Bad options, scarce information

Please come to the Middle School at 7:30 tonight, April 25, to learn about the five proposals for the future of Post Office Plaza, which our Council will decide by vote next Monday, May 2nd.

It’s nice to have five options, thanks to our Mayor, but (for reasons our Borough experts can’t seem to explain) those options aren’t broad – or even adequate – and the Council lacks the basic information necessary to make a good choice for Chatham.

(Demand better options!

Costs, for instance: How much would it cost the Borough to support each proposal under consideration?

Good question. But you’ll find no answer in the table provided by the experts we taxpayers pay to help us:

Sure, that table estimates our ”financial obligation” as guarantor of certain projects and mentions the sacrifice of our irreplaceable public parking lot. But what’s the value of that public land we’re about to sacrifice? Based on comps, it’s worth at least $10.5 million – more than ten times the $1 million sale price shown in proposal #2.

And what about the additional, ongoing costs for schools, police, firefighting, public works, library services, parking, etc? How much would all that cost residents and taxpayers under each of the scenarios under consideration?

Far as we can discover, the Mayor & Council have never even tried to estimate those costs. (Far as we can tell, they never did so for their 259-unit apartment project under construction at River Road, either.)

Now let’s look at what the table above does reveal about the options on offer:

Option #1: Nightmare. A huge, 4-story, 118-unit apartment project to be crammed into the small plot behind the Post Office, west of little Bowers Lane. On the plus side, it would include 18 affordable family units and might generate $563,000 in annual PILOT payments, but we’d get no property taxes. This project would also bring far greater density, put at least 200 more cars on Main Street, and sacrifice our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for a little paved patio (they call a ”village green”) and a dangerous, hulking, multi-level, parking garage. What about the costs? Would Chatham Borough wind up with any net revenue at all? Nobody’s saying. Absolutely horrible.

Option #2: Nightmare II. A big 3-story, 100-unit project west of Bowers Lane, with a ”village green” that’s paved over. On the plus side, it would provide 15 affordable family units. But this project would sacrifice 100% of our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for as little as $1 million, leaving us with NO public parking at POP. That lack of parking might offset some of the additional traffic, but would probably kill most of our existing downtown businesses. In effect, we’d suffer greater density in return for nothing but the hope of $415,000 in annual PILOT payments. And what about the Borough costs for 100 additional families? No estimates available. We could end up with no net revenue. Terrible.

Option #3: Best Hope. A much smaller, 3-story, 15-unit project west of Bowers Lane. On the plus side, this one would provide 15 affordable housing units, an est. $45,000 per year in PILOT payments, would cost the Borough far less density, traffic, and municipal services than #1 or #2, would upgrade and preserve almost half of our public parking lot along with some small-town charm. Only issue would be the possibility of up to $1.5 million in construction costs, which could lead to a very small property tax increase. That would be well worth it to preserve our borough. So if we must choose among these five options, this is our best hope.

Option #4: Frankenstein. An even bigger, 3-story, 200-unit project. It would include a large 100-family project on the west side of Bowers and a 115-bed assisted living facility on the east side. This option would provide 22 units of affordable housing, and might bring in $415,000 per year in gross revenue – plus unspecified assisted living taxes – but it would dramatically increase density and traffic, bring Main Street to a halt at shift changes, and sacrifice our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for a mere $1 million or so. What about the other Borough costs? Again, we have no information about that. Just plain terrible.

Option 5: Frankenstein Jr. A variation on #3, with a small, 10-11 unit family apartment house on the west side of tiny Bowers Lane, and a huge, 100-unit, 115-bed assisted living facility crammed onto a less-than-1-acre plot on the east side of Bowers Lane. The plus is that it could provide up to 18 units of affordable housing and perhaps $30,000 per year in gross revenues – along with unspecified assisted living taxes – and a parking lot upgrade. But that’s only after reducing the lot by more than 50% – without compensation. This option would also dramatically increase traffic, and choke Bowers Lane at shift-changing times. It might cost as much as $1 million to finance construction of the apartment building, but we could easily finance that with no more than a minuscule tax increase, which would be far better than Options #1, #2, and #4. What would the other costs total? No known estimates. Bad, but not the worst possibility.

With top experts on retainer, how did it come to this? How can our Council possibly choose from such bad (and poorly detailed) options on May 2 as planned?