New Castle residents push back at Chappaqua Crossing developer
View New Castle Community Media Center (NCCMC) video segments of the evening in “Read more.”
October 1, 2010
by Susie Pender
It was standing room only at Tuesday night’s town board meeting. Indeed, some residents came to town hall, circled in vain for parking, and drove home to watch it live on NCCTV (one even raced back to participate in the comment period at the end.)
New Castle Town Supervisor Barbara outlined the evening’s proceedings. “This is the first time both the town board and the public will be able to see the details of the current proposal [Alternative I]. After that presentation, we will have the public come up for comment and questions . . . . We do ask that you limit your comments initially to four minutes to enable everyone who is here to have the opportunity to speak. For those who have been here before, we will make every effort to make sure those who did not get a chance to finish on the first go-round can come back after everyone has had the opportunity to speak the first time.”
The 150-plus audience listened patiently as Stephen Kass of New York’s Carter, Ledyard & Milburn LLP, legal counsel to Chappaqua Crossing developer Summit/Greenfield, identified the four areas of presentation: Details of the changes from the prior proposal (the Proposed Action) for 278 units to the current Alternative I for 199 units, 10% affordable housing; the foundations of the demographer’s prediction that Chappaqua Crossing would only add 58 students to the Chappaqua Central School system; explanation of the affordable housing component of the project; and, as Kass characterized it, a “conservative” fiscal analysis of the impact of the project on the town’s and the school district’s financial picture.
Residents offer or elicit two major considerations relating to Alternative I
Two new significant pieces of information came out in the comment and question period. In response to a direct inquiry by Nancy King about the price tag of the 199 condominium units, the developer’s lawyer Stephen Kass announced that the 20 affordable two- and three-bedroom units will be marketed for $200,000 to $225,000; they will contain 875-975 square feet and 1075 square feet, respectively.
The two- and three bedroom market price units will be offered at $700,000-$1 million. Although the town board has taken the position that the townhouses must be fee simple, the developer’s proposed prices are for condominium ownership only.
The second revelatory piece of information came from a peek inside the mind of a real estate developer offered by resident Steven Wolk. As he stated at the onset of his comments, as a consultant, he is the guy who developers like Summit/Greenfield hire to figure out the possible “Internal Rates of Return” or IRR for their property. He is hired to figure out how much money they can make on their investment under various scenarios, for example, all commercial, a blend of commercial and residential or all residential.
He assured the audience “this won’t be an Armageddon for the developer.” Contrary to the gloom and doom scenario of Summit/Greenfield that the former Reader’s Digest property would become a “black hole” if this project is not approved, every smart real estate developer has an IRR for every scenario, including the ones in which their zoning requests are denied.
Watch his illuminating five-minute presentation here, in Part 2 of the three-part video of the evening, starting at time marker 28:48, through 33:46 (place your cursor at the bottom of the screen to make the time-line appear):
[Parts 1 and 3 of the session appear at bottom of this article.]
The major changes to the proposal
Andrew Tung of Divney-Tung-Schwalbe, Summit/Greenfield’s White Plains-based project designers, laid out the four major changes in Alternative I, or the Modified Plan, from the last proposal, the Proposed Action.
1. Building 600 (142,000 square feet) at the far north end of the former Reader’s Digest building will be retained instead of being demolished in order to increase the amount of square footage available for commercial rental. “It is anticipated that it will be used for low intensity data center use, primarily computer equipment, Tung explained. “This was in response to a request from the town that we try and reutilize, reposition as much of the commercial space on the property as practicable, both for its commercial tax base and for the commercial opportunity within the town.”
2. The number of residential units will be reduced from 278 to 199, with 10% set aside as affordable housing.
3. The age-restriction originally proposed, that at least one member of the household must be 55 or older, has been completely dropped. Tung explained that the town board had indicated that it did not want to be in the position of having to enforce that provision. The town board had announced previous to this change that they would treat the development as not age-restricted in their analysis.
4. In the southeast corner of the property, closest to Roaring Brook Road and the high school, the developer would donate 6.5 acres to the town for municipal use, up from the two acres offered in the original proposal.
Interestingly, Tung stated that the 88 two- and three-bedroom units in the North Village, contained in two four-story buildings, would include amenities designed to appeal to empty nesters. However, Richard Hyman, the developer’s demographer who spoke next in defense of his school enrollment projections indicated that there would be “no unusually high incentive [for empty nesters] to move to Chappaqua Crossing.”
School Board Vice President Bresner and developer’s demographer square off
The battle over demographics has been joined. The two salient points of Richard Hyman, the developer’s demographer presentation were: that Chappaqua Crossing will only contribute 58 additional students to the Chappaqua Central School District and that the development annually will create $100,000 or $500,000 (depending on what you assume to be the appropriate cost per pupil to apply to the calculation) in tax revenues for the benefit of the school district. As several residents commented, that is a drop in the bucket on an annual school budget of $105 million.
Both Hyman and Kass pointed out that the Chappaqua Central School District is currently going through a decline in enrollment, so there is no question that the capacity exists to educate these additional students. School Board Vice President Gregg Bresner, the point person for the school board’s response to the developer’s proposal, reiterated the board’s adamant position that “physical capacity is not an appropriate indicator of net fiscal impact.”
He read from the school board’s letter containing six questions directed at the developer and delivered to the town board (click here for the full text). “The board believes that any financial savings resulting from enrollment declines should flow directly to the taxpayers in the form of reduced taxation and should not flow to the developer.” He was interrupted by applause, and then continued. “The declining enrollment is an asset of the Chappaqua Central School District taxpayers and should not be transferred without considerable financial consideration. For example, over the past two years the Chappaqua school district has been able to materially reduce budget spending versus the sequential program rollover largely due to enrollment declines.”
The school board, through its real estate counsel, Keane & Beane, has recently hired a national real estate consultant to analyze the continuing fiscal impact of Chappaqua Crossing on the Chappaqua school district. The school board expects to receive that report in the next few weeks.
The town board intends to create a list of all the questions and comments made at Tuesday’s meeting, including written questions that were not read out, for the developer to respond to. That list, accompanied by the developer’s responses, will be published on the town’s website as soon as it is available.
For NCNOW’s complete coverage of Chappaqua Crossing, dating from 2007, click HERE.
A key point of agreement appears to be that school enrollment is declining. Unfortunately that fact keeps the door open for residential development at Readers Digest. We can thank the CCSD Board for building an unnecessary middle school years ago even though Demographers told us back then that this would happen. I recognize this is a new school board (Except J Benton). Equally disturbing is the school boards comments stating that a declining enrollment is an asset and he went on to say how they materially reduced budget spending. If this is all true then why did our school budget increase this year/ Why are our school taxes still rising while enrollment and budgetary spending decreases??????? Is it any wonder many people in the community just dont trust what is being told to us by Town and School boards. Real estate prices continue lower, the economy is still very soft, school enrollment is declining, our school budget was INCREASED this year, and the CCSD Board president is telling us decreased enrollment and lower spending is an asset. It doesnt add up!
Many New Castle residents are interested in and concerned about the development at the former Reader’s Digest headquarters. The voters elected 5 town board members to represent their interests, yet 2 of the 5 have recused themselves for conflict of interest reasons.
All development, not just at Reader’s Digest, within the town is an issue of great concern to many living within the town, whether they are for or against future building. It is not fair to the residents to have only 3 board members consider this matter.
The recused members must resign. There will be other development issues in town. The town should then call for a special election to replace the two recuse members with others who do not have nay conflict.
The residents of New Castle deserve to have important matters considered by the whole elected board and not 60 percent of the elected board.
Why is having the ability for the CCSD to handle the additional students (number to be determined by dueling consultants) in existing classroom space “unfortuante” ?
Are you saying that you are opposed to residential development at Readers Digest even if there is no negative impact on the CCSD (no increased class sizes, no increase in school taxes, no decrease in programs, etc.) ?
If the residents who are opposed to residential development will never accept anything on the property other than office space, why don’t they just say so. Let the Town Board know that hiring demographers and investigating ways to mitigate the impact on school taxes and having another go with traffic consultants is just a waste of time and money. Tell the Town Board that you will be opposed to any zoning change that allows residential development regardless of what form it takes. The Town Board can make a decision knowing that the residents opposed to a zoning change will not accept ANY plan with a residential component. Then we can wait to see who files the first lawsuit.
@west ender… you have shown your colors on many posts and represent yourself as a burdened outsider not fortunate enough to have the benefit of CCSD. Having said that and understanding your self serving positions I will offer an explanation. Readers Digest was zoned and is zoned as commercial. The current owner/developer knew this when it was purchased-period! We have all suffered from the economic decline and seen our investments (including our houses) decline. Nobody is changing the rules for the rest of us. This is and still can be a viable commercial property.I say excess capacity in our schools is “unfortunate”because the CCSD Board made a horrible decision yeras ago, ignored demographic studies, built out the schools, and left us with high taxes. I think that is unfortunate. Had our schools been left untouched we would be at comfortable capacity and would could argue that Chapp Crossing would further strain our school system. That is unfortunate. Also unfortunate is that you continue to take up much space in these posts representing only your very narrow self serving view of a “west-ender.” Good day. See you at Rocky’s
@West Ender… I’d like to buy a house on your block, ask the town to change the zoning from residential to commercial, so that I can build a pizzeria with a wine bar. It will be a nice establishment and I will offer residents on your block discounts on food and beverage. The traffic wont be too bad, the parking will be on the street , the smell from the oven will be pleasant. Don’t you think I have made a good argument to change the zoning for my own personal gain? That is what Summit Greenfield is asking for a commercial property they bought that they now want to change to residential. Your rants are self serving, transparent, and full of misinformation and opinion. How do you like your pizza? plain or sausage?
It is time for Summit/Greenfield to acknowledge that residential rezoning of the former Reader’s digest property will not be permitted.
Any residential building, accorded to Summit/Greenfield through a rezoning of Chappaqua Crossing, will inevitably be delayed indefinitely as it will drag through the courts for years as residents oppose it through litigation.
Summit/Greenfield: Withdraw your application for residential rezoning! You have alienated the community long enough. If you hope for any consideration from our boards in the future, you need to end your reckless disregard for this community and to mend fences.
The town board needs to end this abysmal chapter of Chappaqua history by ruling out any residential rezoning of the former Reader’s Digest property once and for all.
The town has suffered this assault on its peaceful existence long enough.
The tumult that has ensued from the protracted battle against a corporate bully who rode into town threatening us with its litigation guns in the attempt to nullify our zoning laws has gone on long enough.
Respect our laws put in place for our protection or leave town.
Looks as if you have something in common with Summit Greenfield, you both made bad investments.
There are a couple of things I don’t understand about the taxation issue. I’m hoping someone here could explain for me.
If the townhouses are condo units, that means the homeowners own from “the paint in,” but they don’t own the land beneath the unit. I presume that goes a long way toward keeping their property taxes low.
But SOMEONE would own that land (a condominium association, I presume). Wouldn’t that entity pay taxes on the land? Would the SUM of the taxes paid on the land plus the homeowners’ condo taxes be comparable to the total taxes paid if these units were fee simple instead?
Also, why is the developer so intent on structuring this development as condos? It seems that a significant portion of the opposition would disappear if all the units were fee simple. So why not? Is it a marketing issue—the developer feels they can attract more buyers by advertising low taxes?
Thanks to anyone who can clear this up for me.
Keep up the good fight. Hire a private law firm to represent the
taxpayers. Don’t believe consultants and firms hired by city hall or
the developers. Fight for yourselves and your neighborhoods.
IS THIS PROJECT A ( HUD ) FUNDED PROJECT?
Single family homes are taxed based on the market value. Condos are taxed as if they were investment properties. The value of the condo is not what based on what it would sell for, but what the income stream would be if it were rented out. Generally, this results in a valuation that is at least 40% below, often more than 50% less than what the unit would sell for. The significantly lower tax burden tends to inflate the price of condos which is why a much smaller condo, with no land can sell for as much as a single family home on an acre or more.
@Lawrence Farms East
I love a good pizza. If you want to build a pizza joint in the middle of a hundred-acre parcel that abuts my house, please make sure they have a wood-burning oven.
If Summit Greenfield subdivided the property to build single family homes (which I believe is allowed under the current zoning), I suspect that you would have new neighbors located significantly closer to you than the proposed condos are.
Please see this project for what it is—- a developer who made a bad investment and now wants to recoup his losses on our backs. This cannot be allowed.
The reasons to oppose this are many and there is not one real benefit for those besides the developer.
1) The demographers’ estimates are just that. In my 18 years here, no one has moved into my neighborhood who didn’t have kids and mostly young ones who had many years to go. If they are wrong, we are stuck. The developer does not want to put money in escrow in case the assumptions are wrong. Estimates are based on current cost of educating kids. If their taxes don’t cover costs now, this gap grows over time.
2) Traffic is snarled and dangerous already. Add 200 condos and multiple offices and you have a nightmare. There is no easy way to widen the roads so who will deal with the traffic or pay to make improvements?
3) Parking at the train is already difficult. Add 200 units and 400 adults; even if 25-50% use the train, that is another 100-200 people. Do we then need to pay for a parking garage?
4) Adding 180 more units between $700-$1MM will further depress housing prices even if added over a few years.
The only two people who spoke in favor of this proposal at the town hall were concerned about affordable housing. There are other ways to achieve this goal so that is not really the issue.
@West Ender..What if that hundred acre parcel that abuts your house were turned into a commercial property, retail strip mall, and 200 condo units. Thus creating noise, traffic, years of demolition and construction. Does that still sound like a good idea even with a wood burning oven in my pizza and wine bar? NOT- Readers Digest is zoned and has been zoned to be what it is- period. The developer should be looking to find the property and appropriate commercial tenant(s). The economy will turn and it will happen. This “build it and they will come” mentailty is absurd.
Suffering the current economic happenings, effects each and everyone, all our investments, our homes, all declined. However to bring in 700+ people (a new type of community) is not going to help. But it will bring more of a decline to all residents. Home value decline on the order of 25-40% will take 4-6 years to happen in this community. Also, to set aside condos for workforce and seniors with reduced income, then price additional units at wealthier retirees is a stupid thought.
Why see who files the first lawsuit? The Barbarians are among you, don’t give them a foothold. See: New Rochelle/Yonkers/Mt. Vernon all deceived in various DEIS/FEIS it’s a pattern. The Carpetbaggers are telling you what’s best for your town.