Is Now the Time for the Heights Revitalization Project?
By Councilmen Susan Siegel and Vishnu Patel
(Note: Supervisor Grace refused to upload the following informational article to the town’s web site in order to present residents with a more complete and balanced view of the proposed project.)
As currently planned, the Yorktown Heights Downtown Revitalization Project raises serious concerns, the most important ones being the speculative nature of the project and its cost to taxpayers.
Theproject’s stated goal is redevelopment; no one is disputing the fact that the existing highway garage is adequate for the town’s current needs. The plan, as currently envisioned and described on the town’s web site, is to move the Highway Department to a new building, demolish the existing garage, and find a private developer for the vacated site who will construct a new commercial building which will serve as the spark to revitalize the entire Heights area.
Issues that need a closer look.
To date, no private developer has publicly come forward with a proposal to buy the highway garage site and erect a new commercial building. The town has no guarantees that it would be able to sell the land, or how much it realistically would fetch, or how long it would take to sell — especially given all the vacant space that already exists in Yorktown. And while the town has two renderings of what might be built, we have no idea what a developer might want to build on the site, or whether the developer’s plan would include a significant amount of public outdoor space and amenities.
A less speculative approach would be for the town to issue a Request for Proposals for the redevelopment of the highway garage site. That way, the town would know there was private sector interest in the site and how much money the sale of the property would realize. And most important, there would be a firm financial commitment from a developer so that the Town would know, in advance, how much of the cost of building a new garage would be recouped.
Cost to taxpayers
Cost figures from the grant application
Total project cost: $4.8 million
Total amount requested in grants: $2.1 million
Total amount of required Local Share: $2.7 million
The grant application is silent on how the town will come up with the $2.7 million local share.
The grant application also states that the vacated highway garage site will be marketed after the new garage is built. It estimates that the sale of the property would generate $1.5 million. But, with no guarantee from a developer, that figure is speculative. And, even if the $1.5 million estimate is realized, that leaves $1,200,000 unaccounted for.
The revitalization plan also assumes that the town will be able to recoup the money it has to lay out to build the new garage from taxes on the new commercial development. However, those taxes have been estimated to be $90,000 a year. Most of that would be school taxes, leaving an estimated $11,000 -$13,000 a year in town taxes. At that rate, it would take one hundred years to recoup the town’s initial investment.
Much of the Town infrastructure — bridges, drainage systems, and buildings — are in dire need of repair. These pressing needs should be addressed before we consider a speculative real estate project.
The highway garage is on the fringe of the business hamlet and is the gateway to the town’s industrial zone. One side of the proposed new building would overlook an auto body shop. Garbage trucks are parked down the street. School buses and UPS trucks travel in and out of Front Street all day.
What will take the place of the highway garage?
The rendering, the one included in the grant application, shows a 16,000 SF building surrounded by attractive open space. But that is NOT what the grant application says. The application envisions a much larger building, resulting in less public open space or amenities.
The Revitalization Project includes relocating the Parks and Recreation Department’s administrative offices to Downing Park after the new parks garage is built. But there are no cost figures for erecting a new building for the administrative offices, or cost figures if the existing garage can be adapted for office use.
Savings from efficiencies
While vague references have been made to “cost efficiencies,” no actual or even estimated cost savings have been produced. Without these numbers, it’s not possible to determine if the project will generate an acceptable return on investment (ROI).
Yes, there are vacancies in the Heights hamlet. But the residents of the hamlet strongly resent the implication that their community is “depressed” or in need of “revitalizing.”<
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