The Myth of Being "Business Friendly"

 

Business development is likely to be a hot topic in this year's election campaign with candidates continually reminding us of

 

  • what they've done to make Yorktown's "moribund"economy come alive, and
  • future plans for encouraging even more business development as the "key" to reducing the tax burden on homeowners

As with most campaign rhetoric, what you're likely to hear is an overly simplified version of reality plus exaggerated claims of successes and promises for the future.

 

Here's a 2-part look at separating campaign spin from the facts.

 

Part I will look at

  • What it means to be "business friendly"
  • What the Town Board has done to become more "business friendly"

Part II will look at

  • Assigning credit for the upswing in Yorktown's economy
  • The actual impact of the new businesses on your taxes

 


Part I

 

What it means to be business "friendly" or "unfriendly"

 

Friendliness is in the eye of the beholder and the phrase can, and has been, easily manipulated to serve personal agendas. Some examples:

 

  1. When the Planning Board fails to act on an application because the applicant hasn't submitted the required basic planning documents, such as a survey and site plan, the applicant cries foul and accuses the Town of being "business unfriendly." The reality is the Planning Board can't approve what it doesn't have.

 

  1. The same is true when the Building Department may hold off issuing a building permit until the applicant’s architect or engineer submits all the documents required under the state building code. When a business owner complains about the delay, it's all too easy for the consultant to tell the client, "It's all the town's fault."

 

  1. When a business owner makes changes to his property without a building permit or an approved site plan, is the Town being business unfriendly when it issues a stop work order? Why bother having rules and regulations if they're not enforced?

 

  1. The Town often gets the blame when it seems to take forever for a new project to be approved. But the reality is sometimes the responsibility for the "slowness" lies with the applicant, not the Town. A case in point is the long awaited renovation of the JV Mall: After the Town Board approved the Mall's requested changes in parking, landscape and signage requirements, it took the Mall's development team eight months to submit an amended site plan, the first step in the approval process.

 

What has the Town Board done to become more "business friendly?"

 

As a candidate in 2011, Supervisor Grace railed against what he said were the town's confiscatory, draconian and unreasonable land use regulations. "Simply put," he said, "the town’s regulatory structure is such that no reasonable business person is willing to work in or with the town." He went on to blame what he called the town's "moribund" economy on its business unfriendly approach.

 

The Supervisors rhetoric notwithstanding, a review of the Town Board minutes, shows that the Supervisor and Town Board have initiated little in the way of regulatory reform and that their actions have not resulted, at least not to date, in a single new commercial development.

 

  1. The only regulatory "easing" has been reducing the parking requirements in some commercial zones. But ironically, the change had absolutely no impact on any proposed new commercial developments or alterations, including the medical building and proposed new mixed use building at Lake Osceola and two restaurant expansions. The new parking requirements for the JV Mall were made at the request of the Mall.

  2. A second regulatory change requiring all building plans be submitted electronically is a benefit to the town, not necessarily commercial applicants.

  3. Two regulatory initiatives proposed by the Supervisor were dead on arrival: taking approval authority for commercial development away from the non-partisan Planning Board and giving it to the highly politicized Town Board, and allowing property owners to begin construction without an approved building permit.

  4. Since January, 2012, the Town Board has approved six amendments to the zoning ordinance that have benefitted specific existing businesses: allowing Funtime on Front Street to sell liquor; allowing the vacant lower level of the Staples Shopping Center (vacated by Best Plumbing)  to be used for a self-storage facility; permitting a helistop at IBM; and the revised parking requirements for the JV Mall. The Board also approved zoning amendments to allow additional types of uses in two commercial zones, although the applicants requesting the changes never actually submitted applications for the new uses.

  5. Since January, 2012, the Board voted to refer two commercial rezoning requests to the Planning Board for review but no action has been taken on either of them. One referral was actually rescinded one week after it was passed.

  6. The Board eased the requirements for granting a Temporary Certificates of Occupancy. Two TCOs have been issued: One for Best Plumbing, issued in May 2013, will be converted to a regular CO when the infrastructure for the entire mixed use development is completed. The second TCO, issued for the Winery in February, 2012 and subsequently extended expired in July, 2013. After 19 months, there is still no permanent CO.

The next time a candidate tells you how he's made Yorktown more business friendly, ask him for specifics.

 

  • What properties has he rezoned for commercial use?
  • What site plans has he approved?
  • Besides the parking amendments, what other regulatory changes have made Yorktown more business friendly?  

There's spin and there are the facts.  Just because the candidates believe their own spin, doesn't mean you have to also.

 


Part II

Contrary to what you might be hearing from some candidates, Part I documented the fact that the Supervisor and Town Board have had little if anything to do with the new businesses that have opened in Yorktown since January 2012.

 

Part II takes a closer look at assigning the "credit" for the upswing in Yorktown's economy as well as the actual financial impact new commercial development may have on your taxes

 

Assigning "credit" for the upswing in Yorktown's economy

 

No one disputes the fact that more than a dozen new businesses have opened in Yorktown since January 2012, including four new ice cream stores, an array of restaurants and other eating establishments and two medical buildings. Sadly, some of these businesses have already closed their doors.

 

But no one is asking the question that really matters: What, if anything, did the Supervisor and/or Town Board have to do with this new economic activity? Were any specific Board actions responsible for the turn around — or were the new businesses a result of:

 

  • the general post recession upturn in the economy
  • landlords reducing their rent
  • lifestyle decisions on the part of first-time business owners
  • actions of the independent Planning Board
  • a reflection of new leadership in the Building Department

In other words, can our elected officials really take the credit for the new businesses?

 

Some facts:

  1. Most of the new businesses that have opened in Yorktown since January 2012 have filled vacant spaces – actions that never involved the Town Board. Prior to their opening, most of these new businesses dealt primarily with the Building Department, and some also with the Planning Board.

  2. Of the 47 commercial building permits issued in 2012, 44 were for alterations and additions and only three were new construction: Best Plumbing at Crompond Crossing on Route 202 (relocating from an existing building to a new one), the new Mohegan Lake Motors building on Route 6 (that replaced an existing busness)  and a barn at the Grange fairgrounds. Planning for the first two projects started before 2012.

  3. While it's true that building permit revenue increased substantially in 2012, a fact that's likely to receive lots of attention, commercial projects accounted for only 20% of that revenue. (Other than a basic application fee, building permit fees are based on the cost of the construction and there was a sizeable uptick in the number of residential building permits as well as mechanical permits for emergency generators.)

  4. Of the 18 commercial projects on the Planning Board agenda in 2012,only five were new projects (as distinct from modifications to existing site plans) and all of them entered the development pipeline before January 2012.

  5. Of the two new commercial applications submitted in 2013, one is a small half commercial, half residential project with two small commercial spaces (at least one of which is for an existing business in need of a new home), and the second, a mixed use restaurant/office/apartment project, replaces a previous business, the Osceola Beach& Picnic Grounds. Neither project required any Town Board action. 

  6. Other commercial projects in the pipeline: the Costco plan dates back to 2009 and the upgrade of the Jefferson Valley Mall and the new medical building in Jefferson Valley were in the works in 2011.

 

Have the new businesses resulted in an increase in commercial rateables?

 

Yes and no. As noted above, most of the new businesses that have opened in Yorktown since January 2012 have filled vacant spaces. As such, they've generated increased revenue for their landlords— but they haven't increased town revenue or the town's commercial tax base.

 

The only "new" commercial rateables for the 2013 assessment roll are the "partial”"assessments for the partially built Best Plumbing and Mohegan Lake Motors buildings, both of which, as noted above, pre-date the current administration.

 

In fact, the Town's total assessment roll actually declined in both 2012 and 2013 — which means that even if the amount of money that needs to be raised in taxes in 2014 stays the same (not likely), the town tax rate will go up because the total tax levy will be divided by a smaller pie.

 

There's spin and then there are the facts.  Just because the candidates believe their own spin, doesn’t mean you have to also.

 

 

 

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