Op-Ed: Take residential out of the picture; allow more than four tenants at Chappaqua Crossing

August 6, 2010
by Lee Bowen

After reading Summit Greenfield’s latest submission to develop the former Digest property, the Town Board’s response and more than 200 comments from residents, I’d like to add the following thoughts before the town and school board work session, next Tuesday, August 10, at 7:00 p.m. at town hall.

The former Digest property is zoned for commercial use, and 20-some one-acre zoned houses, period. That is how the developer bought it and it is my understanding that they have profited every year since they bought the property. The wisest step now would be to increase the number of tenants allowed—not to the unlimited tenancy the developer is asking for, but to more than four.

In the new “Modified Project” Summit Greenfield is proposing, construction of a condominium development “phases in” over 4.5 years. It will take far less time to renovate the existing office space.  The developers would collect more rental income and continue to make a nice return on their investment while the town would collect more taxes from the lone remaining commercial space in town.

Tax-wise, the residential portion of the developer’s proposal will likely be a wash, costing as much to educate new students and service new residents as it brings the town and school district in revenues.  Remember: these are not fee simple dwellings, but are all taxed as condominiums, at a lower rate. And for what? More traffic, students and residents?  I do not believe the town should allow the developer to build condominiums. Families with children sharing a corporate campus in a sea of parking lots is far from my ideal of strategic town planning.

And don’t be certain that the developer will carry out the threat to “build out” even more commercial if we don’t grant him residential zoning, as they have claimed is their right to do, increasing the 700,000 square feet of commercial space by 300,000 square feet to make 1 million square feet. There isn’t enough parking to allow it.

The commercial space will generate taxes long before—and greater than—any housing development could. Take the residential part of the developer’s plan out of the picture. The town board has been most generous already by changing the zoning from one to four tenants—and asked for nothing in return. The commercial revenues are what we need, not the burden of more condominiums on our infrastructure.

Lee Bowen has a unique vantage point on the former Reader’s Digest property. She lives at the corner of Roaring Brook Road and the entrance to the high school.
From NCNOW’s archives: For coverage of Chappaqua Crossing from end of June to present, with commentary from readers, click HERE.

For NCNOW’s complete coverage of Chappaqua Crossing, dating from 2007, click HERE.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Lee Bowen, I’ve wondered these things myself.  Why would we let residential construction get in the way of the commercial renovation the developer needs to do anyway?  Lift the 4-tenant cap and move forward, without residential to get in the way.

By Yesssss Lee! on 08/06/2010 at 11:28 am

This is the way to go.  Let’s do it.

By Overcrowed Town on 08/06/2010 at 11:41 am


By MT 08/06 2010 on 08/06/2010 at 11:56 am

Mr/Ms Bowen, may I suggest that you run for office?  This is THE most sensible suggestion I’ve heard in the six years this matter has simmered.  Now that it seems to be coming to the boil, we need to hear from you more.

By Please run for office! on 08/06/2010 at 1:21 pm

While I agree with Ms./Mr. Bowen that residential development should not be allowed on the RD site, I wonder why the town has any responsibility to SG for a “return” on their investment.  It is not that Lee Bowen has raised this issue, he quite rightly points out that they have, indeed, been successful in this regard with the commercial zoning.

What I find curious is why it is an issue for the town at all. If the town believes that it is responsible for successful investment, there are many householders in Chappaqua who bought their homes at the peak of the housing market and who are now suffering serious losses as the market declines.  What does the town board owe them?

In a free market system investors are responsible for their own investment choices.  What exactly does the town “owe” to the Summit Greenfield firm?  I am deeply puzzled by the assumption that Chappaqua owes them a significant or any return at all on their investment because of market or any other conditions. Why is the town liable for remediating their losses or enhancing their profits?  Why are we underwritng a commercial firm’s capital investment?

Would someone please explain this to me.  Are we insuring ALL investors or only Summit Greenfield?

By Echoing Just Say No on 08/06/2010 at 4:22 pm

Why doesn’t Lee Bowen replace Barbara Gerrard as Town Supervisor and chairperson of the town board?  Ms. Gerrard and Ms. Mottel should relinquish their seats!

There are two issues that make it imperative that Ms. Mottel step down and Ms. Gerrard resign as chairperson and member of the town board: (1) The disclosure (after 4 years!) that Ms. Mottel is real estate consultant to a law firm which represents Greenfield Partners (the RD property applicant) and “represents them in their condominium offerings”; and (2) Ms. Gerrard’s statements to the press that reveal that she has already made up her mind to grant residential zoning for the RD property to SG despite the unanimity of the community’s opposition, before the public meeting on August 10, and even after the school board ‘s opposition because of the dire consequences for the CCSD budget. In addition, she is responsible, as Chairperson, for the procedural integrity of the board. 

We are amazed and dismayed by Barbara Gerrard’s statements to the reporter of the Journal News that appeared in the August 5 issue. “She [Ms. Gerrard] argued that the impact on the school system would not be as dire as some have argued.”  She makes this announcement in contradiction to the school board’s findings! Furthermore, she is quoted as saying, “This is the right direction. We appreciate that they [SG] have been listening.” The truth is that SG has finally revealed their true intentions to remove all age restrictions and market their condos to families making it certain that the CCSD budget would be further compromised in subsidizing far more than the approximately 1/4 child per unit as SG insultingly claims. 

Most remarkable of all is her statement: “I don’t think anybody wants to see the property abandoned.” It is a ridiculous notion that SG would “abandon” their more than multi-million dollar asset, especially since SG is making a return on their current commercial tenancy. SG, donate it to the town!

By Resign Now on 08/07/2010 at 4:08 pm

Elise Mottel HAS recused herself from participation in any decision on the Summit Greenfield matter.  Are you saying she waited too long to recuse herself?  I think her connection was a tenuous one anyway.  I think the greater conflict might be John Buckley’s interest in real estate sales.  He’s a real estate broker with Houlihan, I believe.  There might be more reason for him to recuse himself from the decision on whether to permit hundreds of residential condominium units that will surely be of great interest to any and every real estate agent in New Castle.

As far as Ms. Gerrard’s statement to the JN go, I’m puzzled by the board’s mistrust of market forces.  If SG cannot find a way to work the property with the zoning that came with the property AND the zoning that residents STILL PREFER—COMMERCIAL—then let them get out of the way and make way for a developer who WILL know how to work it to advantage WITHOUT forcing New Castle residents to compensate him for an error in his business judgment and a coincidental downturn in the market.

The town board should work to reduce the costs of operating the town rather than selling off the town to raise revenues—while causing the school district to lay out as much or more in costs than it gets in revenue from SG’s residential portion of the plan.

By Wait a Minute! on 08/07/2010 at 7:08 pm

Ms. Mottel has only just recused herself from the SG petition after FOUR YEARS of the Board’s consideration of their application.  We do not know what influence she has had in all that time on the decisions the board has made that has brought it to this point. Unfortunately, the entire board is tainted by this disclosure and this is especially the case for the chairperson of the board whose responsibility it is to oversee the integrity of the board.  Ms. Mottel’s connection is far from “tenuous” since, as she stated, she is the REAL ESTATE consultant for a law firm which represents Greenfield in its condo offerings operation.  How long has she known that Greenfield is one of the clients?

The questions are: What did board members know and when did they know it in terms of Ms. Mottel’s connection with Greenfield?

I do agree with “Wait a Minute” about the real estate broker, but that only underscores that at least three individuals are compromised and the board is, as comprised, not fit to come to a decision on this matter at this time. 

Their flagrant disregard of, at the very least, the appearance of the impropriety of a conflict of interest or, perhaps, something even worse has to be addressed.

By Resign Now on 08/07/2010 at 7:52 pm

I just completed reading the pro-Summit Greenfield propaganda piece in the August 5 edition of the Journal News.  Their position is a political one and can be taken for granted and with a grain of salt.  But why is the Supervisor of the New Castle Town Board joining the author of the article as co-propagandist?

Has the decision approving the residential project already been made by the Board?  Are the participants in the forthcoming August 10 meeting, who object to the rezoning, just expending unnecessary energy? 

So now we have the Board Supervisor favoring the project, another Board member outed as having a serious conflict of interest after the Board has been hearing her positive input for four years, and a real estate broker who will be a hero to all brokers in the vicinity if RD residential housing is approved.

I can imagine a real estate broker telling a client, “Why pay $20,000 in school taxes on your house, let me sell it, and put you in a brand new three bedroom condominium where you will pay only a $5,000 school tax.”  Then adding, “Let’s see, you have two children, ages 6 and 8, which means that if you remain in Chappaqua for their schooling through high school, your savings will amount to a minimum of $240,000 over the next twelve years and the savings will become even more significant as the IRS continues to increase the limitation on the deductibility of real estate taxes.” 

What a great script enabling a Chappaqua real estate broker to make a double commission on current resident clients.

By What a Windfall! on 08/07/2010 at 8:04 pm

Elise Mottel’s letter of recusal was printed in NewCastleNOW,


and doesn’t suggest a real conflict of interest, but perhaps an appearance of conflict—and in any event, she’s recused herself.  The real issue is the board member who is a local real estate agent—and who has not recused himself.  Whatever his intentions may be, it’s irrefutable that real estate professionals in this town stand to gain personally from a huge new housing development such as the one proposed by the owner of Chappaqua Crossing.

By Conflict of Interest on 08/08/2010 at 7:37 pm

Some of the comments from town residents pertaining to the SG project have been excellent, but I am bothered by the fact that all comments are anonymous.  Why?  I suggest that names be attached to comments so that residents can applaud their neighbors for well thought-out statements.

Bonnie Golub

By Bonnie Golub on 08/09/2010 at 9:07 am

Excellent points.  This should have been the town board’s direction from the start: Get residential thinking out of the developer’s head and keep him concentrated on getting New Castle the COMMERCIAL revenue we need.  And that doesn’t mean an UNLIMITED number of tenants.

By the way… it’s NOT the number of tenants we all care about—it’s the amount of traffic.  And because our town has parking ratio regulations, we should be able to control traffic by keeping on top of the amount of parking allowed.  Simple.

By Just saw this Monday on 08/09/2010 at 10:13 am

Comments may be applauded or panned with or without names. This is a small town, I am
sure that there are many reasons for one to remain anonymous, or not.  I most respectfully
add that Ms. Golub offers no opinion at all on the SG project and of course she may not
yet have one.

By RG on 08/10/2010 at 1:51 pm

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