When Laura Holdgrafer and her husband, Doug, began searching for their first home in 2014, they set their sights on Westchester County because of its proximity to her work in New York City. But after months of searching, the couple was forced to expand their search farther away from Laura’s family home on Long Island.
“We quickly realized that as mid-20-year-old professionals, we could only afford northern Westchester,” Laura Holdgrafer said.
Attractive housing prices and lower taxes led the couple to buy their forever home on a quiet street in Peekskill, one that just happened to be only three miles from nuclear power plant Indian Point. Holdgrafer said that while she and her husband were concerned with some safety issues in regard to the plant, the deal she secured for her three-bedroom dream home with a large, fenced-in backyard was ultimately too good to pass up.
“My family wasn’t thrilled with our proximity to the plant, but my husband and I were able to rationalize (it),” she said. “If something was to go wrong with the plant, we thought it would likely affect all of New York state and not just northern Westchester.”
The Holdgrafers were not alone in their thinking. J. Philip Faranda, broker and owner of J. Philip Real Estate in Briarcliff Manor, said that for decades, he has seen prospective buyers shun homes in the towns and villages surrounding Indian Point, including Peekskill, Montrose, Verplanck and Buchanan.
“There’s a peculiar disparity between northeastern Westchester and northwestern Westchester, and I think the only difference is that there’s nuclear fission and radiation there,” Faranda said. “Because its bucolic, it’s waterfront, it’s all that. Why isn’t Verplanck the Hamptons?”
According to data from Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, the median home price for the first three quarters of 2016 was $229,000 in Buchanan and $254,000 in Verplanck. For the entirety of Westchester County, the median sales price was $640,000.
“There is no comparison between Verplanck and due East,” Faranda said, referring to the high housing prices in Bedford and Katonah. “Verplanck is a fraction of those values.”
But for Clayton Livingston, regional vice president of Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and an agent with Coldwell Banker in Croton-on-Hudson, the disparity between the areas is not as glaring. He said Indian Point has traditionally been “a mixed bag” for the area.
“It’s difficult to really say what its impact on housing prices is, because there’s two different schools of thought,” Livingston said. “It’s obviously the largest employer in the vicinity, however, there’s also the stigma attached to it.”
“I’ve had people who didn’t want to live in Yorktown, which is three towns away, because it was too close to Indian Point, but when you get this close to Indian Point, it’s really not a concern, because people are more interested in either the Hudson River or (proximity to) the train line,” he said.
With the closing of Indian Point only four years away, Faranda expects to see an uptick in area home values. He noted the reinvigoration of towns like Tarrytown and Croton-on-Hudson following the exits of General Motors and the Croton landfill, respectively.
“I think (the closure) will have a positive impact, mainly because if you remove nuclear fission from someone’s backyard, it can’t hurt,” Faranda said. “It can only help.”
The closing of the plant may also lead to an increase in homes for sale. Indian Point directly employs about 1,000 workers and keeping those skilled workers in the area will be one focus of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce.
“How can we keep them in the community that they may have grown up in and minimize any effects of a glut in housing?” asked Deborah Milone, executive director of the chamber.
The possibility of an overabundance of homes for sale following the decommissioning of the plant is less of a concern for Livingston.
“I don’t believe that all of those houses are in Verplanck or Montrose,” he said. “I think that there are people that commute to get to Indian Point. I don’t think it’s fair to say we’re going to lose 1,000 households in Cortlandt.”
“I think that with the influx of the medical, biophysical and pharmaceutical industries into the area, I don’t think that it’s going to significantly impact us,” Livingston said.
For Livingston, a larger concern is what will happen to the Indian Point facility once it is decommissioned.
“How can you ensure proper regulation that these containers are going to be monitored over the course of their decay?” he asked. “I have children, and I am moving families into this area saying, ‘Yes, you’re going to be safe,’ and I no longer know that to be a fact.”
Bill Mohl, Entergy’s president of wholesale commodities, said during a press conference that the company will put a detailed plan in place that will allow the plant to transition from an ongoing operating facility to a shutdown facility preparing for decommission. During the decommissioning process, the site will be cleared, aside from the fuel, which will be placed in fuel casks within a storage facility.
The future of the plot of waterfront real estate that Indian Point occupies is also still up in the air.
“From my point of view as a broker, the property is definitely saleable,” said William Anson, managing director of the industrial division at RM Friedland LLC in Harrison. “The question of how saleable and how much value it has depends on how many user classes you can then market the property to because of what it is and what’s going to be left (after the decommissioning). Can they ever deliver this property usable and clean?”
Anson floated a number of possible ideas for the property that runs along the Hudson River near the Metro-North tracks, including senior housing or a haven for millennials.
“You’re sitting there with 157 acres of land with waterfront,” he said. “What could be more marvelous than that? If it can be delivered, I’m sure that developers would be falling down over themselves to be able to acquire a site where they could possibly do mixed-use, residential or a marina.”
Any development plans would also hinge on the village’s vision for the former Indian Point property, Anson said. Buchanan, the village that is home to the nuclear power plant, stands to lose nearly half of its tax revenue with its closing, according to Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi.
“I would like to think that if I’m Buchanan, I don’t want to see those taxes (from Entergy) disappear, and I’m going to support redevelopment that’s going to reassure me and reassure the village that we’re going to collect the same revenue out of that property,” Anson said. “Otherwise, the onus falls upon the homeowners.”
Livingston also questioned the effects of losing a large revenue producer for the local tax base.
“I’ve seen it happen recently with IBM and PepsiCo pulling out in Somers, and I don’t think that we really know what’s going to happen for another year or two,” he said. “But I think with those, those properties have been bought by other companies that are still paying the taxes. I don’t think anybody is in the market to buy a used nuclear power plant.”
Faranda said he expects the evolution of the area surrounding Indian Point will be measured in decades, not years or months.
“More developers will be investing money there and more people will be making downtown a little more hip. You’ll see investments by industry, see better restaurants, see maybe some art galleries because that’s where the money is going,” he said. “It would eventually evolve, maybe not into the Hamptons, but it would certainly attract people.”
“People don’t invest in atom-splitting in their backyards,” he said.