The laws pertaining to Rye’s real estate development and property tax assessment are determined by the City.
By Bill Lawyer
The laws pertaining to Rye’s real estate development and property tax assessment are determined by the City. The impact of these for taxpayers, however, is much greater for the School District’s operations than the City’s operations.
Longtime Rye resident John Mayo-Smith is concerned – so much so that he’s created a special website to encourage public interest and awareness.
Mayo-Smith notes that every Rye resident benefits from the City’s services – including parks, recreation, law enforcement, fire protection, snow, waste and recycling management, and public roads. But many residents receive no direct benefit from the taxes they pay for public schools.
Over the last few years a number of elected School District and City Council members, along with the general public, have expressed concerns about the long-term sustainability of current “McMansioning” trends in housing.
Mayo-Smith’s argument is that the greater the number of families with children, the higher the costs of the school operations per child. Historically, Rye has had a large number of neighborhoods with what are commonly referred to as “starter homes” – under 2,000 square feet, with two or three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths.
In reality, Mayo-Smith believes these should be called “starter-finisher” homes. While some of them are occupied by families with school-age kids, frequently, they are held onto or moved into by older, empty-nest couples. When older couples are able to live in these homes, they are, as Mayo-Smith says, “Pure gold — the equivalent of an endowment for the Rye City School System.”
In between the starter and finisher homes, Rye has always had a significant stock of “comfortable” family homes – with larger living spaces and more bedrooms and baths.
When the children leave the nest, their parents soon look to downsize into a “finisher home.” But as the starter-finisher homes are being torn down and replaced by much larger homes, with four to six bedrooms, there are fewer opportunities to downsize in Rye. This is where the threat to sustainability occurs.
Mayo-Smith proposes that the question of house size should be guided by the City’s master plan. The last such plan, however, was enacted in 1985 and expired in 2000. No new plan is in the works.
On the subject of housing, the master plan’s goal was to:
“Provide an opportunity for the development of housing of various types, sizes, and costs to meet the needs of people at various stages of the life cycle, income, age levels and household compositions, without compromising the integrity of Rye’s single-family residential areas.”
The 1985 plan went on to present extensive statistics about all aspects of the changing nature of housing in Rye. The lack of an updated development plan means that current comparable statistics are not available.
While there have been some minor tweaks to zoning regulations to reduce maximum house size, Mayo-Smith feels that having an updated plan would address the issue in a more positive way.
Mayo-Smith has been attending meetings of the Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission, Conservation Commission/Advisory Council, and the recent joint meeting of the City Council and School Board.
He acknowledges that he needs more data to clarify exactly what is going on. He’s trying to find out: the correlation between the size of homes and the number of school-age children in them; the net change in the average size of homes built or significantly renovated since 1985; whether the increase in taxes generated by newer, larger homes covers the higher cost of educating the increased number of children in those homes; and the number of homes, apartments at various price levels.
City Planner Christian Miller confirms that in virtually all current building or renovation projects, developers are “building out to the maximum allowable under zoning regulations.”
And, he adds that for the past few years the number of students in the District has been increasing by 60 to 70 per year.
But Miller says that more data is needed to confirm that expanding the number of “starter-finisher” homes or apartments would actually induce more people to stay in Rye.
Mayo-Smith says: “Taxes and school budgets are complex but one thing is simple: “Senior citizens, empty-nesters, and those without children in the school system subsidize the heavy users of the system.”
Persons interested in knowing more about these issues should visit John Mayo-Smith’s website, http://zoningplan.org.