In March, the nation’s home-sale prices remained virtually stagnant, inching backward only 0.1% from 2018 levels, according to new data from Redfin.
This means U.S. home-sale prices reached a median of $295,000 in March, marking the first year-over-year price decrease on record since February 2012.
Despite this decline, Redfin’s data determined that only nine of the 85 largest metros saw a year-over-year decline in their median price.
This was especially so for San Jose, California, which saw its home prices fall 13% in March. That being said, other California cities like San Francisco experienced declines as little as 1%.
When it comes to home sales, the report revealed that expensive West Coast markets like Los Angeles, Orange County and Seattle posted double-digit year-over-year sale declines.
However, large markets on the East Coast saw big annual sales gains, as market affordability worked in their favor.
“Homebuyers have backed off in West Coast metros where home prices have risen far out of their budgets,” Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather said. “The opposite is happening in more affordable metros where buyers are eager to buy now to take advantage of low mortgage rates. In California, where the tax burden is high, some people are finding they have to move out of state to afford to buy a home. As a result, home sales are down in metros throughout the state.”
In fact, Redfin’s analysis indicated March’s home sales fell in 37 of the 85 largest housing markets. Whereas, only 24 of these markets saw double-digit year-over-year increases in home sales.
Interestingly, the housing markets that did experience the biggest declines features homes that were 2.5 times more expensive than homes belonging in areas where sales surged, according to Redfin.
The image below highlights March’s home-price growth:
Median asking rent has reached an all-time high, rising to a record $1,006 in the first quarter of 2019, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Rental properties that were lying vacant remained low at 7% in Q1, a factor that is driving up rental prices.
Meanwhile, homeownership levels across the country were relatively flatfrom last year, the data revealed, reversing a trend of eight consecutive quarters of growth.
Rents rise as increased demand takes a bite out of homeownership
It appears a surge in renters is the cause. The number of renters has changed course, rising in Q1 after falling in six out of seven previous quarters.
Skylar Olsen, Zillow’s director of Economic Research, said the data suggests the younger generation is having trouble overcoming the hurdles they face in the path toward homeownership, including securing a down payment, finding an affordable home and qualifying for a loan.
“These hurdles – combined with potential shifts in preferences and/or a simple delay in the many ‘adulting’ events like marriage and children that precipitate buying a home – can have the effect of keeping younger, would-be buyers in rental housing for a longer time,” Olsen said.
He added that the sheer size of the 20-and-30-something population is exacerbating the situation by creating competition that drives up rental prices.
The French architecture studio showed off its design to turn the damaged roof of the cathedral into a giant greenhouse, complete with an apiary that takes the place of the spire. (some 180,000 bees that had been kept in wooden boxes on the cathedral’s roof survived the fire). The renderings show a gabled roof perched atop the stately church; its golden-hued steel frame is filled with glass panels.
Inside, the architects envision rows of planters built from burnt wood from the old church’s attic. The greenhouse and apiary would act as an education hub where people can learn about horticulture and urban agriculture.
According to a estimates from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Commerce Department, single-family starts continued to show weakness in March, despite the recent stabilization in the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). After downward revisions made to the February data, single-family starts were down 0.4% to a 785,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace in March, the lowest such rate since September 2016.
On a year-to-date basis, single-family construction is 5.3% lower than the first quarter of 2018. NAHB’s forecast, and the forward-looking HMI suggest that future data will show stabilization followed by slight gains due to recent declines in mortgage interest rates. However, single-family permits continued to be soft in March, declining 1.1% for the month to a 808,000 annual pace, the lowest since August 2017.
On a regional and year-to-date basis, single-family starts are down 21% in the housing affordability challenged West, 20% in the Midwest, 2% in the Northeast and up 5% in the South.
Multifamily starts were unchanged from February to March at a 354,000 annual rate. However, comparing the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2018 shows a 19% decline for 5+ unit production.
Recent production declines are clear in the current estimates of units under production. As of March 2019, there were 531,000 single-family homes under construction. While this is 4.5% higher than a year ago, it is down from the 543,00 peak count from January 2019. Similarly, there are currently 595,000 apartments under construction, which is more than 3% lower than a year ago and down from the peak count of 625,000 in February 2017. The combination of these declines in current construction activity are seen clearly in the graph below, with declines for total housing under construction for all of 2019.
Coming Up at the April 23 Town Board MeetingSunrise Katonah Proposed Resolution –Climate Change Action The Town Board will be hearing a presentation from Sunrise Katonah which has requested that the Town Board adopt a Climate Action resolution urging federal action to further goals to expand renewable power sources and reach a target of net-zero carbon emissions. The proposed resolution reflects the spirit of the Green Agenda, but without all of the specific items, a number of which are national in scope. The Board will be discussing the proposed resolution for the first time on April 23, and may find it preferable not to take immediate action on the proposed resolution. The Town of Bedford long has been a leader in environmental initiatives and in the coming months will be working with Bedford 2020 and the community in moving ahead on new goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Report from Bedford2020 ZERO WASTE CHALLENGE SHOWS POTENTIALFOR 70% RESIDENTIAL RECYCLINGOver the past year Bedford 2020 has developed and conducted a series of Zero Waste Challenge (ZWC) events with more than 80 interested families, 14 of whom participated in a six week waste and recyclables weighing program in October 2018. This Zero Waste Challenge was based on similar programs conducted in many other cities and towns, with the objective of quantifying in real terms what a group of typical residential families could recycle. The resulting ZWC Report with Summary Data from each participating family of 2,3, 4 and 5 person households found that a total of 65% waste reduction on average, with 39% Single Stream Recycling and 26% Compostables removed from total household material, leaving only 35% waste. After considering the wide variation in family data and the ease with which some families were able to exceed 70% total recycling/reduction, we believe that a 70% reduction goal is practical and achievable over time with your support and some more effort. The largest single additional waste reduction beyond present efforts would come as a result of removing compostable food waste.The ZWC also indicated a significant overall household material reduction, with participating ZWC families taking less material into their house, when compared with overall Town wide and State data for materials collected, suggesting that more awareness and attention to what we use and buy can significantly reduce our waste. The ZWC generated a lot of enthusiasm not only from participants but many others who attended the preliminary Trash Bash, and Bedford 2020 may consider another event in future. The program confirmed the viability and reasonableness of our recycling goals with real time data in Bedford and gives a positive direction for future efforts at waste reduction.The Zero Waste Challenge started with a Trash Bash demonstration event on October 13, 2018, where about 80 people came to understand what could be recycled or composted and how to reduce the materials that their family buys and uses. Fourteen families agreed to participate in the ZWC 6-week sort and weigh program. Participating families saw weighing and sorting demonstrations at the Trash Bash and took home a digital scale and bags for weekly weighing of materials. They received a plan for logging the numbers and useful tips on how to reduce waste and efficiently recycle and compost on a regular basis. The ZWC helped participants pay closer attention to waste and better understand how to reduce household materials (if not to zero, then as low as possible). Participants learned how to examine more carefully all of our daily habits that create waste.Bedford 2020 believes that removing food waste from homes and businesses, which if implemented town-wide would result in the largest single waste reduction (25%) and the ability to substantially achieve Town and State long term goals for waste reduction. I also note that in spite of the current difficulty being experienced nation-wide with recycling materials marketing, we have received assurance that our Single Stream recycling program is working well and all Bedford materials are effectively being marketed through the City Carting state-of-the-art MRF in Stamford. Waste reduction is the future. With your help we can provide education, inspire awareness and show how it can be done in every neighborhood, business and school in Bedford. We are approaching a tipping point where everyone is becoming aware that waste reduction is a personal daily responsibility, like brushing your teeth. For more information about the recycling or composting program visit http://bedford2020.org/waste-and-recycling-task-force/. Thank you for participating. -Peter Kuniholm
MEASLES INFORMATION We received this information from the Westchester County Department ofPublic Heath following reports of some cases of Measles in Northern Westchester:
Update on Parking The Town Board has been working steadily to improve parking availability and management: parking for residents in the commuter lots and parking for our businesses and their customers and patrons, primarily in the hamlet business districts. At the Town Board’s April 2 meeting, Town Comptroller and Director of the Town’s Parking Bureau, Abraham Zambrano provided the following update on the new since last year online system for resident parking permits in the commuter lots:The Town of Bedford manages and operates eight (8) commuter parking lots with a total of 1,149 parking spaces out of which 170 are metered and 979 are for permit holders. It’s been the Town’s policy to provide parking permits exclusively to town residents and businesses in the Hamlets of Bedford Hills and Katonah. Non-residents are only allowed to obtain permits for lot 3 on Woods Bridge Road. The management and the issuance of parking permit has been challenging over the years as the demand for commuter parking has increased. With the support of the Town Board, the implementation of a paperless permit system using Parkmobile’s and PCS’s License Plate Reading technology was possible in the spring of 2018; the new software requires that parking customers create an account and submit copies of vehicle registrations before the permit is issued. The new system went into effect on July 1, 2018, the beginning of the parking year. Keeping in mind that residents have always been able to buy permits for Lot 3 on Woods Bridge Road in Katonah, it is imperative to mention that as the result of the implementation of the new system, we have been able to reduce the number of residents on the wait list as well as the time they wait for a permit for the main lots in both Bedford Hills and Katonah by years. In June of 2016, for all lots, there were four hundred ninety six (496) residents on the wait list and the first person in line to get a permit for Lot 4, dated back to December 2011 and for Lot 1 that date was April 2012. As we continue to gather permit usage data, over the past 12 months, we have been able to reduce the number of residents on the list and the wait time. The current wait list numbers and times have been reduced to 248 and the dates are July 2016 and July 2017 respectively. In May, we will begin the implementation of the Pay-by-Phone system to accommodate daily parking needs and upgrades and signage work are being planned for Lot 7 & Lot RR on Railroad Avenue. The Town also is working with the Katonah Chamber of Commerce regarding parking enforcement as well as to review the Chamber’s recommendations and requests to ease the crunch of parking availability in the Katonah neighborhood business district. We similarly are working with the parking committee of the Bedford Village Business Association. We also remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement to acquire from the Bedford Presbyterian Church property off of Court Road for the development of a free municipal parking lot which would run behind the buildings fronting the Village Green.
Update on Bedford’s Single Stream Recycling Program About five years ago Bedford became the town in Northern Westchester to convert to single stream residential recycling both through our licensed carters as well as at the Town’s recycling center on Railroad Avenue in Bedford Hills. Single stream together with the effective community outreach of Bedford 2020 has resulted in significant increases in the Town’s residential recycling rates. Evidencing the success of these efforts, Westchester County presented Bedford an award last year for attaining the highest recycling rate in the County. The materials which are collected for recycling are sorted and processed at a state of the art single stream facility which City Carting operated in Stamford, Connecticut. City Carting, in response to the disruptions in recycling markets resulting from China’s no longer accepting many materials, has added capability and more sorters over the last year. While City is not enjoying the high sales prices for materials as it had two years ago, City Carting through an array of brokers working in world market continues sell such materials to be recycled or in a few cases pays for the disposal of materials. The Town of Bedford has modified its recycling flyer and no longer accepts film plastics or bags and a few other small items at City request, but we have found during our recent Zero Waste Challenge (ZWC) that we continue to collect and recycle over 95% of our prior list by weight. Bedford initiated a hauler quarterly reporting system five years ago which furnishes good data particularly for recycling in the residential sector. Town residents also are paying their carters a small recycling surcharge to enable the carters to continue the single stream program. While we are not certain about the future, City Carting has assured us that its sorting facility in Stamford is working well. City Carting plans to continue its participation in single stream and in fact expects the markets to improve as more countries and the US make plans to accept more efficiently materials which China previously accepted. City Carting indicates that with new equipment and more sorters it is able to maintain a low contamination rate and product marketability. We are encouraged by the continuing success of our Single Stream program, its convenience for residents and the assurance we offer that our efforts result in significant reductions in greenhouse gasses, conservation of material resources and continuing cost savings for reused materials. Please visit the Bedford 2020 web site athttp://bedford2020.org/waste-and-recycling-task-force/ for more information. Thank you for participating.
Update on Bond Sale and Savings Resulting fromHighest Credit RatingTown Comptroller Abraham Zambrano provides the following explanation of the bond sale concluded this week: On Monday April 1, 2019 S&P Global Ratings assigned its “AAA” rating to the Town of Bedford’s public improvement serial bond series 2019A and affirmed its “AAA” long-term rating on the Town’ general obligations outstanding debt. The assigned rating reflects the Town’s “strong management, with good financial policies and practices under” S&P’s Financial Management Assessment (FMA) methodology, strong budgetary performance and flexibility that has enabled the accumulation of surplus and strong reserves. According to S&P Global Ratings, the Town is considered to have “very strong liquidity” and has access to additional external resources. Upon receiving the 2019 bond rating, on Wednesday April 3, 2019 the Town sold $8,321,325 in bonds to finance the Town Board approved capital expenditures for 2018 and 2019. Based on the AAA rating assigned to the 2019 Bonds and the re-affirmation of the Town’s overall AAA rating, six investment firms submitted bids with TIC (True Interest Cost) rates that ranged from 2.578% to 2.395%; most lower bond rated municipalities typically only have two to three investing firms bidding on their bonds. Capital Markets Associates, the Town’s financial advisors provided the following after the sale. “The award of the bonds was made to the lowest bidder based on a calculation of the True Interest Cost (or the “TIC”). The TIC is essentially an average of the interest rates (or coupons) but also takes into account various other factors such as premium and the time value of money. For the Town recent Bond sale, FTN Financial Capital Markets was the lowest bidder at a TIC of 2.395%. The bid provided by FTN included coupons of 3.00% in each year the bonds will be outstanding. In addition, the bid included premium in the amount of $370,775.90. The premium represents additional money above the par amount of the bonds that will be provided at closing and then utilized by the Town to offset the cost of future year’s interest payments. Essentially at closing the Town will received the $8,321,325 it had request (the par amount of the bonds) + an additional $370,775.90 (the premium) to offset the cost of interest. Investors often bid premium in an effort to hedge their position on the bonds. The gross payment on the bonds is 3.00% which provides the investor(s) some flexibility in their ability to trade the bonds even if the markets move. For the Town, the premium payment creates a net cost of interest to ensure that they receive market rates as of the date the bonds priced.” Due to the Town’s AAA, the 2.395% (TIC) rate at which the 2019 bonds were issued, represent a substantial savings in comparison to municipalities that have lower ranges. Based on information provided by our financial advisors, recent bond issues by other municipalities in the area, with lower bond ratings, have issued bonds at rates between one half percent (0.50%) to three quarters of one percent (0.75%) higher than the rate that the Town sold its bonds; those higher interest rates represent between $350,000 to $525,000 a year in addition interest that the Town would not have to pay.
Additional hours for Beaver Dam Compost Facility As you may know, starting in January 2018, the Town Board increased the hours for resident access to the Beaver Dam Compost Facility, which processes the Town’s wood waste and leaves, and offers the opportunity for residents to drop off wood waste and leaves and pick up compost. There is no cost for residents’ use of these service.Extended hours areApril 13, 20, and 27 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PMMay 4 from 7:00 AM to 3:30 PMJune 1 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM With Spring clean-up and planting season here, you may find these services helpful. I encourage you to review the updated information by clicking on Beaver Dam Compost Facility on the Town’s website.
Update on Route 117 and Green Lane The Village of Mount Kisco, in conjunction with Con Ed, paved Green Lane on Wednesday 4/10. We thank them for completing this. Line striping will follow shortly. Work is moving forward to prepare for the paving of Route 117 south of Green Lane into Mount Kisco. Curb repair and replacement is scheduled to be completed by mid-May, with paving to occur once this is completed.
New Metro North SchedulesThe following message was sent to us fromMae Patel, Manager of Administration at Metropolitan Transportation Authority: Our new timetables effective April 14 on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines are designed to reflect more accurately how the railroad’s progressive infrastructure improvement plan affects train running times, resulting in more reliable, dependable and safe service for our customers. Most of our trains will have an adjusted schedule, anywhere from one minute, to in some cases such as the Connecticut branch lines, sixteen minutes. In designing this schedule, we took into account a busy infrastructure improvement schedule that includes upgrades to our infrastructure, continued Positive Train Control installation along our tracks and on our fleet, and the actual running times of trains. To learn how your train service is affected, you can also simply checkthe interactive scheduleon our schedules page or on ourTrainTime ® App to access the information directly on your phone. Click below for the updates to the schedules
KATONAH ART STROLLSaturday Evening April 274 to 8 pm Katonah is the place to be for inspiration! Immensely successful since its inception last April, the monthly Katonah Art Stroll returns to uplift and inspire. Live music, art demonstrations and refreshments throughout this idyllic Westchester town. Click here for more information.
Celebrate Earth DaySunday, April 2812 to 4pm
National Police Memorial Week Cub Pack 170 and the Bedford Boy Scoutsto honor Bedford Police Sgt. Thomas Wade April 27, 20193:00pm Bedford Police Station321 Bedford Rd. Bedford Hills
On Saturday April 27, 2019 at 3 p.m. Cub Scout Pack 170 , and Bedford Boy Scouts will recognize National Police Memorial week by honoring the memory of Bedford P.D. Sgt. Thomas Wade who made the ultimate sacrifice on May 9, 1925. The ceremony will feature the presentation of colors, lowering of US flag in Sgt. Wade’s memory, presentation of thank you cards to Police Officers by Scouts, police equipment , police antique cars ,and Police K-9 demonstration. Please join us
Highlights of the the April 2 Town Board Meeting Town of Bedford to Be Recognized for Fulfilling Gold Pledge – Zero Emission Vehicles
The New York League of Conservation Voters and Sustainable Westchester presented the Town with a Certificate of Recognition for achieving the Zero Emissions Vehicle Gold Pledge to purchase ZEVs for 10% of new light-duty fleet purchases by the end of 2020. NYLCV President Julie Tighe and Sustainable Westchester Executive Director Bob Elliot presented the Certificate and Ms. Tighe noted that Bedford was the first municipality in Westchester County to fulfill the pledge and did so a year and a half sooner than the challenge deadline. As I noted last week, the Town’s recent purchase of two 2019 Nissan Leafs enabled the Town to complete the Gold Pledge challenge following our purchase last year of an all-electric Chevy Bolt piggybacking a NYC contract.
April 1 Successful Launch of Plastic and Paper Bag Fee Following hard work on the part of the Reusable Bag Task Force in partnership with the grocery stores, Shoprite, DeCicco’s and Key Food, we find broad embrace of the program for a 10c fee on single use plastic or paper bags, with only a very small number of customers bristling at the new charges. We are still sorting out the new law to ban plastic bags adopted as part of the New York State budget which was adopted last week. Please note the following: It does not go into effect until March 2020 and until such time the Town’s law is in full force and effect.There is a provision to allow Counties and large cities to adopt a 5 cent fee on single use paper bags. We very much support such an action. It is unclear what the effect of such action would be for Bedford’s 10c fee and whether it would be pre-empted. You put the bags in your car, but did you bring them into the store?Grab your bags: Please be sure to put reusable bags into your car the next time you go shopping. Avoid the 10c fee for single use plastic or paper bags that goes into effect on April 1. We don’t want you to pay a dime!
New habits take time!Print out our itty bitty reminder tagand tape it to your cell phone, purse or in your car.
Board Tables Proposed Permit Requirementsfor Live Music & DJs Carrying over from the March 19 Town Board meeting, the Board held a public hearing on the proposal. The Board had received a petition requesting that the Board adopt the proposal. There were no members of the public who spoke at the hearing. The Board concluded that with the just adopted revisions to and clarification of the noise law (see below), the proposed permitting is not needed, because enforcement is far simpler and would be more effective. As such, the Board tabled the proposal, reserving the possibility of reviewing it further in work session at a later time.
Board Authorizes Issuance of Request for Proposal for Consultancy Services for Wireless Facilities The Board approved the recommendations of the Wireless Facilities Working Group for the issuance of an RFP for consultancy services, as presented by the advisory committee’s chairman, Joe Lombardo. The consultancy services will be to evaluate wireless communications needs of the Town, wireless facilities to meet such needs and where such facilities might be installed with the least impact on our residential neighborhoods. As mentioned, the Town needs expert advice from the Town’s own disinterested, objective and accurate consultant. The consultant also would serve the Planning Board in its review of the proposed cell tower on Hickory Lane and the proposed cell tower either at Petre Glass at 29 Haines Road or by the Town’s offices at 425 Cherry Street.
Board Appointments to Boards – Congratulations I am pleased to congratulate Michelle Petschak for their appointment to the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee and Andrea Mishel Alarcon to the Leaf Blowers Task Force, respectively. We wish to thank them for their willingness to lend their time and talent in serving the community.
Update on Status of Town’s Septic System Repair and Replacement Program I reported last week in my monthly report that the Septic System Repair and Replacement Program is temporarily suspended pending clarification and discussions with Westchester County, which controls the funding for the program. I am working assiduously with the County to secure the next installment of funding under the program and obtain the clarifications needed to enable us to reinstate the program. For those with concerns and questions, our County Legislator Kitley Covill has been working with me on a solution and has graciously offered to discuss the matter should you have a specific project underway and are affected. Kindly contact her at 995-2810 or email@example.com.
Vacancy on Tree Advisory Board The Town Board is accepting applications for a vacancy on the Tree Advisory Board. The Tree Advisory Board was established for the purpose of advising the Enforcement Officer, Building Inspector, Planning Board, Wetlands Control Commission, Town Board, Highway Department, Recreation Department and other agencies and offices of the Town on matters relating to the preservation, planting and removal of trees. The Board advises the Town on the health of trees, helps develop tree planting plans and plans and participates in Arbor Day activities. It is a 9-member board, with each member appointed to a 5-year term. The Board usually meets the 4th Thursday of the month at 425 Cherry Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room, in Bedford Hills. For the entire text of the Tree Preservation Ordinance, please go to General Code, Chapter 112. If you are interested in serving, please e-mail your resume with a cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. You also may mail it to me at Supervisor, 321 Bedford Road, Bedford Hills, New York 10507.
Bedford Fire District – Proposed Fire HouseVote on Referendum Set As I mentioned previously, a number of Bedford Village residents have contacted me regarding the proposal of the Bedford Fire District to construct a new fire house off of South Brook Road and Old Post Road (a/k/a Route 22) in Bedford Village. At the outset I should explain that the Town’s attorneys have determined that the Town has no approval authority over the proposed firehouse project because the Bedford Fire District is a local government entity under New Y ork law. The Bedford Fire District has posted a substantial amount of information regarding the proposed fire house which can be accessed at www.bedfordfire.com. The New Fire House Committee invites the public to send questions regarding the project to NFC@bedfordfire.comor call (91 4) 205- 6341 which are both dedicated to the project. The Bond ReferendumTuesday April 306:00am-9:00pmBV Fire House34 Village Green Bedford Village
Amendments to Noise Law Adopted The Town Board held public hearings on proposed amendments to the Town Code which were developed with our Police Department, Code Enforcement personnel, Town Clerk and Town attorneys, Keane & Beane, to eliminate inconsistencies in sections of the Town Code relating to noise disturbance. There were actually three hearings, two of which deleted provisions in the Town Code and the third which adopted the new provisions. In addition to intending to eliminate the inconsistencies, we also want the noise law to be fair and equitable. Based on decisions of the Town Justice Court, we need to clarify provisions pertaining to dog barking. The revisions in the included limitations on exemptions to the noise law. The following are key provisions of the amendments: To address the inconsistencies, the proposed amendments eliminate the provisions which are difficult to enforce regarding unreasonable or excessive barking and what constitutes a noise violation, and has replaced them with revised provisions to define “Noise Disturbance” and identify specific activities that are prohibited and specific activities that are exempt from the noise regulations. For enforcement purposes, it requires either sworn affidavits from two separate persons in two separate residences, direct observation by the enforcement officer or official, or that the noise level exceeds certain decibel levels as measured with a sound metering device. The revisions continue to permit the use of a sound metering dev ice as an alternative method of enforcement and sets specific decibel levels that cannot be exceeded in residential and nonresidential zones during day time and nighttime hours. The provisions were simplified. The law identifies a number of noise making activities that are generally exempt from the noise regulations. However, there are limitations with respect to many of these exemptions. In addition, a general provision has been included that the exempt activities cannot exceed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure levels for occupational noise exposure.
Update on Repaving Route 117 Public Works Commissioner Kevin Winn and I met on Friday, March 22 with representatives of the New York State Department of Transportation, Consolidated Edison and the Village of Mount Kisco. By way of background, Consolidated Edison replaced a gas line along the length of Route 117 from the start of the business district in Bedford Hills south into Mount Kisco. The replacement required digging up Route 117. The work was not completed in time for repaving last Fall leaving the road surface in poor condition. The Village of Mount Kisco also had to replace water mains under Route 117. As Route 117 is a New York State road, NYSDOT regulates the work on the road and specifies necessary restoration. NY SDOT has previously mandated, and Con Ed agreed to comply with, curb to curb restoration of the portion of 117 disturbed by Con Ed as part of two NY SDOT highway work permits. I called the meeting to confirm the project scope and ensure that the project is undertaken as promptly as possible this Spring. The outcome of the meeting: Con Edison confirmed that the restoration would be curb to curb (rather than only the southbound lane) running from Green Lane south to a bit short of Barker Street in Mt. Kisco To minimize disruption to the businesses and those traveling Route 117 during the day, work would be carried out from 8 PM to 6 AM The target dates are as follows, all dependent upon weather conditions and sufficiently high temperature to ensure proper curing: -Curb replacement and restoration to commence by April 15-Completion of curb replacement by April 30-Repaving to commence first week of May-Repaving completion by mid-May. With the objective of keeping on target, I have scheduled another meeting for late April with the representatives of Con Edison, NYSDOT and the Village of Mt. Kisco and their engineers. I will continue to keep the community apprised.
Post Script on the Hack Into Town’s Website The good news: no one’s personal information was at risk and no damage was done to the Town’s website. As I mentioned last week, all financial transactions with the Town are handled by third party pay ment processors to which any one wishing to do business with the Town is digitally referred. No confidential data is stored on the digital files operating our website nor on the Town’s servers. While our website security previously was quite good, we are making it more robust (at very modest additional expense).
DON’T BE A CRIME VICTIMLock Your Car In the past week The Town of Bedford Police Department has seen a dramatic rise in complaints from residents of Katonah regarding larcenies from unlocked motor vehicles in their driveways during the overnight hours. We remind you to secure your vehicles and do not leave valuables in your car. Remember: “If you see something, say something.” The Bedford Police Department operates 24/7/365. Please call 914-241-3111 immediately when you observe suspicious activity.
Vacancy on Traffic Safety Working GroupThe Town Board is accepting applications for a vacancy on the Traffic Safety Working Group. In 2014 the Town Board established the Traffic Safety Working Group to advise the Town Board for the following purposes: Promote and encourage street and highway traffic safety Formulate street and highway safety programs and coordinate efforts of interested parties and agencies engaged in traffic safety education Study traffic conditions on streets and highways, study and analyze reports of accidents and causes thereof, and recommend to the appropriate legislative bodies, departments or commissions such changes as deemed advisable in rules, orders, regulations and physical changes to the roadway, signage and other components of the roadway system Conduct meetings on a regular basis and invite to such meetings parties and agencies, public and private, interested in traffic regulation, control and safety Promote safety education for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians Obtain and assemble motor vehicle accident data, and analyze, study and consolidate such data to evaluate potential changes to the roadway system and for educational and informational purposes Coordinate and direct local activities related to the implementation of the state highway safety program, as approved by the governor or his designee Make reports/recommendations to the Town Board as necessary Provide a sustained and systematic mechanism and clearing house for considering concerns about traffic safety
REMINDER FROM THE TAX ASSESSORS OFFICE:2019 Exemption Filing DeadlinesFor the 2019 Tentative Assessment Roll, the exemption filing deadline for all new or renewal exemption applications is May 1st 2019.Important Notice for Property Owners Age 65 and Over New STAR requirements for 2019 To receive the Enhanced STAR exemption, you must enroll in the Income Verification Program (IVP). If you’re already enrolled in IVP, no action is needed If you qualify for the Low Income Senior Citizens exemption, you will no longer automatically receive the Enhanced STAR exemption. You must apply for Enhanced STAR separately For general information or questions on your existing exemptions, please contact the Town of Bedford Assessor’s office at (914)-666-5149 or emailAssessor@bedfordny.govAdditional information can be obtained at the New York State Department of Tax & Finance website at www.tax.ny.gov
Dirt Roads From time to time especially during spring thaw, some residents ask me why we don’t pave our dirt roads. There also is the mistaken assumption that dirt roads are more expensive than paved roads. I’d like to share with you some considerations. The Town owns and maintains 33 miles of dirt roads, which are part of the Town’s charm and rustic character. However, by their nature dirt roads provide a lesser level of service than a paved road The annual cost of regular maintenance of dirt roads is higher than that for paved roads, however, this comparison does not consider the cost of paving. We now spend $1.3 million each year on paving approximately eight miles of the Town’s 97 miles of paved roads. When factoring in paving costs, the cost of our dirt roads and paved roads is about equal The Town has a long standing policy to preserve and protect dirt roads as integral to the semirural character of Bedford. This policy is carried in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. “Strategy 8: Dirt Roads: It is the policy of the Town to avoid paving the existing dirt roads.”… “These roads sustain Bedford’s rural character and serve as an effective traffic calming technique.” It also is stated that the Town should “maintain dirt roads rather than pave them.” Many of the Town’s large estates which maintain horses front dirt roads. Dirt roads are gentler on horses’ feet than paved roads. Many horses do not have strong enough feet to withstand the pounding on hard roads. Paved roads can also aggravate hoof problems. Converting dirt roads to paved roads might lead to the disappearance of the horse farms and subdivision of the properties Even should the Town determine to change its policy, the cost of converting dirt roads to paved roads considerably exceeds the cost of our regular resurfacing of existing paved roads. Converting a road from dirt to asphalt would require drainage improvements and four to six inches of asphalt. In addition, regulations of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection would require that the Town secure a stormwater permit for paving more than one acre of dirt roads. Meeting the stormwater permit requirements may entail installing catch basins, filtering mechanism and other drainage systems to attenuate the velocity and run-off from paved surfaces. For these reasons, over the years the Town Board has not considered it appropriate to pave our dirt roads. As noted in last week’s newsletter, we recognize that winter wreaks the greatest havoc on our roads. This is most evident with the spring thaw and with it mud season, which is most damaging to our dirt roads. It’s typically one of the most challenging seasons for our crews in maintaining the dirt roads. The Town frequently maintains and inspects all our roads and the most in late winter and throughout the spring. We will be working as promptly as we can to restore our roads to good condition – though of course, if we are hit with a late season snow storm, snow removal operations will take precedence to provide safe travel. While we ask that you be patient with us given the difficulty of the maintenance, we do encourage you to please bring to our attention potholes or other issues which you feel need attention. Please call our Pothole Hotline at 666-7669 or feel free to contact me at 666-6530 or Supervisor@ bedfordny.gov. For potholes on the NYS roads traversing the Town (Routes 22, 117, 121, 137 and 172) please call NYS’s pothole line at 1-800-POTHOLE. We appreciate your understanding and patience.
Proposed Cell Tower at Petre Glass or 425 Cherry StreetProcess Following the Balloon Tests As those following this newsletter are aware, Homeland Towers has proposed a cell tower at 21 Haines Road (Petre Glass) or in the alternative 425 Cherry Street. One of the first steps in the process are balloon tests at the sites to assess visual impact of the tower. The balloon tests were performed last Saturday, March 9: two at the potential locations at 425 Cherry Street – one right by the town building at the north end and the second at the south end of the property at the end of the parking lot and the third was at 21 Haines Road. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday morning driving around to assess view impacts which are different for all three potential sites. I’d like to mention a few points for the understandably anxious and highly concerned residents who may be affected. Federal law – the Federal Communication Act and orders of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) leave very little authority to municipalities in their review of applications for wireless facilities. If the applicant proves that there is a deficiency in cell service and that the site which is proposed is the least obtrusive, then the municipality is hard pressed not to approve the application. The extent of the authority then is limited to “site plan review” such as the design, screening, tweaking location and similar matters Planning Board members provided instructions to Homeland Towers on the balloon tests, location of photographs to attempt to capture the visual impact Homeland Towers had engaged a professional photographer with experience and training in taking the photographs The next steps (and the FCC has recently expanded what constitutes a need) There also are trade-off If on town property, we have more control of the tower site and the tower operation than if on a private site. Although the Town would receive rental income from town property, the Town Board is far more interested in minimizing impact than in getting revenue. With a tower on Town property we’d get a berth for police department and other emergency communications equipment at the top of the tower. Then again, there are folks who will see a tower at 425 but won’t see it at Petre. Folks who live on Haines (especially the condos at 51 Haines) will see Petre very nearby, but not the tower sites at 425. The Town Board needs to balance the visual impacts, long term advantages to emergency services and impact on property owners. No decisions will be made any time soon. It will be months, not weeks. Based on prior balloon tests, we had anticipated that it would take three months for Homeland Towers to submit its visual impact analysis to the Town. Homeland Towers president mentioned to me in a call earlier this week, however, that they may submit the visual analysis report to the Planning Board within three weeks. The Town will engage an independent, dispassionate consultant to review all of Homeland’s submissions. Under federal law the Planning Board will need to act upon Homeland’s application within 120 twenty days (this period is referred to as the “shotclock”). The shotclock does not begin to run until the application is complete. Without the visual impact analysis the application is incomplete. There will be ample opportunity for public input, including public hearings. I would like to thank Sarah Sheeleigh Jeffers for initiating an excellent community conversation on the Katonah Parents Facebook Group regarding the balloon tests and Homeland Tower’s proposal. I also thank those who are posing their questions and concerns. Be assured that the Town Board and Planning Board is listening intently.
REMINDER: Leaf Blower Use Limitations OFF SEASON LIMITATIONS FOR USE OF LEAF BLOWERSGO INTO EFFECT MAY 15, 2019. In accordance with the local law adopted by the Town Board on June 19, 2018 the use of gas-powered leaf blowers is prohibited on certain designated streets (link to hamlet zone list) in the Town’s hamlets. In addition, town-wide hours of permitted use are set. These limitations are part of a wider initiative to promote cleaner, quieter methods of landscaping and property maintenance, while still enabling property owners to maintain their lawns and grounds well. The Town is also launching an education campaign for residents and landscapers about healthy yard practices, and collaborating with landscapers regarding electric equipment options.
This law is very much in keeping with emerging trends across Westchester and the country at large in response to the health and environmental benefits of reducing the pollution and noise caused by gas-powered blowers and leaf blowers in general.
Pictured above are members of the HeatSmart Team, representing Bedford 2020, Lewisboro Sustainability Committee, Pound Ridge Energy Action Committee with Bedford Town Supervisor Chris Burdick, Lewiboro Town Supervisor Peter Parsons, Pound Ridge Town Supervisor Kevin Hansan.
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Work Session – Sewer Project The Town Board met with Ken Kohlbrenner with Woodard & Curran, the engineering consultants for the Town on the sewer project, Director of Planning Jeff Osterman and Public Works Commissioner Kevin Winn to discuss the sewer project. First, I provided an update on the status of the ex isting project, which we’re referring to as Phase I. As you know, the launch of the project hinges on the registration of the Intergov ernmental Agreement (IGA) between the Town and New Y ork City . The IGA is the source of $1 3.3 million in funding for the project, so it’s essential that it be in place. The registration process began in June of last y ear. It’s a long process. At one point we thought it might be completed in January , but it has taken longer and likely will not be completed until late Spring/early Summer this y ear. Following registration of the IGA, we would go out to bid, however the Summer is the high season for bidding projects and so doesn’t place us in an ideal competitiv e env ironment. We also do not want to disrupt the business districts with construction in November or December. As such, the anticipated project schedule now is as follows: • Complete design, regulatory approval, and IGA – August 201 9• Receive bids for Construction Work – November 201 9• Start Construction – Spring 2020• Complete Construction – Fall 2021
As we’ve discussed, given the lengthy process for implementation of the sewer project, last Fall we decided we should explore the next phase (Phase II) andbeyond for sewers for Bedford Hills and Katonah. That led to a PreliminaryEngineering Report which Woodard & Curran prepared. Phase IIcenters on Bedford Lake Apartments/Lakeside at Bedford off of Haines Road, because it is the last of the DEP upgrade sites. Our recent meeting with DEP was encouraging that DEP is quite interested in hav ing the Town proceed with an “alternative upgrade” connecting those apartments to the sewer system and providing the Town the funds it otherwise would have spent on a new wastewater treatment plant for the apartments and discounted to presentvalue cost of operation and maintenance of the plant. The Woodard & Curran report made it clear that connecting to the County sewer district through Mt. Kisco was not only logistically difficult with multiple entities’ approval required, but also much more expensive than a modest expansion of the capacity of the capacity of the wastewater treatment plantthat the Departments of Corrections and Community Superv ision will convey to the Town. We discussed options that the Town might consider for sewers, recognizing that there needs to be property owner support which ev entually would take the form of a v ote on a referendum based on costs to the owners (both the cost of connecting as well the annual sewer rent). The Board asked staff to prepare a survey to property owners on certain residential streets with known septic issues or which may hav e septic issues arise. Phase II District Summary Phase II Draft Survey Questions
Update on I-684 Earlier today I testified at a special State Senate hearing in White Plains on public transportation. On February 8 I had also testified to present the resolutions of the Bedford Town Board urging the New York State legislature to provide funding for the repaving of the 1.5 mile portion of I-684 which runs through Katonah. As so many are acutely aware, the Town of Bedford for over 20 years has beseeched the State to pave this short portion of roadway, the original concrete roadbed and the only portion of all of I-684 which has not been paved in fifty years when it first was constructed. [Link to testimony]. I urge you to keep up the calls, e-mails and letters to our representatives urging them to pave this dangerously deteriorated portion of the highway. See below under “Special November 8 Town Board Work Session on I-684” for contact information and thank you for pressing to get this done.
February 26 Planning Board MeetingBalloon Tests for Proposed Cell Tower As I’ve mentioned previously, Homeland Towers, a cell tower developer whose customers include Verizon and AT&T, has proposed a cell tower at the Petre Glass property at 29 Haines Road or in the alternative at the Town’s nearby property at 425 Cherry Street. A tower at the Town’s property would eliminate the need for the one proposed at 29 Haines Road and the Police Department would be provided the highest on the tower for upgraded emergency wireless communications equipment for which it is in need. The Planning Board will review the application for the Petre Glass site, because it is on private property, and the Town Board will review the application for the 425 Cherry Street site. As those following cell tower proposals are aware, the Town has very limited authority regarding the siting of cell towers due to federal law pre-emptions (see discussion below). The first step in a municipality’s consideration of the siting of a cell tower is to set balloon tests, a standard test which the Planning Board requires to help assess the suitability of particular sites. A balloon test is conducted by floating orange or red balloons that are at the height needed for the proposed cell tower. The test will give the community a perspective of the visual impact of the proposed tower. On February 5, the Town Board, with the concurrence of the Planning Board, set the balloon tests for all three locations (one on the Petre site and two at 425 Cherry), for Saturday, March 2, 2019 with a rain/snow date of Sunday, March 3, 2019. The Planning Board will set the standards for the balloon tests at its February 26 meeting. The meeting will be held at 8:00pmThe Conference Room-2nd Floor425 Cherry Street Bedford Hills, NY 10507 You are encouraged to attend and voice your comments regarding the balloon tests. Please note that balloon tests regardingGuard Hill have been canceled.
Federal Law Overrides Town Law The Town of Bedford is governed by federal law. Federal Law overrides local law. In December 2018, the Town Board amended its local law on applications for large wireless facilities and small wireless facilities in order to take into account the Federal Communication Act and new rules and regulations of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). The FCC has ruled that it is a federal matter and not a local matter whether a particular cell tower is safe; that it does not emit radiation or that it does not pose a safety hazard. This is because the Federal Communications Act has determined that is a federal responsibility. Municipalities are preempted from denying a cell tower application due to health, safety and radiation reasons. In other words, if a municipality wishes to deny an application for a cell tower, it may only due so on narrow land use concerns. If the applicant establishes certain facts, including deficient service with no viable, less intrusive, alternative location, then the municipality has little choice in the matter. The new Town law also provides new tools to the Town to help protect residential areas of Town.
A Community Solar Opportunity forBedford’s NYSEG Customers I received an email recently regarding an invitationto qualified Bedford residents:
Dear Chris: Bedford 2020 has been given the opportunity to identify a small group of households to participate in a community solar project. This opportunity is only for residents who do not already have rooftop solar and who live in NYSEG territory. If you are a NYSEG customer, you may qualify.Community Solar brings the benefits of solar power to your home without your having to install solar panels on your roof or property. The panels are sited at another location in the community. In this case, the array is located on a local horse farm in North Salem and is big enough to provide power for about 15 households.
Bedford 2020 has been given the opportunity to identify a small group of households to participate in a community solar project. This opportunity is only for residents who do not already have rooftop solar and who live in NYSEG territory. If you are a NYSEG customer, you may qualify.Community Solar brings the benefits of solar power to your home without your having to install solar panels on your roof or property. The panels are sited at another location in the community. In this case, the array is located on a local horse farm in North Salem and is big enough to provide power for about 15 households. By participating, you will be supporting local, clean energy and seeing guaranteed savings on your electricity bill (of up to 5%) each and every month. You will also have the ability to cancel at any time with no penalty and no upfront costs. Signing up is as easy as uploading a utility bill and signing a short agreement. Click here to sign up, or call Nick directly at PowerMarket: 203.247.809, or email him at email@example.com. We are excited to offer Bedford 2020 supporters a chance to participate in this exciting renewable energy project. If you think you may qualify, please take action ASAP to find out more about this opportunity. Spots are limited! -Bedford 2020
After Hours Rules for Commuter Lots Town of Bedford Residents that do not have a commuter parking permit are allowed to park for free in the commuter lots Monday to through Thursday from 6:00 pm to 5:00 provided that they have a resident parking decal. Parking is free on weekends to everyone starting on Fridays at 6:00 pm and on the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Beaver Dam Yard Waste and Compost Facility The Town of Bedford Beaver Dam Compost Facility processes recyclable wood waste and leaves from the Town and provides beneficial reuse of the waste as compost and mulch. The facility provides an extremely cost effective method for this recycling as well as an environmental benefit of local recycling with minimal transportation requirements. It is open for residents to dispose of recyclable wood waste (logs and branches up to 6” diameter, brush, and leaves), as well as pick up wood mulch and leaf compost. This service is free to Town of Bedford residents between 7:30 AM and 3:00 PM Monday to Friday, excluding Town holidays.
A regular reader of this weekly newsletter asked why I repeat certain posts from week to week. I do so because not everyone reads my newsletter on a weekly basis, much information provided remains relevant and I wish to continue to alert the community about it. In response to the comment, however, you will see that I’ve divided the newsletter into two sections “New Posts” and “Continuing Posts”. Both sections are relevant and, I believe, worthy of review. I wish to thank readers for making suggestions and comments; over the years, I’ve not only changed format but added content based on them(for example, why the flags are flown at half-staff.
Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, says, “After dropping dramatically in late March, mortgage rates have modestly increased since then. While this week marks the third consecutive week of rises, purchase activity reached a nine-year high – indicative of a strong spring homebuying season.”
30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.17 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending April 18, 2019, up from last week when it averaged 4.12 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.47 percent.
15-year FRM this week averaged 3.62 percent with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.60 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.94 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.
The burgeoning iBuying industry is giving smaller companies a chance to challenge the housing market’s behemoth: Zillow Group.
That’s according to a new report by Mike DelPrete, a real estate strategist who compared companies like Opendoor, which purchased more than 10,000 homes to renovate and sell in 2018, with Zillow, which bought fewer than 1,000. The term iBuyer stands for “instant buyer,” meaning companies that make cash offers for homes.
“Zillow has been the clear market leader, and there was no credible threat that could unseat it from its powerful position. However, the entry of iBuyers with a service that made instant offers on a home – online – was novel and compelling, just like the Zestimate in 2006.”
DelPrete, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, said getting a cash offer from an iBuyer is even better than Zestimate.
“What better way to value your home than an actual offer?”
What DelPrete’s report overlooks is Zillow’s deep pockets and its five-year plan to dominate the iBuying space. The company bought 686 homes in seven markets last year after starting Zillow Offers in April 2018, according to regulatory filings. The company plans to double its footprint to 14 cities by the end of 2019, and in five years it plans to purchase 5,000 properties a month, according to its fourth quarter report.close dialogStay ahead of the market withDaily UpdateAround the clock coverage and information about the US mortgage and housing industrySign UpNo thanks
Most impressively, Zillow has $1 billion worth of firepower. It has expanded credit facilities to support growth in the iBuyer space.
“Zillow Group now has $1 billion of maximum borrowing capacity to support Zillow Offers’ rapid growth in 2019 and beyond,” the company said in its quarterly report.
Other iBuyers such as Opendoor and Offerpad also have plans to dominate. Last month, Opendoor raised $300 million while Offerpad announced a cash infusion that brought its total capital raise to nearly $1 billion. There are also aggregators like HomeLight and Offer Depot that collect and compare offers from iBuyers.
But Zillow remains the one to beat.
“We changed the way people shop for homes and now we’re transforming the transaction,” said Zillow spokesman Viet Shelton, when asked to comment on DelPrete’s report. “Zillow is already the starting point for most Americans’ home shopping experiences, and no matter how you end up selling your house, Zillow can help you.”
Last week, Zillow announced the launch of its own mortgage lender, Zillow Home Loans, a rebranding and expansion of Mortgage Lenders of America, a company it bought in November. In its February report to investors, it said it wants to originate more than 3,000 loans a month within three to five years, and have a 33% “attach rate” for people who sell their homes to Zillow. In other words, Zillow Offers, in addition to buying homes for cash, will funnel “move up” buyers to the company’s mortgage segment to fund their next home purchase.
Zillow founder and CEO Rich Barton said in a radio interview on April 1st that he sees Zillow Offers as an evolution of Zestimates. In fact, at some point in the future, a Zestimate and a cash offer may be the same thing, he said in an appearance on National Public Radio.
“Ideally, I would like to have the Zestimate be a live offer on every home in the country,” said Barton, adding, “It will take quite some time to get there.”
With the passage of the state budget and the long-awaited and hard-fought approval of congestion pricing for Manhattan, New Yorkers worn down by endless subway delays and clogged city streets may see some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Congestion pricing, after all, has been promised as the silver bullet that will fix the subway and free Manhattan from the endless sea of cars that clog streets, crowding out pedestrians and polluting our air.
Advocates fighting for a traffic pricing plan have promised the world. A fee for cars entering Manhattan will clear the borough of crippling congestion while guaranteeing funding for Andy Byford’s comprehensive Fast Forward plan to fix New York City’s subways and buses. The dollars will unlock billions in capital spending, and limiting traffic will clear up the city’s air at a time when the catastrophic global impact of constant carbon emissions could not be more clear. (Or so the argument goes.)
But passing congestion pricing was just the first battle in a longer war, and for congestion pricing to be a success—for it to solve the problems it is supposed to solve—the next 21 months will be key as the MTA’s new Traffic Mobility Review Board develops the details of the plan, including any exemptions for those who drive into Manhattan but do not have to pay the fee. Congestion pricing will live or die by these carve-outs—and the board must ignore any political drum-beating related to them.
As I wrote in these pages last summer, congestion pricing is a progressive solution for New York City’s transit funding woes. Drivers in the city are wealthier than transit riders, and imposing a fee on them for access to limited road space to fund transit—whose benefits are enjoyed by millions in NYC—is the very definition of a progressive charging plan. But the benefits will take a few years to materialize. Fixing the subways—installing modern signal systems so that more trains can run through 100-year-old tunnels with fewer delays—is a multi-year (or multi-decade) fix, while congestion pricing will become a reality within the next two years. To successfully introduce congestion pricing, the MTA will roll out transit upgrades before the fee goes into effect, including more bus service and bus lanes, but in the near-term, drivers will face a new tax while high-capacity transit upgrades will be years away. And they won’t be happy.
As a rule, popularity for congestion pricing hits a valley in the period between approval and implementation as the narratives focus on fees rather than results. In recent polls, congestion pricing is already under water by 13 percentage points, and politicians may try to drive up approval numbers by kowtowing to groups seeking exemptions. But for New York City to experience the benefits of congestion pricing, politicians will have to provide cover for an initially unpopular plan.
Since the legislation authorizing congestion pricing punted on the details, special interests are going to push hard to shape the plan. To develop the details of a pricing scheme, the state mandated the MTA to charge for entry to Manhattan south of 60th Street beginning in 2021 and dictated how the pricing plan would be established. A six-panel Traffic Mobility Review Board with appointees from the city and the areas served by Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road will recommend tolling amounts with a variable pricing structure, including any carve-outs or exemptions, to generate enough revenue to fund $15 billion in MTA capital spending between 2020-2024.
Yet Albany imposed some legislative limitations from the outset. Cars that enter the congestion pricing zone via the West Side Highway or FDR Drive and never exit those roads onto local streets will not be charged. Additionally, emergency vehicles and those vehicles transporting people with disabilities are exempt from the fee, and Manhattan residents who live within the so-called Central Business District and who make less than $60,000 per year will be exempted from the fee. Plus, the fee will be levied only once per day, so cars that repeatedly enter and exit the congestion pricing zone will not be charged multiple times. The remainder of the exemptions will be in the hands of the review board, and that’s where the fight will be.
Already, this battle is playing out in predictable and noisy ways. Take, for instance, State Senator James Sanders, a Democrat who represents the 10th district, who wants to have his cake and eat it too. The Senator represents parts of South Ozone Park, Jamaica, and the Far Rockaways, and very few of his constituents drive into the Manhattan central business district on a daily basis. In fact, according to an analysis of Census data conducted by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Sanders’ constituents in Queens are overwhelmingly notdriving into Manhattan. Only around 21 percent of workers in his district head into Manhattan every day, and of those commuters, a whopping 84 percent use the subways, the Long Island Rail Road, or buses. TSTC reports that just 3.1 percent of Sanders’ commuting constituents drive or take taxis into Manhattan south of 60th Street while nearly 50 percent are daily transit users.
Yet after voting for congestion pricing, Sanders is aiming to water down the plan. In a newsletter sent to constituents, Sanders stated that “more work needs to be done to lessen the impact on Queens’ motorists commuting into Manhattan, south of 60th Street.” Charitably, this could be read as a call to include more transit options for his constituents, but “lessen the impact” usually means create carve-outs so fewer people have to pay. This is, of course, self-defeating.
As congestion pricing guru Charles Komanoff detailed recently, even seemingly small carve-outs that exempt just 10 percent of all vehicles entering the pricing zone from the fee have a deep impact. Revenue declines by $100 million per year, and time savings from decreased congestion shrink by seven percent based off of his modeling for New York congestion pricing. Those benefits from the plan are precarious and can disappear in the amount of time it takes to exclude enough cars.
Queens isn’t the only source of lobbying for exemptions. The mayor has constantly pushed for what he calls “hardship exemptions” and has spent years creating the strawman argument out of New Yorkers who he thinks drive in great numbers to hospitals on Manhattan’s East Side. Without acknowledging the thousands of city residents who take subways and buses to their doctors each day, the mayor wants exemptions from medical-bound drivers. Meanwhile, commercial truckers who stand to benefit the most from increased productivity due to clearer streets want to avoid the fee, as do New Jersey politicians, tour bus operators, and motorcycle clubs. Who will pay if everyone gets an exemption?
Amid growing concerns about housing affordability, the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) weekly mortgage applications survey show a surge in home refinancing, a week-to-week increase of 39% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The increase is contemporaneous with the fourth consecutive week of mortgage rates’ declining. Despite the widespread decrease in mortgage rates, changes in purchasing activity (i.e., purchases on new or existing homes) were not as sensitive to the drop as were applications to refinance.
The last 20 years’ data of the MBA’s Purchasing and Refinancing Indexes show that refinancing activity of homes is often volatile. In early 2000, refi and purchase applications were almost the same but, the refinancing index climbed to multiples of the purchasing index over the next few years. The current period shows this divergence, as higher levels than the current level of refinancing had not been seen since late 2016.
The data also show that purchase applications are almost 10% higher than they were a year ago, that refinance applications are 58% higher on a year-over-year basis, and that, combined, both purchase and refi applications are almost 30% higher than they were a year ago. Despite the tight lending environment of 2019, as anticipated by banks’ senior loan officers in the Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey, the data show a rise in applications on a year-to-date and year-over-year basis, which may partially offset tighter lending standards. The mortgage applications for purchase index is usually a leading indicator for forthcoming home sales, but the latter may be conflated by other factors, such as all-cash sales. The prior few months’ data lean less to such a conclusion, as the upward trend of the purchase index in January 2019 was subsequently followed up by increases in new and existing home sales in February.
In Rancho Mirage, California, a tired 1960s house is completely transformed with new features and materials that blend midcentury charm with contemporary taste.
Despite a 1984 remodel, the desert midcentury that a couple recently purchased as their vacation home near Palm Springs had long suffered signs of aging with outdated finishes, deferred maintenance, and ill-proportioned rooms. Eager to breathe new life into the 1960s dwelling, the homeowners looked to Seattle–based Stuart Silk Architects for a gut renovation to bring their holiday home to modern standards.
“Our clients wanted to create an updated, midcentury modern home that isn’t too modern,” the architects explain of the project, dubbed Thunderbird Heights. “Our goal was to capture the feel of a home that could have been built in the 1950s but also has elements of today. We wanted to integrate fresh ideas alongside design elements popular in the 1950s in Southern California.”
Starting with a reconfiguration of the entire floor plan, the architects removed and replaced “90 percent” of the original house with new construction; most of the existing foundation and roof structure were reused.
Thermally broken windows replaced all original glazing while large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass were installed to open the home up to greater natural light and views of the outdoors.
Further enhancing the indoor/outdoor living experience are two new open-air terraces attached to the living room and kitchen. To accommodate a growing family, the architects also added an extra bedroom for a total of five bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms.
Midcentury influences abound in the updated architecture, from the home’s long horizontal forms and flat roof to custom-made details like the geometrically inspired entrance door and metal screens.
Yet the home is far from a 1960s time capsule. Blending together midcentury elements, contemporary surfaces, and the couple’s individual tastes, Thunderbird Heights has a vivacious character that’s uniquely its own.