Today (11/18) from , and tomorrow. Sneak Preview of GreeneLand’s newest store: “Dream…home furnishings,” featuring Balinese-crafted teak and mahogany imports, at
EMINENT. Coxsackie’s Robert Porter, elevated (with sword, epaulettes, chevrons, medals, boots) to rank of Most Eminent Grand Commander, Knights Templar, State of
AT ISSUE: PRUDENT POLICY-MAKING
If an ace defense attorney presents a woefully weak case for his client, an observer could infer plausibly that the client is guilty. Right? And if a profit-seeking company mounts a lavish advertising campaign on behalf of its product, but makes no definite factual claim indicating that the product is better than its rivals, a prudent respondent would infer plausibly that the product is not superior. Right?
But what if the weak argumentation comes from an unsophisticated, poorly qualified advocate?
That question leads to the case of Coxsackie’s most vocal opponent of That “trailer park.” He is Joseph Zanchelli. And with foes like him, we are tempted to say, the project should not need any friends.
The target of Mr Zanchelli’s ire is a scheme to put manufactured homes on a 185-acre site (the former Schoenborn farm) that lies partly in the Town of
Residence in the project would be limited to persons who are 55 years of age or older. (In strict legal terms, that rule means that 9 out of 10 residents must be seniors).
That restriction marks a change from what originally was proposed. Back in June, when he announced acquisition of the land (for $1.7 million), Mr Landy envisioned an all-ages community. He immediately encountered serious local opposition. Some of that opposition consisted of forebodings about a slum full of riff-raff. Some of it consisted of apprehensions about strains on local infrastructure—especially in the capacity of the schools to absorb a big influx of children. Amid doubts and uncertainties about costs and benefits, the Village and Town boards adopted one-year moratoriums on evaluating large-scale (i.e., more than five building lots) subdivision proposals. In response to the local opposition, Mr Landy retained as consultant (or liaison, or lobbyist) the former mayor of Coxsackie, Henry Rausch. Mr Rausch proposed the change in demographic composition. Mr Landy concurred.
Mr Zanchelli was not mollified. He maintained his active campaign of opposition. He collected signatures on petitions opposing the proposed “trailer park.” He. testified at Village Board meetings. He wrote letters to the Press. In the course of those activities he built a manifestly feeble case. Its main points (as recorded in the news media) rare these:
(i) Because “trailers…depreciate over time,” tax payments by project dwellers would gradually go down.
Here we have an example of jumping from a half-sound premiss to a hasty implausible conclusion. Trailers (or manufactured homes) do indeed “depreciate” over time, both in the sense that if they were listed as taxable assets, their imputed value would decline each year, and in the sense that they deteriorate physically. But so do new brick McMansions and the house of Zanchelli. It does not follow, however, that the appraised value of a conventional modular home would decline, along with tax payments. Residential properties generally have appreciated time market value, in appraised value, and hence in property tax costs. Has a contrary pattern marked gated retirement communities composed of manufactured homes? Has it marked old-fashioned, sleazy trailer parks? Mr Z does not address those questions.
(ii) The Over-55 Rule would not last. “When they begin losing money from lack of viable tenants they will quickly move to go after working families,” and then we’ll get “crowded schools and over-taxed municipal services.”
This line of argument suggests indirectly that having a gated retiree-populated community would be better for Coxsackie than having an all-ages community. It affirms directly that the less desirable type of community would eventuate.
To take the latter claim seriously, we need to believe that the developer would want to discard the Over-55 restriction and, furthermore, could readily do so. On behalf of his hunch about the developer’s interest, Mr Z claims that the costs of living in the contemplated project would, for most seniors, be prohibitive. But that claim is tenuous at best (and, incidentally, makes the project appear to be an up-scale development). The over-55 segment is a growing portion of the whole population. Prices of the contemplated UMH homes are not out of line with alternate retirement communities that are composed of “trailers.” Many prospective residents would be seniors who are down-sizing: selling larger homes, long since paid for, at prices far above initial acquisition cost. They would be well endowed with capital.
In any event, once the Over-55 commitment is made, it becomes difficult indeed to break. It gets written on sales contracts with buyers; if the commitment is broken, incumbent residents can seek a court injunction stopping the violation. They can sue the developer for breach of contract. Moreover, the obligation can be reinforced by local authority. The trustees of the host-Village can adopt a zoning ordinance providing that homes in the project occupied only by persons who are over 55 years old (perhaps with a few exceptions for grandchildren).
In short, Mr Z fails to establish either that the promoters of project would want to drop the Over-55 Rule or that they could do so at will.
(iii) Old people use more water than young people (so the cost of supplying water to the UMH project would be disproportionally high).
This claim is not substantiated by Mr Z, let alone given a numerical value. It is far from self-evident. In any event, even if it were true, the volume of water consumed by inhabitants of a hundred-unit Over-55 suburb would be lower than the volume consumed by inhabitants of a hundred unit All Ages project. The population would be bigger. The homes would contain families, not just couples.
(vi) Seniors would get tax breaks; other taxpayers would be obliged to make up the difference.
Some residents of this over-55 community would be over 65. Some of the latter would be eligible for property tax breaks by way of the STAR program. “That is a heck of a lot of cash flying out of other taxpayer’s pockets.” To “make up for all of this lost tax revenue” the “rest of the community” would experience an “increased tax bill.” Balderdash. Mr Z evidently wants to equate discounts on tax payments with actual treasury losses or with increases in taxes levied on other payers. Some of those seniors would indeed pay less in property taxes than other people whose property is equal in value. They would still be paying taxes. Whether the taxes they pay would cover the costs involved in serving them remains to be seen. Mr Z does not address that question.
(vii) Parasitic project. The UMH development would be “a festering financial drain on each and every resident of Coxsackie and ultimately
Strong words. If they are true, then surely the UMH project ought to be rejected. They are served up by Mr Z in the guise of a culmination. But in relation to his other claims (carefully identified here; nothing left out), they exemplify non sequitur.
Cooly rational but lazy Coxsackieans might well draw from Mr Zanchelli’s vacuous fulminations that the UMH project would be good for them. The short-hand reasoning here is that since the leading opponent’s arguments are manifestly weak, then his case must be weak; so the project must be OK. That inferential leap, however, could be dangerous. Maybe the advocate intended to sabotage his ‘client.’ Maybe his ineptitude as an advocate obscures what otherwise would be seen as a good case.
Less rational but equally lazy Coxsackians could cleave to the opposite conclusion. They would focus on the advocate--his character, his motives—at the expense of his advocacy. Thus, a respected old-timer opposes the UMH project, has expended personal resources in the cause of opposition, and does not seem to be actuated by a Special Interest. His sincerity offers assurance of cogency. Never mind the terms, the relevance of the cited evidence, the soundness of the reasoning—of his rhetoric.
As for rational and diligent Coxsackieans, they would take due note of Mr Z’s daffy fulminations, would credit him with raising some good questions, and then would frame an appropriate inquiry, along two main lines.
(1) monetary cost-benefit analysis. Make plausible estimates of what property tax revenues would flow to local coffers (Village, school district, maybe also town) from the developers (=owners of land and improvements) and the residents, if the project were approved as proposed. Calculate also what would be the added costs, to local authorities, of providing services to the prospective development’s inhabitants. If the latter sum is less than the former, then the project represents a net financial gain to the present inhabitants of Coxsackie. It can facilitate a reduction in local property tax rates or an addition of tax-financed services. And to it would be added gains for the county (in sales tax revenues) and for local businesses (from sales to the newcomers).
(2) non-monetary cost-benefit analysis. Would the UMH project disfigure the land? What other kind of development eventually would come to the site if the UMH project is rejected? Finally, would the new neighbors be likable people?
[The text above is a slightly edited revision of what was posted 11/18, when Mr Z's name was spelled inconsistently and the UMH project was said to contemplate "single wides" as well as "double wides"].