No decision yet on town-to-village land annexation

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:26

BT Holdings developer: 'We are very determined to develop the property in the near future, one way or another' By Ginny Privitar CHESTER — The public had its last say on a proposal to move 61 acres from the town to the village of Chester. BT Holdings, a housing subdivision proposed for land behind the ShopRite Plaza, needs access to village water. Without it, says developer Frank Nussbaum, the plan will be limited to 120 single-family homes. His current plan is to build 330 townhouses and 100 rental units for senior citizens on 68 acres, of which only seven acres are in the village. Reducing the number of units will result in a $1.1 million "negative net financial impact" to Chester taxpayers, according to Nussbaum. Last week's public hearing — scheduled earlier than most hearings, at 5 p.m. — brought out about a dozen residents who doubted Nussbaum's figures, and said BT Holdings' high-density development will drive up the cost for services beyond whatever revenue it may generate. BT Holdings' numbers were based on the premise it would be upscale and marketed to empty nesters, retirees, and young professionals. Members of the public said the development will increase taxes, burden the school district and service agencies, worsen traffic congestion, and degrade the quality of life in Chester. “The traffic is getting worse and worse and worse," said Maurice Scandurra, who lives on Oakland Avenue, across from the proposed Princeton Street entrance. "Now you’re including more traffic. What are we supposed to do?” One resident said the Village’s Findings Statement (see sidebar) sounded more like a sales pitch than the objective findings of the village board because it uses projections provided by the planner and estimates. The village board of trustees, which meets next on Feb. 6, would not say when they will make their decision. Nussbaum is also asking for a zoning change to allow more density of housing units. If the village agrees to annexation, he expects to provide an entrance on Princeton Street in addition to the main Route 17M entrance. DEVELOPER FACES A DOUBTING PUBLIC Nussbaum has changed his original design in accordance with the community's wishes. He reduced the number of units from an even higher number and moved some residences away from the scenic ridgeline and historic Talmadge farm. He provided pedestrian access from the senior citizen residences to the mall. Reading from a statement, he said he was “developing the property on behalf of my family, who have been Chester landowners and taxpayers for the past 28 years.” He noted that the Town of Chester's comprehensive plan "specifically designated our property as a future site of senior and multi-family housing." “Over the past four years of exhaustive environmental review, the entire Chester community was given the opportunity to review the project, ask questions and voice their concerns," he continued. "Given our enormous investment to date — in time, in effort and in expense — we are very determined to develop the property in the near future, one way or another.” He talked about the economic growth that would come to the community. “What we propose brings maximum benefits to Chester with no real detriments," he said. No one at last week's hearing spoke as a businessperson, but some local businesses have in the past said they'd welcome an influx of customers. BT lawyer Larry Wolinsky said the annexation met the legal standard of being in the “overall public interest" because: The village is in a position to provide superior services. The annexation uses land that provides an important benefit to the area. The annexed lands will remain in character with the surrounding area. Ann Cutignola of Tim Miller Associates, the planner for the project, declared that the proposed development with annexation not only “covered its own costs, but provided benefits in excess of costs.” But residents at the hearing disagreed. “We all know there's a cost to development directly or indirectly," said Tracy Schuh of the Preservation Collective, a group committed to "preserving the quality of life" in central Orange County. Estimates provided by the developer are uncertain, she said, adding that benefits promised by other developers never materialized. Gordon Shehab of High Street said owners of townhouses pay one-third less in property tax than single-family homeowners. "Now you’re saying that if you don’t get annexation, you’d have 120 single-family homes," Shehab said. "I can’t see that the tax difference will be that much because if you have single-family homes, they’ll be paying the full tax assessment as opposed to the townhouses which will only be paying one-third of the taxes, so I think the numbers would probably be closer." Tom Kelly, who lives on Oakland Avenue, said, "I’ve been here for almost 40 years myself and I just don’t buy the numbers — no disrespect to your homework — but we’ve been through Surrey Meadows, which I grew up in, through Lakehill Farms, through Whispering Hills. And to say that there’s a net benefit cost-wise, is just not being realistic. The school district is going to be adversely affected, the village police are going to be adversely affected, the resources, the water and the sewer, are going to be adversely affected....We’re going to have to spend much more money." Kelly said he was also afraid mentioned the precedent as well, “If we set precedents for one, we’ll have to set precedents for the rest. Please take that into consideration.” Some residents objected to the change to their quality of life. “I don’t have the voice of a neighborhood behind me," said Terri Eckert of Imperial Park. "I'm this little house way up here....My husband and I bought the property many years ago because it was private, because it was quiet, knowing that someday there would be houses there. But I never thought there’d be another Whispering Hills built on top of us." Tom Becker, who is also the village water commissioner, told The Chronicle earlier that the village has sufficient water to supply BT Holdings, even when other developments in the works are finished. But at the hearing, he worried about costs if the annexation did not go through and the developer installed his own system, tank, pumping and filtration systems. “I’m wondering if there’s a dollar amount that would be associated with total costs if they don’t have village water and if they had to create their own water system," Becker said. He asked if these costs were included in the figures given to the public. Cindy Becker said her experience has taught her to be wary. “I’ve lived here my entire life in the Village of Chester," she said. "I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. I don’t see this as a positive....My concern is with the long-term effects that your project will have on my community that I grew up in. Once they’re done here they’re done. They walk away, and we’re still here....I just don’t buy that there’s no negative impact.”