Friday, November 18, 2005


IMMINENT Today (11/18) from noon, and tomorrow. Sneak Preview of GreeneLand’s newest store: “Dream…home furnishings,” featuring Balinese-crafted teak and mahogany imports, at 388 Main St, Catskill. Tomorrow (11/19), from 7 am. Opening of firearm deer-hunting season (and bears become fair game on Monday). Information: Tomorrow, from 4 pm.: Opening of “All Through the House,” exhibit of holiday crafts by regional artisans, at Catskill Mountain Foundation gallery. Hunter Village. Monday, from 6:30 pm. Public hearing on proposed Greene County budget. In County Courthouse, Main & Bridge Sts, Catskill.

EMINENT. Coxsackie’s Robert Porter, elevated (with sword, epaulettes, chevrons, medals, boots) to rank of Most Eminent Grand Commander, Knights Templar, State of New York.


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 Coxsackie and partly in the Village. As contemplated by the would-be developer—Sam Landy, president of United Mobile Homes Inc. of Freehold NJ—this gated community would ultimately contain 280 homes (“double wides”) occupying 100 acres of the site. Accordingly, each home would occupy about one third of an acre. Other parts of the development would contain infrastructure (roads, landscaping, sewers, electricity) as well a community center, a swimming pool, walking trails and other amenities. The dwellings would have interiors of about 2100 square feet, plus attached garages. Buyers would pay around $145,000 for an installed home and would additionally be charged lot rentals of $450 a month (for utilities and for use of [water, sewer and garbage service plus maintenance of] common facilities). They would be liable for property taxes on their dwellings (around $325 per month at current rates). The developer, as owner of the land and its improvements in a gated community, also would be liable for property tax.

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 Greene County.”

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.

So what?

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"].

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hot Stuff & Cold

HOT STUFF. Our blog about the Dushane v. CCSD lawsuit generated a firestorm of comebacks, which are still igniting. If you can stand the heat, scroll down to our 10/25 entry The Secret Lawsuit. If the comments are not immediately visible, click on the word Commentary at the bottom of the text.

IMMINENT *Tonight+: Festival of Trees. Fortnightly Club’s annual event, this one dubbed “A Nautical Christmas” and held at Elks Lodge, 45 N. Jefferson Avenue, Catskill. Opening gala from 7 pm. ($25 per person, tickets required in advance). Continuing Saturday and Sunday, daytime ($3 admission). Information: 943-2044, 943-5616 or 943-6242. *Tonight+. ”Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” at Catskill Mountain Foundation’s movie theater in Hunter, from 8 pm. Also Saturday and Sunday night, and Sunday at 3. *Saturday & Sunday. "Chilly Willy" tours of Bronck family houses near Coxsackie, by Historical Society members, with tales about living in GreeneLand in the 1600's. Info: 731-6490. *Saturday from 6 pm.: “No Place Like Home” exhibition (“Petals, Photograms, Photographs…”) opens at BRIK Gallery, 473 Main St, Catskill. Runs to December 4. *Saturday, from 5 pm: Opening of exhibition of works by Gabe Brown and John Lippert at Wilder Gallery, 375 Main St, Catskill. Information:; 578-3464.

BUSTED, for stealing $6586 from her dentist employer: former receptionist Christine Maddaloni, 39, of High Hill Road, Catskill. Her method consisted of accepting cash payments made by patients of Drs Catalano, Liefer & Bruno, recording the payments, then erasing the entries. She was caught and made a partial confession after, among other things, patients complained of being billed for payments they’d already made. Faced with a 49-count indictment for grand larceny and falsifying business records, she entered a plea of guilty to GL and is due on November 22d for sentencing by judge Daniel Lalor to a prison term of 3.5-7 years. The impending sentence comes in the wake of prior convictions for similar offenses.

BULLY RATES. The incidence of domestic violence in GreeneLand evidently is growing. According to Barbara Palmateer of Community Action, new cases handled by the Domestic Violence program during this year’s first nine months matched the load handled all of last year. And of course, the frequency of assaults against women and children is far greater than what gets reported. Have a nice day.

NEW CHEF at Stewart House, Jeffrey E. Marquise, 46, was not a student at the highly esteemed Culinary Institute of America. He taught there.

DAILY MAUL. “…brought down the house Saturday night performing at the Historic Catskill Point Saturday.” “…Rick Surrano has been chosen by the Athens Republican Committee to run for town supervisor in the November election two-term incumbent Albert Salvino” (8/24). “Every library in the county will be received some assistance, Seward noted” (11/2). “According to Ulscht, economic development is what is needed to bring tax relief and that a lack of business means higher taxes for residents” (11/4). 2=number of articles, in addition to the Calendar of Events, published Oct. 31 on the “Greene County” page. 0=number of articles on that page that pertained to Greene County. 4=number of articles appearing on 11/6 the “Neighbors” page. 0=number of articles that were not about Greene County. 7=number of articles on Monday (11/10) “Neighbors” page. 1=number of articles not about Greene County. 3=articles on Nov. 9th “Greene County” page. 0=articles about Greene County (while on “Neighbors” page, all 7 articles pertained to Greene County).

MYSTERY SOLVED. Among oddities in the late GreeneLand elections was a billboard facing eastbound motorists at the fork in Catskill of West Bridge Street and Route 9W. The billboard urged voters to elect Louis O’Connor to the Town Board and not Robert Antonelli. But O’Connor and Antonelli are fellow Republicans, they are pals, and they were standing for two vacant seats on the Board. The third candidate on the ballot, Evan Ulscht, is a Democrat and is not part of The Club. The key to solving the mystery is Sol Ferro, who paid for the billboard. He has a grudge against Antonelli.

RHETORIC DISSECTED. Also noteworthy about that billboard are the terms of Mr Ferro’s pitch. Preceding his endorsement of Mr O’Connor were three questions: “Are you sick of high taxes? Are you sick of being told how to live? Are you sick of being told what to do with your property?” Invited by those questions, in the context of a Town Council contest, is belief that electing the endorsed candidate will bring about, or will increase substantially the prospects of, cuts in taxes and in regulation. Invited too are inferences that your taxes are high, that you ought to be sick of same, that you are incessantly being thwarted, that you ought to be sick of same, that the pushing and prodding emanate from governmental agencies such as the Town Council, and that (consequently?) the election of O’Connor would alleviate the illness. With regard to property, the suggestion then must be that you have been bugged by regulatory constraints, that you should be sick of same, and that the election of O’Connor would be a liberating event. For sophisticated respondents, moreover, the message would be, specifically, that O’Connor would free you from the shackles of planning, zoning, permits and inspections. The blather was Ferro's, not O'Connors.

“DEAR KIWANIS. Thank you for the dictionary… It has all the words I need.” “I like using it for hard words.” “It is very usfull for our whole entire class!” “I can’t wait to meet the whole Kiwanis club. You help us get what we need. I really corrected correcting on this paper.” “They work really good. I like to use my dictionary because they have a lot of words in my dictionary.” “I’ll also use it for I think isn’t right.” “We also have been using them for when we don’t know to spell a really hard word.” “We like the realy much.” “Thanck you for the dictionary’s. I you’s mine for vocabulary. I you’s mine for spelling words correctly… “ “I’ve used it for reading and for looking up words I don’t know.” “I like to use it for when I don’t know how to spell a wourd.” “When we use them we use them with care.” “Dictionarys make you smart.” “They really come in handy! You are very nice to children. I just want to tell you.” “You are my favorite one who would give us dictionarys to the whole school. Please visit us another time.” “P.S. Thank you for coming all the way just to give us a dictionary.” ---from Abagail, Ada, Austin, Caden, Caitlin, Chase, Connor, David, Deborah, Glage, Joey, Kenneth, Megan, Meghan, Mike, Rachel, Seaver, Stephanie,Tyler and Victoria, of Mrs Brown’s 3d grade at Coxsackie Elementary School.