Florida development gets preliminary approval

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    WARWICK-The 19-lot Round Hill development on Wheeler Road received preliminary approval from the Town of Warwick Planning Board last week, despite a plea from the Florida School Superintendent Douglas Burnside. Round Hill is one of three developments before the board that will significantly impact the Florida School District. Two others - Cedar Ridge and Wheeler Road Estates with 36 and 31 units respectively, are in the preliminary public hearing stage. In a letter to the Planning Board regarding the Wheeler Road Estates development, Burnside said that approving these developments, along with applications before the Village of Florida Planning Board, could put the district at its capacity. "With 221 total single-family home applications currently before both the Village of Florida Planning Board and Town of Warwick Planning Board, the capacity of both buildings could be reached upon completion of the developments," said Burnside in his letter. "The district does not own any land upon which a new building could be built and has no further expansion capability in the present buildings." The Round Hill application caused much discussion amongst Planning Board members, especially the comment on the project's negative declaration document where the developer stated that this development would have a positive tax impact on the community. "I am surprised that any applicant would say that this would provide a surplus to the town," said Planning Board member Brian Fisher. "It never does. Unless you are building $5 million homes. To me, to have them come in and state that this is a positive impact is a slap in my face because every study I've read says otherwise. Is this the truth here? I've yet to see a study say that." John Petroccione, from the engineering firm Pietrzak and Pfau, which is representing Wheeler Real Estate Development, L.L.C., said he would stand behind the numbers. "We used the numbers from the school district," Petroccione said. "The district provided the numbers and we got the tax rate from the assessor." Petroccione said these houses would sell for at least $550,000, raising enough taxes to have a surplus for the school district and the town. Fisher, along with fellow Planning Board member Carl Singer, disagreed. With the cost of educating one student in the Florida district about $13,000, minus $3,000 coming from state aid, that leaves $10,000 coming from the taxpayer. An average family has 2.5 kids, Singer added, meaning it will take $25,000 in taxes to educate the children from each house. That didn't square with the applicant's numbers. Petroccione said the district estimates less than one child from each home. Burnside called the estimated number of children to come into the district as a result of these developments "extremely low." Studies between 2002 and 2004 state 1.25 children per unit, Burnside quoted. The Wheeler Road Estates data was based on June 1994 information. "By using even the lower number of children per unit (.97) multiplied by the 2003-2004 cost per pupil, the result is a deficit of $50,123 in cost to Florida Union Free School District," said Burnside. Planning Board Chairman Ben Astorino said he would go with the school district's numbers and accept the document. When Astorino asked for a vote to accept the negative declaration, the motion failed. Fisher, Singer, and Albert Buckbee all voted not to accept the document because of the comment and the school district's concerns. "Maybe it's just me," Fisher said. "I have never seen a statement like this. No one has had the audacity to say it will be a positive impact on taxes." Petroccione suggested that the board and the developer look into the figures, but to accept the document and grant preliminary approval in the meantime, allowing the applicant to move forward to other agencies to get other approvals. The attorney for the project, Steven Spiegel, suggested that this shouldn't even be discussed in the SEQR process. "We are not trying to be audacious," Spiegel said. "We are using the actual numbers. They are not our numbers; they are the numbers the Florida school system gave to us as actual experience. I can understand your skepticism. I've read the studies, too. But I don't think it's fair that we are looked at to solve all of the problems of a school system." On the second vote, the board accepted the negative declaration and followed with preliminary approval. The Round Hill property sits on 99.1 acres on the north side of Wheeler Road between Meadow Road and Hunt Drive. The Cedar Ridge development is on 137.5 acres on the south side of Wheeler Road, 1,500 feet west of the intersection of County Route 41. Wheeler Road Estates is 109.9 acres in size and is located along the north side of Wheeler Road at the intersection with Dussenbury Drive.