When the FBC was first proposed during then Supervisor Rob Greenstein and Deputy Supervisor Lisa Katz’s administration in 2019, I was not initially sure it was the right fit for the Chappaqua Hamlet. In fact, both Ivy Pool, then a Councilmember, and I believed a pause was appropriate and charrettes were necessary for the entire study area before agreeing with Rob and Lisa that we should move forward for reasons including 2017’s Comprehensive Plan. Since that time – during Supervisor’ Greenstein’s administration, Supervisor Pool’s administration, and my tenure as Acting Supervisor – my colleagues and I have taken a “deep dive” into the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) that examines environmental issues and both the original and whittled down FBC. I sincerely believe that the FBC on N. Greeley will facilitate the type of growth that is advantageous to the community and remain open to further modifications. This zoning code will guide any future developer in understanding the parameters of what they can and cannot build should they be able to purchase enough lots to aggregate them into larger ones while aiding current owners in developing their properties in a more efficient manner. Additionally, as corroborated by our consultant’s and Chappaqua Central School District’s (CCSD) consultant’s data, and examined by and further developed with Town staff, the proposed Final GEIS (FGEIS) reflects there are financial benefits to the Town and CCSD even if there is a deviation from tax generation estimates.
Estimated Financial Impact of Maximum Hypothetical Build Out on CCSD
A review of the materials provided by CCSD and their consultant, demonstrates that fears surrounding the FBC and FGEIS are misplaced. For example, CCSD’s consultant’s estimated tax increases year over year from 2022 to 2035 with and without a maximum hypothetical build out demonstrates that at its peak there will only be a .7% tax differential in 2024/2025 before the year over year difference steadily declines. In fact, by 2030/2031 the residential tax burden is less with the FBC than without.
Equally compelling, these estimates are based on CCSD's consultant's inaccurate "include the kitchen sink" methodology as explained further below. It is critical to note that the fairly insignificant tax increases (and decreases) predicted by CCSD pale in comparison to their prior actual tax levies that did not result in the financial upheaval and district wide flight as some have predicted with the FBC. In 2005 and 2006, for example, CCSD increased taxes by 8.74% and 8.13% respectively and from 2018 to 2020 CCSD has raised taxes 2.5%, 2.93%, and 1.65% respectively.
Cost to Taxpayers Per Enrolled Student
CCSD incorrectly states the price per educating a child is $34,461.00 per year, a per pupil cost that is a calculation slightly less than dividing the number of students by CCSD’s total budget – not the actual tax levy.
While CCSD has not explained the expenses they excluded, in-district enrolled students increased by merely one student this year to 3,557 from 3,556 in 2020/2021 - an amount far less than some prophesied as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the per student analysis wrongfully includes roughly 10% of the school budget that comes from state aid and other sources. Clearly, residents are not shouldering this burden in their school tax bill and CCSD should back out those dollars.
Further, even if CCSD were to use the actual tax levy, although that is inappropriate as well, adding new students does not impact prior debt service that current families are paying, mean that all staff and teachers get additional raises, or require new buildings to be constructed. Simply stated, every child does not equate to an increase in costs across the board and dividing the CCSD budget by the number of students is neither reasonable nor accurate.
The NYS Department of Education (NYSDE) utilizes a commonly accepted methodology to identify the cost to educate a student and adjusts that expense by each school district. The correct methodology for examination of the impact on CCSD, this amount is $17,753. The Town’s consultants further tailored NYSDE’s number to $20,432 as the actual financial costs per student directly paid by CCSD taxpayers. Confirming that the Town’s consultant’s analysis is the more reasoned approach, during a prior work session regarding Chappaqua Crossing in 2019, CCSD made it quite clear that it is improper to merely take the number of new students in the district and multiply that by the methodology they are now using in opposition to the FGEIS. Simply stated, dividing the total budget by an estimated number of students and ignoring static expenses was not reasonable for Chappaqua Crossing and it is not reasonable for the FGEIS maximum hypothetical build out – a build out that assumes a future Town Board rezones the balance of the 72 acre hamlet including the train station and all other parking lots before leasing or selling them to developers, residents do not object with a permissive referendum as they did in 2015 to a far lesser matter involving the lease of the train station restaurant, and the Town Board for some reason does not mandate that any residential units built on public lands are taxed at the “higher” fee simple rate.
Maximum Hypothetical Build Out Financial Benefits
Recognizing that the FGEIS studies a hypothetical maximum FBC build out for the entire 72 acres (which is not being considered nor proposed by the Town Board) and not a construction plan identifying what specifically might be built, our consultants and Town staff concluded as best they could that $5,514,836 in taxes would be generated for CCSD per year based on 2021 numbers. This calculation does not include the reduction of taxes based on 10% affordable units but also does not include taxes that would be generated from well north of 20,000 square feet of commercial property that would also be created. Setting aside the fact that taxes generally go up each year and the Town and CCSD would receive more money, in every scenario calculated, even CCSD’s most impacted estimate, CCSD sees a significant net gain (96 students/$3.55 million, 150 students/$2.45 million, and 256 students/+284,244).
The FGEIS & FBC Are Reasoned & Healthy Paths Forward
Ultimately, we know that 341 housing units could be built in the hamlet if we do nothing. It is fair to presume, and many have stated as much, that those who oppose the FBC don’t want to strip property owners of their right to build and instead support a more efficient way to see them upgrade, build upon, and fix up their property to realize those 341 units they can construct as a matter of right. While I respect that position, we have come quite far – completing an infrastructure and streetscape project, building a hamlet-based basketball court, and creating an inclusive playground – with more yet ahead. I believe utilizing the FGEIS to help inform future decisions is smart planning and the FBC on N. Greeley is the right mechanism to encourage healthy growth, provide parameters to current owners and potential future builders, and actually allow for a more efficient means to enhance the hamlet's appeal and vibrancy.
Jeremy Saland, Acting Town Supervisor