Durst Watch (3): By The Numbers
The following is a copy of a letter to the Pine Plains Town Planning Board, the lead agency charged with reviewing the potential impacts of Douglas Durst’s proposed 1,000-home subdivision.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Planning Board:
The Durst Organization has produced for you a labyrinth of numbers in its 1,500-page Environmental Impact Statement, all of which paint a glowing portrait of an environmentally sensitive, financially beneficial windfall for our rural communities.
I would like to focus your attention on ten simple, common-sense numbers which, when studied along with supporting data I will submit later, should help to convince you that the Carvel Development will not look anything like the upscale golfing resort proposed and that it could well become a financial disaster for the town, its property owners, its local businesses and the Pine Plains Central School District.
The first set of numbers concerns the claim made by Durst and his team that they have identified a market for 1,000 homes to be sold to affluent, avid golfers and resort lovers, mostly from the New York metropolitan area.
THIRTY-THREE PERCENT: The decline in the numbers of Americans who played golf at least twice a month from 2000 to 2005. In other words, overall demand for golfing and golf-oriented communities has plummeted by one-third.
THREE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED: The number of new homes surrounding golf facilities, including the Durst application, that are currently proposed for construction within 40 miles of Pine Plains. In other words, even if there were growing demand for golf resorts, every home Durst puts on the market will likely be competing with two other very similar units only a short drive away.
SIXTY-TWO DEGREES FARENHEIT: The average high temperature, from November to March, for the six golf communities that Durst and his partner, Landmark Land, identify in their impact statement as “comparables” for Carvel. The average high temperature in winter at the other 11 resorts that Landmark is managing, but which were not included in the filings, is 68 degrees. The average high winter temperature for Pine Plains: 37 degrees. If there are truly comparable developments for what Durst is proposing, we have not seen them.
EIGHT-HUNDRED-THOUSAND DOLLARS: The median home price Durst is seeking for his 1,000 units and the basis of his calculations for property tax revenues contributed to the town and school district by the Carvel Development. The 2007 median home price in Dutchess County was $330,000, 60% less.
ZERO: The number of development projects outside of New York City that the Durst Organization has completed. Zero is also the number of golf communities that Landmark Land has designed and built out to completion.
Faced with collapsing demand, exploding supply, no comparable projects and no proven track record, how can anyone expect that Durst will deliver an upscale golf community in a climate like ours with homes priced at two-to-three times the going rate?
If the development will not be what they claim, what might it actually look like instead? If the last 60 years of history in the Hudson Valley is any guide, these 1,000 lots, if approved, will attract middle-class families moving in from cities and suburban areas in order to find more affordable housing, quieter communities and better public schools for their children.
Unless the history of our region is about to change drastically, here then are two key numbers to highlight the impact our new neighbors could have.
ONE-POINT-THREE-FIVE: That is how many students enrolled in the nearby Arlington school district for every new house built there during the mid-1990s when the area experienced a housing boom, spurred by in-migration. It is a number that many other school administrators have described as conservative, and it is also supported by data from other fast-growing school districts in the mid-Hudson Valley. If the same enrollment ratio holds for Carvel, it will equate to 1,350 new students attending the Pine Plains public schools, or nearly double the 1,400 students enrolled in the district last year.
ONE-THOUSAND-NINE-HUNDRED DOLLARS: The average increase in school taxes for each home in the district necessary to cover the annual deficit created by adding those 1,350 students.
I understand the community’s concern that recent declines in school enrollment may continue. There is plenty of opportunity for growth that will boost enrollment. The question is how much you want, how quickly and at what cost. Doubling the student body with one subdivision over a five- or ten-year period hardly seems an attractive solution.
One last set of numbers, which shows who stands to win if this development is approved and who, along with the taxpayers, will likely be the big losers.
EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS: The estimated profit that Douglas Durst stands to make if he were to sell the 1,000 approved lots at Carvel before putting a single shovel in the ground. You can’t blame him if he concludes his resort plan is not viable and decides to sell out the unfinished building lots, but you needn’t feel any sympathy for him either.
ONE-HUNDRED-AND-FIFTY-THOUSAND SQUARE FEET: A rough guess of how much retail space will be needed to meet the local shopping needs of the 2,500 or so new residents at Carvel. “Good for our local businesses,” you might say. But, again if history is a decent guide, most of this new space will not be developed in the middle of town but in strip centers along Route 199. These retail centers typically attract national and regional chains like Hannaford’s, CVS, Applebee’s, and Ace Hardware with their strategy of under-pricing local merchants in order to drive them out of the market for good. Such a rapid increase in new homes located so far from the central hamlet will likely to put an end to Duell’s Hardware, Pine Plains Pharmacy, Peck’s Market and other business stalwarts of the town.
TWO HUNDRED: The total number new homes built in the ten towns of Northern Dutchess County in a strong year for housing. The Carvel proposal, in other words, will flood the market with a five-year supply of building lots that will dramatically reduce the selling prices of existing homes and raw land for miles around. If that’s not a confiscation of private property rights from all of us who own property in the area, I don’t know what is.
So, members of the Planning Board, these are ten numbers that suggest there could be severely negative financial impacts from the Carvel Development as currently proposed. I cannot ask you to accept my numbers as the only, or even the best, estimate of what the future will bring. But I urge you to accept them as a realistic and carefully researched financial scenario of what could indeed happen here. And if you do accept the possibility of a financial outcome very different from what Durst predicts in his filings, then you must take steps to ensure that the town is not left holding the bag if his estimates prove to be wildly optimistic.
You can and should request that Mr. Durst put his money where his mouth is by posting a bond large enough to mitigate the financial impacts on the town and the school district should his resort community in fact turn out to be just another sprawling subdivision of new families whose demands for public services will far exceed their property tax payments.
You can and should insist that if he is going to take such huge profits out of your town, he does not do so at the expense of the town’s property owners and businesses. Restrict the number of lots and houses he can sell in a given year. Make him pay for new fire trucks, highway equipment and school buildings should the need arise. Make him provide affordable housing for qualified town residents. Make him help revitalize local businesses in the hamlet. In short, make him mitigate the potentially dire impacts of his development so that whatever you approve on the Carvel property is consistent with the goals set out in your town’s Comprehensive Plan.
No one can ask you to stop development in the town, only to anticipate and mitigate potential problems so that the worst case scenario does not become a reality.