The Examiner

Church Rep: Assisted Living Opponents ‘Intimidated’ P’ville Officials

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Leadership of the United Methodist Church in Pleasantville have to decide what to do next in the wake of last week's village board rejection of their rezone request.
Leadership of the United Methodist Church in Pleasantville have to decide what to do next in the wake of last week’s village board rejection of their rezone request.

A representative of the United Methodist Church in Pleasantville charged that village board members who voted against Benchmark Senior Living’s rezone application last week were intimidated by outspoken opponents of the proposed assisted living facility.

Ron Pramschufer, stewardship and finance chairman for the church, which owns the land where Benchmark project would have constructed the building, said village trustees caved to pressure when they turned down the application that would have been beneficial to the community.

Although three board members voted in favor of Benchmark’s application for a floating eldercare zone to build an 87-unit facility at the church’s 3.9-acre property on Bedford Road, a rezoning required a four-vote supermajority.

“It was the absolute best project that could go on that land … and a small group of people who had time on their hands–I mean they had plenty of time to raise enough Cain–to where they, I feel, intimidated the board,” Pramschufer said.

Mayor Peter Scherer, who cast the deciding vote, said neither he nor his fellow board members were intimidated.

“I worked pretty darn hard to separate aggressive tactics from what I ultimately decided to be the valid issues that had been raised in the discussion,” Scherer said. “I think it’s fair to say that nobody was bullied into a yes vote or a no vote.”

Scherer said some of the tactics and comments used by residents who opposed the project over the past year and a half were regrettable, but believes the board did a good job at separating the legitimate issues from the rhetoric and rumors.

Eileen West, a Foxwood Condominium resident who was opposed to the proposal, said she didn’t see any intimidation tactics used by opponents, but did acknowledge that certain residents went too far in their efforts to stop the project.

“I can’t imagine how you intimidate a board member but I think that there were some inappropriate things,” West said. “There were comments made that the board was acting unethically and there were comments made that the board was kowtowing to the wishes of Benchmark and I don’t think they were.”

Pramschufer noted the church faced similar opposition to other projects proposed on the parcel, which has been vacant for decades. He criticized some of the arguments made against the proposed facility, including statements made that the units would have been too expensive for Pleasantville residents to afford, were biased against people who are better off financially.

Although residents complained that the Methodist church failed to work closely with residents when considering how to develop the property, its doors are always open for people to speak with church representatives, Pramschufer said.

The decision to work with an assisted living facility was viewed as an ideal partnership because it fit the church’s mission and would have been an asset to the community, he said. Other options won’t be as beneficial to the community.

“There’s going to be something on the property,” Pramschufer said. “With the assisted living, we picked what we felt would be best for not only the church but for the community and for Pleasantville itself.”

Although many residents wish to see the property remain woodlands, that will not happen unless the land is bought for the purposes of turning it into a park, he said. One option includes building another house of worship, which would mean the property would be kept off the tax rolls.

“If we put some sort of nonprofit facility back there that has people, that could be a drain on the school [and] that could bring in fewer taxes or no taxes,” Pramschufer said.

The Benchmark proposal projected about $400,000 in total annual tax revenues. It also could have generated higher patronage of village businesses by visitors and facility employees, he said.

“There was a lot that the project delivered, including tax benefits and a benefit to the community at large to provide that sort of service in our community,” said Scherer. “In the end, the balance, for me, arose from the question of whether the benefits to the community outweighed the disadvantages that the extended neighborhood perceived from the project, and that was where my decision ultimately lay.”

In addition to the core group of outspoken residents, Scherer said he received stacks of letters from people on both sides of the issue, although more were in opposition to the project. He explained that evaluation of those correspondences was difficult since many did not reveal where the letter writer lived. As a result, the board couldn’t be sure if the sentiments were from a village resident or someone who lives outside the community.

“It is not just a popularity contest between who likes it and who doesn’t. For (the board) it was a matter of assessing as clearly and, I think, unemotionally as we can, the legitimate benefits and the legitimate impact and the concerns of people who come at this from many different perspectives,” said Scherer.

Currently, the future of the Bedford Road parcel is uncertain, but residents should not discount the potential for Benchmark to return in the future.

David Steinmetz, the attorney representing Benchmark, said that while the decision is too fresh to determine how to proceed, his client is weighing all options.

“Benchmark was certainly disappointed with the outcome of the board’s vote and is evaluating all of its available options very carefully,” said Steinmetz.

Scherer said Benchmark may submit a revised proposal. It could also appeal the board’s decision if its representatives believe there was a procedural error.

While officials wait to see what may come next, Scherer said the village continues to grow its tax base through other projects in the pipeline, including the Toll Brothers and Trinity Associates applications, both on Washington Avenue.

Pramschufer said the Methodist church, which had been hoping to pay for repairs with the money that the sale would have generated, will be able to get by for now.

“There’s not a church around that doesn’t have a leaky roof and a window that doesn’t need fixing, so we’re doing okay,” he said. “It’s not like our back is up against the wall with maintaining the church.”

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