I have watched the debate over the Form Based Code here in New Castle with a combination of bewilderment, amazement, amusement, and now, disappointment. I served 12 years, four terms, on the Chappaqua Central School District (CCSD) Board of Education. When my service on the board was over, I vowed to myself that I would keep a low profile and stay out of school and town issues. I can no longer remain silent.
The Form Based Code is a solution to a problem for sure, just not the problem the Town Board seems to be using as the excuse for the proposal. When I first heard about the idea, I had to look up the political party of the board members supporting it.
The Form Based Code, as proposed for the Town of New Castle, is a transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to the real estate owners and developers. It is an idea that usually a Republican could love. Instead, it is the Democrats supporting it. The local Republicans oppose it. Politics makes for strange bedfellows indeed.
Why would a progressive Democratic administration support easy development and profits for landlords and developers at the expense of current taxpayers? Actually, it is worse than that. The town is using the CCSD taxpayer to pay for this change. This election, while about electing a new supervisor and board members, is really about the schools. It is about protecting the CCSD taxpayer, and more importantly, the CCSD students.
I have heard that it is a backdoor way to get affordable housing. If so, why not just partner with a specific developer on a specific plot of land and build affordable housing? I think Conifer did it here in town, and as far as I can tell, it is working. The building, hard by the Saw Mill Parkway and the Metro-North tracks, is fully rented. The affordable housing at Chappaqua Crossing is fully rented.
The solution for more affordable housing is directly build more affordable housing. The solution for making it less bureaucratic and less time consuming for developers and landlords is to directly address the rules and regulations that are the hinderance.
Yet, here we are with the town government trying, allegedly, to backdoor affordable housing as if it needs to be snuck in the back door. It does not. The success of the other affordable housing properties in town is evidence of how the residents of Chappaqua will not only support an affordable housing development, they will embrace it.
Town elected officials know that the residents, the constituents, the taxpayers and anyone I missed do not want this sweeping change. It is clear to me from watching town meetings, from driving around town, from reading social media, from talking to individual residents and from reading the submissions to the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) that a supermajority of the town opposes this change.
I watch this Form Based Code developing, and I ask myself why the hurry, why the need to accept an incomplete and inaccurate FGEIS. Why are three of the four Town Bord members in such a hurry to pass and implement this prior to the results of and seating of the newly-elected supervisor and board members? The only explanation I can come up with is that they do not believe there is universal support for the idea. They are trying to jam it in before it can be stopped.
Common sense says the exact opposite should be happening. The upcoming election should be used as a proxy for what the residents want. Instead, the Town Board is trying to make it moot. Why? Either they are worried that the idea will be stopped in the voting booth or there is some other incentive for why they are pushing for the Form Based Code. The rumors of a political quid pro quo are rampant. I am not so cynical as to believe that, but I am also not so naïve as to believe it could not be possible.
While I was elected to the Board of Education to use my good judgment and expertise, it was in service to the district and the taxpayers of the district. It appears as if the Town Board does not appreciate that they serve the community. They appear to be serving their own interests, or worse, special interests. Politicians being politicians.
The Town Board knows that this will likely have a large impact on the CCSD budget and taxpayer. More than 90 percent of New Castle taxpayers are also taxpayers to the CCSD. The environmental impact studies highlight this. You cannot add hundreds (or more) of students to the schools without materially forcing an increase in the CCSD’s budget and raising taxes. It is disingenuous of the Town Board to not consider the effect on the CCSD taxpayer when the overlap is so material.
The town is very intentionally and clearly shifting a tax burden that results from one of their decisions onto the schools. What is even more surprising and disappointing to me, one of the candidates for supervisor is a one-term member of the school board that has stated she now supports the Form Based Code (after previously voicing her objections based on the reasons above) and the burden being shifted to the schools. A four-term member of the school board feels so strongly about the issue that she has agreed to run for the Town Board. I served with both. The four-term member was the president of the PTA and a Harvard Law School graduate (Barnard undergrad). While I did not always agree with her, what I learned during our many overlapping years is that she is the most dedicated person serving both the schools and the town.
I moved to Chappaqua over 22 years ago for four reasons. One, the schools. Two, the schools. Three, the schools. Four, the small-town atmosphere. From my years of serving on the school board, those are the reasons I heard that most of the residents moved here. I cannot believe that anyone moved here hoping that the town would become materially more commercial, materially more crowded and the school taxes would be raised even more than they would be otherwise. Yet, the Town Board persists. Who do they serve?
Whether the Town Board wants it or not, this election has become a proxy for the residents’ approval of the Form Based Code AND the residents’ approval of the process and the way the Town Board has pursued this policy. I urge you to educate yourself on the Form Based Code, on the candidates and on the opinions of the residents regarding the Form Based Code. Then, take the time to go vote.
One group of candidates has a local political machine with its own agenda separate from the residents’ agenda that can turn out the vote. The other group of candidates has the interests of all the residents in mind. Let’s Unite New Castle, not divide it.
In an election that has no state or national candidates on the ballot, EVERY vote counts. I urge you to vote. Early voting has begun. Election Day is days away. Get out and vote.