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.