Daily Archives: February 24, 2010

Well this is ironic, but no fun

Trainer: It's what's for dinner!

Trainer eaten by killer whale Shamu during “Dine with Shamu” exhibition at Sea World.

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British health care

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman has denounced those who question the quality of British health care, calling them liars.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.

The Times of London begs to disagree.

Patients were routinely neglected or left “sobbing and humiliated” by staff at an NHS trust where at least 400 deaths have been linked to appalling care.

An independent inquiry found that managers at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust stopped providing safe care because they were preoccupied with government targets and cutting costs.

Staff shortages at Stafford Hospital meant that patients went unwashed for weeks, were left without food or drink and were even unable to get to the lavatory. Some lay in soiled sheets that relatives had to take home to wash, others developed infections or had falls, occasionally fatal. Many staff did their best but the attitude of some nurses “left a lot to be desired”.

Krugman also has opinions, equally as accurate and valuable, on how to run our economy.

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Without Instapundit, I’d miss half the fun

I mean, would you believe me if I just posted this? Of course not, but Instapundit has the links. Reporter fired for believing that he could write objective news reports.

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News. It just wasn’t the right fit.

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Harry Reid: we’ll encourage tourism by taxing it!

Democrats see a problem and know the solution:create a new agency and then enact  higher taxes. Harry Reid predicts this will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and, using ObamaMath, no doubt it will.

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Get your shovel ready but …

NOAA’s meteorologist is leaning towards snow, but hedging his (or her) bets for Greenwich, because we’re right on the line between rain and snow.

BEFORE THEN THOUGH THINGS ARE TRICKY. BASED ON THE ABOVE...EXPECT
A RAIN/SNOW MIX OVER NYC METRO THURSDAY MORNING TO QUICKLY
TRANSITION TO ALL SNOW...WITH ONLY SNOW TO THE IMMEDIATE NORTH
AND WEST. JUST TO THE EAST IT APPEARS THAT FAIRFIELD COUNTY AND
FAR EASTERN NASSAU COUNTY/WESTERN SUFFOLK COUNTY WILL BE THE MAIN
BATTLE GROUND FOR RAIN VS SNOW FROM THURSDAY INTO THURSDAY
NIGHT...WITH MAINLY RAIN FURTHER EAST. IT IS THEN EXPECT COLDER AIR
WORKING IN ALOFT TO WIN OUT AND TRANSITION ALL AREAS TO SNOW
DURING THE DAY ON FRIDAY.

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More on P&Z

A letter from another professional (his comments are in blue):

Just wanted to let you know that P and Z is up to another round of reactionary shotgun Zoning.
Their latest targets are banks, real estate offices, r-6 zones and dog groomers. Trying to regulate free trade and prevent unapproved downtown condos to the general detriment of property owners and property values at the same time increasing their discretion through 4 more “Special Permit” uses. They will be discussing the proposals at the 3/9 meeting but no additional public input, and may adopt them then.

The next wave of proposed changes are to include total allowable coverage which would include buildings, walks drives and patios. This will make the FAR changes look like a minor devaluation of value and probably make almost every property in Town non-conforming.

Notice is hereby given that the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a Public Hearing on Tuesday, February 23 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room at 101 Field Point Road to hear and decide regulations amendments per the Building Zone Regulations.

PROPOSED ZONING AMENDMENTS (Words in bold to be added , strike-thrus to be deleted)

Staff is recommending that all Banks and Bank drive-ins require a special permit and site plan review from the Commission based on the issues raised at prior meetings on applications received within the past few years and the comments by neighborhood residents. Residents have stated that banks are not local banks anymore but national banks serving a larger trade area than the immediate neighborhood and thus they create adverse traffic impacts upon the neighborhood, take away local businesses used more frequently by neighborhood residents, and break up the retail streetscape pattern and foot traffic needed to support the local neighborhood businesses. Requiring a special permit would allow off site issues ( such as traffic) to be analyzed by the Commission as well as ensuring that the local business zones continue to provide a variety of goods and services to serve the local neighborhood residents and do not end up as bank zones only.

Add new bolded language:

6-5 (3.1)-Bank shall mean….. Federal Government of Ct. Dept of Banking. Bank locations are subject to site plan and special permit approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission

(3.2) Bank –Drive In shall mean any ….A Bank Drive In is permitted only as an accessory use to a principal bank use and structure on the same site and is subject to site plan and special permit approvals from the Planning and Zoning Commission. The terms drive –in,drive up and drive thru. And similar variations shall be synonymous.

SEC 6- 100 ADD TO USE GROUPS 1, 4, AND 8

BANKS-(INCLUDING DRIVE-INS) WHEN AUTHORIZED BY SPECIAL PERMIT

USE GROUP 4-

DRIVE IN BANKS – when authorized by Special Permit.

USE GROUP 8 ( delete strike-thru )

Banks (not including drive –in banks) (Note A )

Comment:This is a reactionary change prompted by the proliferation of bank branches particularly in Cos Cob and could be considered a manipulation of free trade. In reality a branch bank probably has less traffic than a similarly sized retail business especially considering the volume of online banking. The initial argument of national vs local does not really hold up for three reasons; One is that savings banks have in their charter that they must “give back” to the community. Two is that you can’t argue that a bank is not serving the local population when they have 3 or 4 branches in the same town, three is that the same argument can be made for Starbucks, Dominoes Pizza and Subway etc. because they are regional chains as well.

For Commercial Brokers this is yet another use which can’t be determined by meeting the regulations. Special Permit uses become discretionary rather than by right, so even if all site plan standards are met the project can be denied. This puts property owners and prospective tenants in a costly and time consuming process with undetermined outcome.

Staff is recommending this new definition to allow review of conversions from one type of drive thru-drive up use to another drive-up use. It is to preclude more intense uses with greater parking and queuing needs (such as a fast foot restaurant or retail convenience store ) from automatically taking over another existing drive-thru establishment (such as a bank) .

NEW DEFINITION

6-5

(13.1) Drive In, Drive Thru Establishments-Conversion from one Drive thru-Drive in establishment to another type of Drive thru establishment requires site plan and special permit approval. This includes Fast Food establishments, banks and other types of uses with drive ups.

Comment: This assumes that the Planning and Zoning Commission has the ability to subjectively predetermine the popularity of an incoming business rather that to have objective standards that, once met, allow a particular use to continue. See Special Permit discussion above.

Staff is recommending these changes to exclude uses that function more as office uses and do not function as retail sales uses. Preserving continuity of store frontages for retail trade and sales is critical for the shopping convenience of residents in local neighborhoods in the LBR zones and the CGBR zone downtown. These Retail zones are intended for retail shopping purposes and where goods are purchased or eating establishments serve the town and neighborhood residents. Offices of real estate, employment, insurance or travel firms are not dependent upon foot traffic of customers and can and do function as typical office uses, with many employees who require parking spaces for all day parking with no turnover of parking spaces for customers.

Sec 6-103- LBR Zones

(E) Ground Floor Uses 

Except for access to and egress from upper floor permitted uses, uses on the ground floor shall be limited to uses listed in Use Group 8, except for Sales Agencies of real estate employment, insurance or travel Firms which are not permitted on first floor of the LBR zones . These uses are considered office uses and not retail uses. Other Use Group 8 uses shall occupy……

Sec 6- 103.1- CGBR zone

(B) Ground Floor Uses

Except for access to and egress from upper floor permitted uses, uses on the ground floor shall be limited to uses listed in Use Group 1 except for sales agencies of real estate, employment, insurance or travel firms which are not permitted on first floor of the CGBR zone and only on the upper floors if parking is provided on site since these uses are considered office uses and not retail uses. Other Use Group 1 uses shall occupy…..

Comment: These uses are already prohibited in the LBR Zone on the first floor.

The second part of this regulation effectively prohibits these uses from Greenwich Avenue since there is no mention of parking relief between front and rear building lines and it does mention requiring on site parking. Additionally an argument can be made that forcing these uses to go above street level will not decrease parking demand or parking turnover. The most detrimental part of this regulation relates to the lack of choice and the increase of Landlord control over new lease negotiations. Any firm currently occupying a first floor space in one of these zones would not have many options when considering lease renewal.

Staff is recommending this change in the R-6 zone to address issues of appropriate size and scale of new development in R-6 neighborhoods, require adequate on site drainage systems and sufficient parking on site ,landscaping and open space while providing additional housing opportunities on lots in the R-6 zone that lend themselves to conversion to an additional dwelling.This change was recommended in the 2009 POCD.

Sec 6-98- Use Regulations for R-6 , Multi family and RMF zones

a) (1) All uses permitted in the R-7 zone. Delete and a 2 family dwelling

(2) The following Uses as Special Permit uses ….

(A) The building of a two family dwelling, conversion from a single family to a 2 family dwelling, addition or alteration to a single family dwelling to create a two family dwelling , the building of one or more multi-family dwellings ……..

Comment: This change (AKA the Albert Orlando regulation), has a significant negative effect on the creation of affordable housing and is creating discretionary standards in a situation where clear and specific standards already exist. Size is dictated by FAR, parking is dictated by parking standards and drainage requires zero additional runoff by Town engineering standards.

The real issue, is that there is a loophole in the R-6 regulations that allows a developer to assemble multiple lots build a 2 family, by right, on each lot, create cross easements for drives and parking, create an association and, in effect, develop a multi-family condominium project without going through the site plan review process. In changing this regulation owners of small R-6 lots would be burdened with an enormous additional expense which would either preclude the development of rental units or drive up the cost to make them less affordable. A better solution is to simply say that the development of adjoining properties and creating an association that requires cross easements for drives or parking requires site plan approval. (See special permit discussion above.)

Staff is recommending this new definition to allow animal day care and animal grooming facilities in some business zones, but does not permit overnight stays, or keeping or raising of animals in these facilities. It is intended that these facilities follow regular business hours of daytime use only.

Add New 6-5 ( 2.1) Animal day care and animal grooming establishments are not permitted in any residential zone nor retail zones (CGBR and LBR), but are allowed in the LB, CGB, GB and GBO zones subject to site plan and special permit approvals, and licensing from the state . These facilities are not considered kennels.

Comment: Animal day care and animal grooming are both uses that seem to be in demand and used by local residents (consistent with the intent of the LBR Zone). It is also unlikely that landlords would be interested in waiting for many months, or more, to see if they have a tenant. This would lead to more groomers taking the mobile approach and driving into residential zones with trucks to service their customers on site. (See Special Permit Discussion above.)

Renumber

6-5 (2.1) (2.2) Attic (no comment)

Please make an effort to attend this meeting and express your opinion. It is important that the Zoning Regulations represent a clear definition of what a property owner can do with their property as well as standards which need to be met to exercise those rights.

Over the last 20 or more years, these clear standards and rights have been eroded by making many more uses subject to special permit. This discretionary process removes the objectivity and it becomes too subjective  to reasonably determine the outcome.

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Uh, aren’t we getting a little carried away here?

FBI raids three Toyota suppliers. This is troubling on a number of fronts, but when our government owns two car companies, a full DOJ and Congressional witch hunt on our biggest competitor seems like state-sponsored, monopolistic behavior.

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Say good riddance to the dumbest car ever made

I won't be back

Chicoms come to their senses, back out of Hummer deal, which will now be killed off.

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Cuban political prisoner starves to death

Cuba responds by rounding up more dissidents. You might think those fierce defenders of Al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo would have something to say about this but they’ve all been  rewarded with appointments to Obama’s Justice Department and they’re busy.

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Into the valley of death rode the 600

Peter Brant goes bust. Oops!

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Reality creeps in on little cat’s feet

97 Cognewaugh

This seems like a good looking house on Cognewaugh and was just listed at $1.095 million. I don’t know whether that will prove to be the right price but the owners paid $1.080 in 2005 so at least they aren’t pricing in any imaginary appreciation.

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Price it, sell it

34 Sheffield

You wouldn’t think this was so complicated but apparently it is. This house on Sheffield (off Round Hill Road) was purchased for $3.473 million in 2004 and put back up for sale 18 months later in 2005 for $5.395. Oops! Wrong number. It wouldn’t sell and for five long years it sat on the market, slowly cutting its price until last October it dropped to $3.495 and finally went to contract today. Assessment is $2.7 million so we’ll see how close to that number this sells for.

By clinging to too high a price, this owner road unscathed through the height of the real estate boom, riding it up and following it down. He probably lost a million bucks.

But there may be something wrong with this site, too, because, although the present owners made their purchase within 12 days of the house being listed, the previous sale, in 1996, came only after 1477 days on market. Ow.

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You can sell (almost) anything at the right price

46 Quail Road

The owners of 46 Quail Road paid $4.875 for it in 2005 and relisted it in April, 2008 for $5.2 in April, 2008. There was nothing particularly wrong with the house but to my eye it needed some work and I guess buyers agreed because it wouldn’t sell. The finally lowered the price to $4.3 million and today they have a contract. Assessment is $3 million or so.

Further north on 99 Lower Cross Road a house assessed at $6.5 million wouldn’t sell when priced at $6.8. A new broker’s taken over and chopped its price to $5.450. If that doesn’t do it, there’s more wrong with the house than just price. Seems like a great deal to me.

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From the New Republic (!) praise for Marco Rubio

I hadn’t been following this Cuban – American’s quest for the Florida Senate seat but the liberal old New Republic has and likes what they see. Now, having read up on the guy, so do I.

In his speech, he related how his grandfather, who had grown up in rural Cuba, had told him “that because of where he was born and who he was born to, there was only so much he was able to accomplish. But he wanted me to know that I would not have those limits, that there was no dreams, no ambitions, no aspirations unavailable to me. And he was right. … I have never once felt that there was something I couldn’t do because of who my parents were or weren’t.”

That was because, of course, Rubio was born in the United States, not Cuba. In America, he said, “you can be anything you are willing to work hard to be. The result is the only economy in the world where poor people with a better idea and a strong work ethic can compete and succeed against rich people in the marketplace and competition. And the result is the most reliable defender of freedom in the history of the world.”

Rubio never talked about Republicans and Democrats. His speech hovered above partisanship. Instead, he talked about “those who haven’t seen it this way. … They think that we need a guardian class in American government to protect us from ourselves. They think that the free-enterprise system is unfair, that a few people make a lot of money, and the rest of us get left behind. They believe that the only way business can make its money is by exploiting its workers and its customers. And they think that America’s enemies exist because of something America did to earn their enmity.”

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Bottom fell out of new housing sales in January

Hope and change. Down 11% from January, 6% lower than January last year.

And while January sales were dead, looking forward, we see that purchase money mortgage demand has plummeted to its lowest level since 1997.

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He’s baaack!

1 Fitch Lane

This house on Fitch (off Carey, in Riverside), is a fairly cheaply made prefab that failed to sell for $1.1 million in 2007 and was rented out instead. I kind of liked it. Fitch is a pleasant street and, even though this sits right on the Post Road (you can see it as, crossing the Mianus, you head east), it’s got a nice view down Cos Cob Harbor.

My only quibble is that if it couldn’t fetch $1.1 at the height of the market, why has it come back at that same price now? Perhaps the owner’s been away, and isn’t aware of what’s happened.

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One new listing

520 Indian Field Rd

This 1938 Mead Point home came on just now asking $5.995 million. Hmm.

It sat on 9 1/2 acres in 2000, when a developer paid $6.250 for it, kept seven acres to develop and resold this with just 2.5 acres for $3.075 in 2001. The new owner claims to have “renovated” it but it’s still the same size, so that’s an awful lot of money for interior work to justify a $3 million bump.

On the other hand, it is Mead Point and if this old Tudor was really completely redone, that could indeed swallow up piles of money.

Open house is tomorrow and I look forward to seeing it. Great location, and the house could be really nice.

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Hey, where have I heard this before?

Baby Boo Hoo

The GMLS board’s been open an hour and fifteen minutes and has nothing – no – real estate activity to report or comment on. Seems like a perfect time to pass along this link Shoeless provided, Dry your eyes and cut your price.

NEVER in all his 17 years selling real estate has Mark Seiden gone through as many boxes of tissues as he has in the past 12 months.

It’s not he who is crying, but some of his customers — as they come to grips with the reality that their houses are worth far less in today’s market than what they had hoped, said Mr. Seiden, who owns Mark J. Seiden Real Estate in Briarcliff Manor.

But the sooner a seller faces reality on prices, he said, the sooner a sale can occur. As evidence, he cited Susan and Robert Whiting of Ossining, whose six-bedroom three-bath 1950s Cape had languished six months at $499,000 before they hired him. “At that price, nothing happened,” said Mrs. Whiting, a day care provider. “We didn’t even have one reasonable offer.”

The first thing Mr. Seiden did was brandish the tissues and recommend a listing price of $60,000 less. “At first I was in shock,” Mrs. Whiting said. “But then I decided if we wanted to sell, this is what we better do.” A bidding war ensued, and some weeks later the house went into contract at $10,000 over the list price.

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More on P&Z changes

Another expert chimes in:

The problem with full detention of the design 25-year storm (5.25 inches of rain) is the soil requirement. You must demonstrate by percolation and deep test pits, just like a septic system, that your land can absorb – not just hold in storage – this volume. If you have a septic lot, you will need to demonstrate two functioning septic feasibility areas, separated by 50 feet from any downslope drainage detention soils. Well good luck finding all that much good soil spread around your lot, and still have enough land left over to live on, far less site a pool or tennis court. This applies in all non-CAM zones, meaning anything more than 1000 feet from high tide. This requirement also impacts home additions or any increase in impervious area (pools, sheds, parking, terraces, roofed areas, etc).

How the hell am I supposed to advise buyers when this requirement kicks in? “Can I build an addition? A pool? A bike shed?” All questions I won’t be able to answer. This sucks.

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Killing success

The EU opens antitrust investigation into Google. And so it begins.

How did Google achieve its dominance in the search engine market? This article in Wired explains: How Google’s algorithm rules the web. It’s a fascinating article detailing how every day the engineers tweak and twist the algorithm, constantly improving it to make it more responsive to users’ requests. Here’s a tiny snippet that illustrates the difficulty of what they’re working with:

Take, for instance, the way Google’s engine learns which words are synonyms. “We discovered a nifty thing very early on,” Singhal says. “People change words in their queries. So someone would say, ‘pictures of dogs,’ and then they’d say, ‘pictures of puppies.’ So that told us that maybe ‘dogs’ and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it’s hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.”

But there were obstacles. Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theoriesabout how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.”

So they are guilty not of oppressing their competitors but only of providing the best product. Sadly for the future of competitive markets, this is illegal under our antitrust laws, should the government wish to declare it so.

In law school we studied the case U.S. v. Alcoa and I was thunderstruck by this passage from Judge Learned Hand:

Nothing compelled [ALCOA] to keep doubling and redoubling its capacity before others entered the field. It insists that it never excluded competitors; but we can think of no more effective exclusion than progressively to embrace each new opportunity as it opened, and to face every newcomer with new capacity already geared into a great organization, having the advantage of experience, trade connections, and the elite of personnel.

No one else in my class seemed to think that objectionable. I was horrified and remain so today.

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