this community for over 21 years. We have
raised our children here and hope to remain in the community. We listened to
Summit Greenfield’s proposal and were hopeful that an over 55 community could
be developed on that site. However, I have also attended the heated meetings
and have seen the obvious signs displayed along Bedford Road and Roaring Brook Road.

Not developer’s responsibility to fix current traffic congestion

I don’t know that it is the developer’s responsibility to clear up the
traffic congestion problems that already exist in our town. Perhaps the
town needs to finally initiate viable plans for the bridge and downtown area
and encourage businesses to set up shop in this town. I heard a comment about
shuttle buses to the downtown area to encourage those residing at the Reader’s
Digest property to shop in town. Yes, certainly if you want to go to a
bank, have real estate to sell or want to get your nails done.

The developer made many concessions: giving property to the high school,
widening the roads, making additional turning areas. There are three exits out
of that property, I don’t see the potential disaster. I reside in Old Farm
Lake and we have one entrance/exit and the only time it is blocked is by parents
who do not want to inconvenience their children by walking from the
clubhouse to the bus stop.

Is it possible to stop screaming?

Is it possible to stop screaming that the “sky is falling” and find
solutions? Or are the neighbors afraid that the property will be sold to
“those people?” Yes, the proposal is to set aside condos for workforce and
seniors with reduced income. However, currently the prices for the
additional units are aimed at wealthier retirees.

The word “profit” has been thrown around like a curse. As if Summit
Greenfield committed a crime. The current market has affected residential and
commercial markets. How many of us could live in this town were it not for
“profit.” It seems to me the situation is more one of “not in my backyard,”
and that is sad.

Claire Savino

An expert look at how the Reader’s Digest proposal will increase costs to the town and school district and undermine the tax rolls of New Castle

Editor’s Note: This October 16, 2007 letter was sent to the New Castle Town Board, Town Administrator Gennaro Faiela, Superintendent David Fleischman and the members of the Chappaqua School Board. A copy was provided on January 3, 2008 to NewCastleNOW.org for publication.

Town of New Castle
200 South Greeley Avenue
Chappaqua, New York 10514

Re: Reader’s Digest Property – Proposed Zoning Change
        And Scoping Requirements

Gentlemen and Ladies:

I am writing to express my concern with respect to the newly proposed Reader’s Digest re-zoning proposal and, specifically, to set forth certain issues which should be considered in connection with the scoping process. I last wrote to you in October 2006 concerning the 2006 proposal which you wisely rejected. Unfortunately, the new proposal in many ways is worse, using a phony argument for affordable housing, and continues the concept of high-end condominiums, which results in nothing more than tax rebates for the wealthy.

As a thirty year resident of the Town of New Castle, a former Town Supervisor, a former Chair of the New Castle Board of Assessment Review, a former County Legislator, and as an attorney having litigated tax reduction proceedings and other municipal law matters for the last thirty years, my experiences and knowledge qualify me to express an opinion on this matter. 

Wrong project in the wrong town and massively too large

First, before dealing with the scoping issues, the proposed project continues to be the wrong project in the wrong town and massively too large. The developer bought this property without conditions. It was zoned in its present zone at the request of Reader’s Digest. The town has always sought to broaden its tax base beyond residential uses and the present commercial use of the property is consistent with the town’s long term zoning and planning goals. The boorish behavior and threats to residents by the developer and its agents threatening other uses of the property evidences little regard for our residents or the future of our town.

Second, utilizing the “affordable housing” argument is an attempt to panic the town into an approval to avoid future Berenson litigation, (Berenson litigation refers to case law that requires municipalities to provide affordable housing. The original Berenson case related to the development of Old Farm Lake condominiums whose developer was represented by the same law firm representing Summit Greenfield.)

Affordable housing is commendable and needed. The solution is to allow more affordable units but not to allow any market residential condominiums or any increase in commercial development. That will allow the town to meet its goals on housing without destroying the neighborhood. The developer will make less, but that was his risk. The developer bought the property without any guarantees. 

Town board has absolute discretion to deny a zoning change

It is my personal opinion that the newly proposed development will destroy Chappaqua, and given the fact that the town board has absolute discretion to deny a zoning change due to the commercially viable present use of the property, I would hope that the town board would at least give some indication again to the worried residents that this proposal is excessive and not consistent with the goals of maintaining New Castle as a wonderful place to live. 

I should again note that recently the City Council of White Plains and Yonkers and the Boards of Dobbs Ferry, Yorktown and North Castle, as well as your board last year, all indicated at the beginning of the scoping process serious concerns with projects before the residents and neighbors were required to hire special counsel, experts, and engage in three to five years of expenses and uncertainty.

Taxation issue: very simply, condominiums do not carry their fair share of taxes

With respect to the scoping process I would like to focus on the taxation issue and the future costs to the town and the school district of the condominium units, which increase costs and undermine our tax roll. Having represented both developers and municipalities on this issue, I have some expertise that I would like to share on this question. Very simply, condominiums do not carry their fair share of taxes.

Due to the fact that New Castle, as well as most municipalities in Westchester, have not performed a revaluation in decades, condominiums must be assessed pursuant to Real Property Law §339-y, which requires that condominiums be assessed as one economic unit based upon hypothetical rents and expenses with such value being equalized at rapidly falling ratios. Historically this law has resulted in the implementation of assessments that are 35% to 45% below market value, i.e. a taxpayer who buys a condominium unit for $1,000,000 will obtain a 35% to 45% reduction in taxes as compared to the owner of a single family home also worth $1,000,000.

Unfortunately, that historic disparity has increased substantially so that now the condominium discount has risen to 60%, even higher than last year. Therefore, in most cases a purchaser of a $1,000,000 condominium will pay less than half the taxes of a present town resident who owns a $1,000,000 house, or a subsidy of more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds. This destroys the argument that the project will assist in maintaining the town’s tax base. In fact, it is quite the contrary.

Condominium assessments tend to be reduced by litigation requiring large refunds by towns and school districts

Most importantly, even after the initial level of taxation is determined, due to the fact that condominiums are based on a more volatile basis of value, i.e. economic value and not purchase price or construction value, condominium assessments tend to be reduced even further in court resulting in large refunds to the condominium by school districts and towns.. I would suggest that you ask the proposed developer to provide to you a list of all the large reductions obtained by the condominiums in the town such as for Old Farm Lake, Chappaqua Mews, Pheasant Run, Ledgewood Commons, etc. and an analysis of the historic impact of these refunds on local government. Just recently I have been involved in cases involving a refund in the millions of dollars for just such a project.


It is often suggested that condominiums are ‘inexpensive taxpayers’ and they do not put a drain on the town’s resources. To the contrary, the so-called 55 and over projects, which cannot by law limit the residents to 55 and over, often put a greater strain on town and school district resources arising from the age of some residents as well as the fact that many such projects often end up with large numbers of children due to the economics of spending $1,000,000 or much more for a condominium in one of the best school districts in the United States. Very simply, getting less than half of what we should for tax dollars for these units, as opposed to a fee simple project, will cheat our residents, will cheat our schools and will cheat our town. 

Town board should examine the worst case scenario, not content itself with the rosy picture presented by the developers

Finally, focusing on the scoping issue, I believe that we should compare the tax burden if the project were fee simple and not condominium; a worst case scenario based on the number of new children attending the schools (and for this I would look to the Town of Greenburgh, and other towns which have had such projects and for which the reality of use of town services has proved to be far more substantial than the rosy estimates from developers) as well as an analysis of future refunds which the school district and town would be forced to pay to condominium residents.

I recall many years ago the Environmental Impact Statement for Old Farm Lake and how it projected a minimal number of children for the school system. In the interim those estimates have proved to be laughable, yet at the same time those units pay less than half the taxes of homeowners with similarly valued property.

I trust my comments again will be included in the discussion and I would appreciate an acknowledgement of your receipt of this communication.

Very truly yours,

Mark S. Tulis