Where Do the Candidates Stand?

Question: “Do you believe there is a link between Rye residential expansion and RCSD school-overcrowding?”

Candidate Answers: 

Kirstin Bucci
I appreciate the question and your effort to include the City Council candidates in the discussion.    My guess would be that most people assess the link between residential expansion and increased public school enrollment based on their own personal experience.  Having said that, I will share my own anecdotal experience.  We live in Rye Gardens and on my block many houses have been renovated/expanded during the 10 years we have lived there.  These renovations seem to break into two categories: families (including us) that renovate their existing homes and builders who buy lots and build brand new homes.  On my street, the combined effect of renovations and new construction has been a net increase of two children in the RCSD.
It would seem that a more thorough analysis is required to establish a direct link between home renovations/new construction and the increase in RCSD enrollment.  Incorporating the results of an analysis would be essential as we look to maintain both Rye’s beauty and its excellent public school system.

Meg Cameron
Rye today looks very different from the community of stately old houses and charming little cottages that I moved into 27 years ago. Every day as I walk or drive through Rye I’m struck by the snowballing trend toward overbuilding. Therefore, I have not been surprised, as I’ve gone door-to-door introducing myself to residents of various neighborhoods, to hear many people saying they hope the City will address the issue. People’s concerns are varied, but I have noticed three main categories:

• Setbacks and sightlines of outsized houses on small lots harm the quality
of life and property values nearby.
• To control flooding, the City needs to address environmental issues,
including water runoff and reduction in the number of water-absorbing
trees, caused by overbuilding.
• School overcrowding is a serious issue. It seems intuitively obvious that the number of bedrooms in Rye affects the number of students in Rye, but the relationship between residential expansion and public school population is complex, and must be analyzed definitively before becoming a factor in zoning standards.

Many residents are calling for an update of our criteria for building height and setbacks, and I believe it is time for City to review this issue. The City needs to respond; however, it should do so with care. Before acting, the City must precisely define its goals, and then craft laws that achieve those goals without being unduly restrictive.

Peter Jovanovich
I believe there is some link, but I’m unsure as to the degree of causation.

So, let me deal with the here and now. I’m for the new attic law. Beyond that, I think there is further work to be done. For example, we should look at laws in neighboring communities dealing with the slope of houses on small lots. Some communities regulate an imaginary plane of light so as to prevent massive houses right next to each other.

The greater issue is increasing the diversity of development in Rye so that a greater share of the tax burden is carried by non-family oriented building.  A community based solely on single family homes cannot support a school system. The more seniors and young people that live in Rye, the more sustainable our community.

Julie Killian
There are many factors that may affect RCSD enrollment including number of home sales, number of subdivisions/building lots approved, the number of major home renovations, the economy, etc.  In some ways, we are a victim of our own success: great schools, small town feel, charming downtown, great cultural and sports amenities, close to the Sound, attractive housing stock.  All this has brought an increasing number of people to our community.  That overall is a very positive thing.  Since 2006, over 1,000 homes have sold in Rye, some empty nesters leaving town and selling to young school age families, some people trading up and some people trading down which may have no effect on school enrollment and some new residents who might not use the schools at all.  The pace of new building lots created from approved subdivisions probably has a more direct impact on school enrollment.  Since 2007, 21 building lots have been created, 10 of those in 2012.  The economy has also had an impact on school enrollment in two ways.  People move here for the good schools as New York City housing and tuition become more expensive. Although there are good schools and attractive communities all over Westchester, they pick Rye because it is deemed a better place to buy because it is a smaller market which historically has had better liquidity, a much bigger concern after the recession. For the people who already live here, the number of kids going to private schools seems to have trended down. This is due to the excellent reputation of Rye High as seen in recent high rankings, increasing college costs and the overall economyOlder siblings may have gone to private schools but some of the younger ones are not.  In the high school recently, kids have returned from private school in 10th grade after leaving for 9thgrade. The other factor not mentioned is that many renovations are done that do not increase the number of children in the schools.  I know many that have done sometimes multiple renovations without any increase in number of kids, myself included.  Is there an unqualified direct link with residential expansion? Probably not as there are many factors that come into play.   As a Council and community, we do need to look at our zoning laws and our outdated Master Plan.

Terry McCartney
I think that the only way to definitively answer that question would be to do a census-like analysis of the two facts you cite.  How many of the 629 expanded homes were purchased by families with school age children after the expansions?  How many school age children lived in the 629 homes before and after the expansions?  How many of the 438 “additional” students live in a home expanded since 2006?  What were the trends in the previous 7 year periods?  Those are the sorts of questions that would have to be answered before one could say there is a clear link.  Take our neighborhood on Park Avenue, for example.  Julia and I have renovated/expanded our home twice since we bought it in 2000 but that didn’t add any kids to the school system, just the same two kids we had before we renovated.  The same is true of several of our neighbors.  Now, we are becoming “empty nesters” and will soon have no kids in Rye City schools but will still be paying the same higher taxes as a result of our renovations and, since we aren’t moving any time soon, the school system is benefitting from our expansions.  So, if our example (and that of several of our neighbors) is common, that would suggest that renovations have no impact on school enrollment and can be a great benefit if those families stay in Rye after their kids leave the school system.  On the other hand, I readily admit that several homes on our street were bought by builders from seniors or empty nesters, then renovated and ultimately sold to families with school age children so that would tend to support some link.

My running mate, Julie Killian, shared some facts with me that are relevant to this discussion:  Since 2006, over 1,000 homes have sold in Rye.  Some of those sales undoubtedly involved empty nesters leaving town and selling to young families, some were undoubtedly people trading up or down and some were probably new residents who might not use the schools at all.  The number of new building lots created from approved subdivisions probably has a more direct impact on school enrollment.  Since 2007, 21 building lots have been created in Rye.  The economy has also had an impact on school enrollment in two ways.  People move here for the good schools as New York City housing and tuition has become more expensive.  Although there are good schools and attractive communities all over Westchester, they pick Rye because it is deemed a better place to buy because it is a smaller market which historically has had better liquidity, a much bigger concern after the recession.  For the people who already live here, the number of kids going to private schools seems to have trended down. This is due to the excellent reputation of Rye High as seen in recent high rankings, increasing college costs and the overall economy. Older siblings may have gone to private schools but some of the younger ones are not.  In the high school recently, kids have returned from private school in 10th grade after leaving for 9th grade.

In the end, in the absence of the detailed information and analysis I identified at the outset, I think that the best answer to your specific question is that there are a lot of factors that affect school enrollment in Rye, residential expansion among them, but there is simply not enough evidence to say that residential expansion is the single most important factor.  Some of the other factors are the economy, the quality of our schools, general population increases, the number of home sales, the number of new subdivisions/building lots approved, the number of “empty nesters” or seniors who sold their homes to families with school age children and so on.  In any given period, any or all of those factors could be the cause of an upward or downward trend in school enrollment.  We are fortunate to live in a town that has so many great attributes that people desire: a strong sense of community involvement, great schools, numerous cultural attractions, a small town feel, a charming downtown, attractive homes of all types, beautiful parks and green spaces and excellent recreational and sports activities for children and adults.  Let’s focus our attention on updating our Master Plan to keep it that way.  I wholeheartedly agree that we need a new Master Plan in Rye and the fact that we are still utilizing a 1985 plan should be corrected.  Rye has changed a lot in the past 28 years and we ought to proceed thoughtfully into the future to keep Rye the kind of community where families can live for generations while we also welcome new families into our community to keep it vibrant.

Jason Mehler
It is a complicated question whether the many Rye expansions contributed to the increase in students added to the Rye City School District. There are many variables that can also affect the increase in the student population and they include the building of many new multi family rentals, downsizing of seniors, development of vacant lots, subdividing properties and families no longer sending their children to private schools.

Many homes in my immediate area have gone through extensive renovations/expansions and it did not result in having more students in the school district.  We need to analyze all available data in order to properly assess this issue.

I do support curtailing the development of oversized houses and closing loopholes in the zoning laws.  Keeping home values high and property taxes low will be my main concern on the Rye City Council.

I am committed to serving our community with everyone’s best interest

Thank You.

Shari Punyon
As anyone knows me personally can tell you, the McMansioning of America, and Rye in particular is a topic that concerns me. One of the reasons my family picked Rye 14 years ago was the small town, heterogenous feeling of many of the neighborhoods, most notably our own.

Based on my observations, I believe the issue with overbuilding in Rye is not with expansions in general, but with builders purchasing smaller homes and replacing them with much larger homes on the same plot of land.

There are several reasons I do not see expansions of existing homes as the problem:

  • Existing home owners are more likely to be concerned about the impact on their neighbors, consistency with the neighborhood around them, setbacks from other homes, and retaining green space around their home. They have to live in their home  and with their neighbors, and are therefore more likely to consider these factors.
  • Expansions of existing homes are not likely to add new faces to our schools:
    • Not all residential expansions add bedrooms.
    • Even those expansions that add bedrooms do not cause an expansion in the school age population. In my experience you don’t have a child because you added a bedroom, but rather the reverse.

In addition, while I think that the replacement of smaller homes with larger ones may have an impact on school age population, I am leery of making that a cornerstone of any argument because we want to continue to attract young families to our community, as that is critical to keeping Rye strong and vibrant.

My concerns instead focus on the following issues:

Impact on neighbors: The overbuilding often interferes with the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties by encroaching on site-lines and setbacks.

Impact on the environment;  Water runoff, loss of trees, and reduction of pervious service are all concerns, especially considering the flooding in Rye.

Impact on neighborhood character: The proliferation of similar new homes risks changing the physical character of our neighborhoods, which currently represent a heterogeneous look and feel, rather than a cheek-by-jowl McMansion look. The small-town, tree-filled, walkable feeling of our neighborhoods is a distinguishing feature of our town in the real estate market. If we choose to over-build, we could end up being a victim of our own success, and find ourselves less attractive to potential home buyers.

Impact on population:  A vibrant community needs a mix of ages, not just related to who is adding children to our schools. If we lose our population of empty nesters, and other couples without children, our City loses in many ways. If smaller homes are simply not available for purchase, the chance that we will lose our heterogenous population is a real concern.

Both Meg & I strongly support City review of zoning and building standards and criteria for zoning variances, especially related to height and setbacks. The City’s response should be balanced and thoughtful, and recent public discussion of changes has brought out contrasting views from Rye residents on exactly whats should be implemented. In this, as in so many issues, the devil is in the details, and careful analysis is required.

If elected Meg & I will apply our analytical skills, training and background to a complicated issue that requires attention. We are running for the City Council because we feel, on a variety of issues, the current Council has not exercised it’s duty to review, on fact-based manner, important issues before them.

Joe Sack
I appreciate that you have expressed your belief that there is a link.  However, I believe that this is a complicated and complex issue.  Here are my thoughts.

For instance, on my block of just 23 homes, since 2006 alone, a total of 5 homes have been renovated/expanded (with number 6 planned for the spring), but not a single extra child has been added to these homes.  (Actually, for one of the renovated/expanded homes, the old family with 4 kids traded up to a home on Milton Point, and the new family that moved in only has 3 kids, so we are really less 1 kid since the renovation/expansion.)  So more bathrooms, more bedrooms, and bigger kitchens – but essentially the same families, with slightly less kids.

All of these renovated/expanded homes have been re-assessed I believe, so they are now paying more taxes – not to mention the building permit fees – for the same number of kids (less 1).  This is of course just my own limited personal experience, but the numbers are overwhelming, and I am guessing that my block is not an atypical block.  Also, anecdotally, I am told that due to the economy, and because our public schools are just as good, many private school children who live in Rye are transferring back into Rye schools.  Also, because Rye is such a desirable place to live including because of the excellent public schools, more and more younger families are moving into existing homes as they are vacated by empty nesters.  Meanwhile, I understand that numerous lots have been sub-divided recently, which has resulted in the creation of newly built homes which previously did not exist.  This phenomenon might have more of an impact on school population than the renovation/expansion of existing homes.

Many points of view in town may be fueled by anecdotes, limited experiences, and pieces of partial information, like those mentioned above.  But I believe that we need more hard facts and analysis.

Certainly, the ideal which you have expressed – of maintaining our community character (and related issues) – is a good one.  But ultimately, it may be difficult to define the problem and/or its cause, and similarly there may be no easy answers or solutions.  Of course, I greatly appreciate your strong efforts to conduct this debate, and I look forward to continuing a discussion throughout Rye in the coming months.

Nancy Silberkleit
This question could be answered accurately if a survey was done but I will just go on common senses.

I see an uncomplicated formula :
1. Larger homes naturally allow for more children.
2. One lot that gets subdivided
3. A stressed economy plays a part in opting for a community with a good school system opposed to private