Just the Facts

After reviewing the many statements being made about zoning, schools and taxes, it is clear an effort needs to be made to clarify the facts.

What we’ve heard: New homes pay more than their fair share of school costs.

The Facts:  Eighty-five percent of Rye homes (including many new homes) do not pay enough school taxes to match the cost of just one student. Ninety-seven percent of Rye homes do not pay enough school taxes to match the cost of two students (source: City of Rye Final Role ).

What we’ve heard: Residential expansion and increasing Rye City School District enrollment are inevitable and desirable.

Fact: Equilibrium is desirable. Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is a desirable outcome. With effective planning, it is possible to achieve a stable consumption of school resources without building new classrooms or increasing class size.

What we’ve heard: Bigger families live in bigger houses and this, in turn, is driving up RCSD enrollment.

Fact: This is too simplistic. The impact of maximized FAR homes on turnover and out-migration of seniors and empty-nesters is likely a bigger factor driving long term RCSD enrollment trends. More data is needed to better understand the impact of the current housing stock turnover on in-migration of young families and out-migration of seniors, empty-nesters and other non-users of the RCSD.

What we’ve heard: Rye’s Master Plan is up to date.

The Facts: Rye’s Master Plan is not up to date. The last Master Plan was drafted in 1985 (Microsoft was still a private company and Ronald Reagan was president) and expired in 2000. A lot has changed since then; while it’s true a few studies were conducted over the years, Rye’s Master Plan is completely out of date.  (Source: egovlink.com; Rye Development Plan).

What we’ve heard: The Board of Education enrollment projections take residential expansion into account.

The Facts: The Board of Education enrollment projections do not take residential expansion into account. Instead the projections rely mostly on live birth data.

What we’ve heard: The Master Plan dictates the city’s zoning ordinance.

The Facts: The Master Plan does not change the city’s zoning ordinance, however, by law, zoning ordinances must be based on a “well reasoned master plan.”

What we’ve heard: Rye updates the Master Plan about as often as other nearby cities and towns.

Fact:  Rye last updated the Master plan in 1985; counterparts in Bronxville update their Master Plan about every five years. In Connecticut, towns are required by law to update their Master Plan every ten years.

What we’ve heard: The City Council and the Board of Education meet regularly and are closely aligned with respect to the connection between zoning, school overcrowding and school taxes.

Fact: While its true there are special joint meetings from time to time, the hard-working City Council and BOE rarely meet together except at civic ceremonies like the Little League parade.

What we’ve heard: There’s no connection between zoning, school overcrowding and school taxes.

The Facts: There is lots of evidence zoning and school overcrowding are linked. Households that take full advantage of FAR allowances are likely to have higher turnover and be heavy users of the Rye City School District.

What we’ve heard: Current zoning laws were drafted to help establish a sustainable community.

Fact:  Our outdated zoning laws and FAR limits were drafted more than fifty years ago, in part, to discourage under-sized dwellings. (Source: egovlink.com)

What we’ve heard: Land use controls reduce property values.

Fact: Land use controls increase property values. Property values rise because zoning protects the value and enjoyment of the owner’s property, improves neighborhood stability, reduces adverse impacts between conflicting land uses, and ensures quality and sustainable development and growth in the community. (Source: APA)

What we’ve heard: The Planning Board adopts the Master Plan.

Fact: The Planning Board does not adopt the Master Plan. Since 1995 NY State law requires elected officials to adopt the Master Plan.

What we’ve heard: Other towns are not revising zoning ordinances to help address school overcrowding and rising school taxes.

Fact: The City of Rye is not unique; while circumstances vary, many cities and towns in Connecticut, California, Georgia, Utah and Texas are revising zoning ordinances to balance smart growth with school and community needs. (Source: APA)

What we’ve heard: Zoning is revised ad hoc, and on a case by case basis.

Fact: Sound zoning policy is not to revise laws and grant variances on a case by case basis. By law, in New York state, zoning must be based on a “well reasoned master plan.”

What we’ve heard: Residential expansion is good for the City of Rye.

The Facts: While it’s true, residential expansion has economic benefits, there’s evidence the Rye City School District is bearing a significant cost and this, in turn is causing school taxes to rise. There is evidence, each square foot of new residential expansion may cost the Rye City School District as much as three-hundred dollars.

What we’ve heard: Residential expansion only affects taxes for new homes.

The Facts: Residential expansion that attracts heavy users of the RCSD increases enrollment which, in turn, drives up school taxes for all Rye residents.

What we’ve heard: Incremental municipal tax revenue on residential expansion more than makes up for the increased burden on our school system.

The Facts: Municipal tax revenue does not pay for schools and even if it did, it wouldn’t come close to making up for the burden on our school system. Each square foot of residential expansion generates thirty-two dollars of city tax revenue but may cost the Rye schools more than three hundred dollars. Put another way, for every dime collected by the city for residential expansion, school costs go up by a dollar.

What we’ve heard:  There are no zoning loopholes.

The Facts: There are many loopholes. For example, new homes often contain “unfinished storage space” that is designed to be quickly converted to game rooms, play areas and nanny rooms.

What we’ve heard: Fundraising activities, such as the Rye House Tour, mitigate the financial burden on the Rye City School District.

The Facts: While the Rye House Tour is a time-honored tradition that helps the school district and families in need, the funds raised do not come close to compensating for the cost of residential expansion, and amount to less than one percent of the $25 million in commissions and development profit earned by Rye real estate professionals in 2010. (Source: Zillow.com, NAHB)

What we’ve heard:  Most Rye residents like the current zoning and favor new construction.

The Facts: While many residents are comfortable with the trend toward larger houses, increased enrollment and higher school taxes — many residents are questioning whether this trend is sustainable. Eighty five percent of respondents to a survey on this site agree or strongly agree with the statement, “School overcrowding is linked to numerous residential additions and new homes.” Seventy eight percent of respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I would consider trading a small amount of home-value for a more stable community.” (Source: zoningplan.org survey)

What we’ve heard:  Residential expansion helps residents remain in the community.

The Facts: Residential expansion that favors heavy users of the RCSD increases enrollment and school taxes and makes it more difficult for non-users of the RCSD to remain in the community.

What we’ve heard:  Real estate prices have gone up in Rye.

The Facts:  The Rye real estate price index is down about eleven percent from a 2005 high. (Source: Zillow.com)

What we’ve heard: Households without school-aged children will continue to pay about the same school taxes as they do now.

The facts: The current residential expansion will cause households without school children to pay more school taxes.

What we’ve heard: Rye School overcrowding is mostly due to a shift in enrollment from private schools to public schools.

The Facts: While there is fluctuation, enrollment in private schools has remained relatively constant and consists of approximately eleven percent of Rye households with school age children.

What we’ve heard: Most residential additions require zoning variances.

The Facts: More than seventy percent of residential expansion completed since 2006 did not require variances. (Source: BAR minutes)

What we’ve heard: The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) has the authority to decide what can and can not be built.

The Facts: The BAR informs architectural decisions but does not have the authority to decide what can and can not be built.

What we’ve heard: A great school system benefits all homeowners equally.

The Facts: A great school system does not benefit all homeowners equally. For example, waterfront households pay more school taxes than inland counterparts, however research shows their home value is less reliant on schools.

What we’ve heard: All families that move from New York City to take advantage of Westchester schools are satisfied with their decision.

The Facts: While high test scores and college admission rates have built national reputations and propelled real estate prices upward, many families are disappointed by classes that are too crowded. (Source: New York Times).