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Thoughts for Tom

To the Editor:

I cannot express how impressed I was by Tom Nattell’s very brief but very moving explanation of the last two years [“A Life Examined,” The Simple Life, Jan. 13]. I doubt if anyone in a similar circumstance has ever described their thoughts with such an absence of self-pity or regret.

There is such calmness and humanity in his every sentence. Not even a word of anger about our health-care system that appears to have failed him to a criminally negligent degree.

I hope Tom hears from many friends and strangers alike expressing their admiration. I am sure many “things have gotten a little better” because of his contributions.

Jim McLean


To the Editor:

I was deeply shocked and saddened at Tom Nattell’s cancer revelation as I have been a regular reader of his feature. Reading it was especially freaky on the very day that my new wife and I came home from the Adirondacks from “part one” of our honeymoon, combined with the sore throat, fever-from-hell, and lungs-of-death of a flu that could have been avoided if our medical establishment didn’t simultaneously have its head up its ass and hands on our bankbooks.

Best wishes, hopes, and maybe a miracle to Mr. Nattell and his family.

Bernie Continelli


Goodbye, Schnitzel

To the Editor:

Now that the tears have dried in my eyes, I would like to tell you how much I appreciated Katharine Jones’ story on the Bavarian Chalet [“Time Is Up,” Jan. 13]. How many memorable times I had there I cannot begin to count. Not only did I visit there often and enjoy the fine food managed and prepared by Erna and her staff, and the German beer served at just the right temperature as dictated by Franz Sr., but I also served the family as one of their architects. In my younger days I helped design the restaurant additions and related Bavarian decor. What a wonderful and exciting time that was. Working and planning with the Zwicklbauers transcended my work as just another job. I became very attached to what that instiution was all about. It became my kind of place, just like it became that way for so many others. Not long after the restaurant projects, I became very involved in the design of the home next door for Franz and Erna, which they enjoyed for many years. It was one [of] my most memorable projects that I can recall in my 43 years in the profession. Other changes and additions took place over the years, but the plan always managed to hold on to its special charm, not unlike the colored pencil rendering of the restaurant I did for them that hung in the back hall for years. Your story touched on just about everything that the Bavarian Chalet was all about. My deepest gratitude to the Zwicklbauer family for creating something very special and enduring, and allowing me to participate in it.

Stephen A. Brown



To the Editor:

Thank you for the fine article by Katharine Jones about the closing of the Bavarian Chalet. For many years the Chalet and the Zwicklbauer Family have been an integral part of our family’s life. We are appreciative of the influence that “Oma” and her family have had on our family and will miss the beautiful ethnic atmosphere that the Chalet afforded. Marianne Zwicklbauer is to be complimented for her efforts to keep the restaurant a pleasure to visit (and for her past reply to Metroland’s critic).

Richard and Jerry Mohr


Flipping the Script

To the Editor:

I enjoyed your article “Schenectady Outside the Box” [Jan. 6]. I can second some of the recommendations, especially Gary Lessard’s “Get the Tax Incentives Right.”

The idea of taxing land not buildings has many advantages, and in crumbling cities in Pennsylvania where it is used, it has worked.

The current property tax—sky-high in Schenectady—is two different taxes, a tax on land [and a] tax on buildings.

The current high tax on buildings discourages people from fixing up homes and makes it harder to attract new residents and business. The building tax is an immediate penalty for trying to make the city a better place. How? When a person fixes up or builds a new home on their own dime and their own time, their assessment—and their taxes—go up.

The current low tax on land makes it easy to hold onto vacant lots and do nothing for years, if not decades. It encourages “demolition through neglect” and more and more cruddy properties. How? Say you live in Clifton Park, and you own a slum property and you only take rent out, but never reinvest in the property. When the roof finally caves in, you go to the assessor and say, “Look, I let the roof cave in.”

Then the assessor says, “Congratulations, I will now lower your tax bill, by lowering the value.”

Schenectady can flip that script, at no revenue loss to the city. If the city does adopt a tax on land values then it’s pretty certain that this will happen:

• Homeowner taxes will decrease.

• Productive businesses will see a tax decrease.

• Vacant lots and blighted buildings will see a tax increase.

• New construction and rehabilitation of existing buildings will take place without the usual givebacks, sweetheart deals, abatements and the other money-tossing contests that take the place of sane public policy these days.

How do I know this is pretty certain? Because, unlike a lot of the other ideas going around for Schenectady, land taxation is not an experiment, it’s everyday life for many old, postindustrial cities such as Allentown or Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. They are satisfied with it:

“If all property taxes were derived from land, there would be no disincentive to developing the parcel except the construction cost itself. If all taxes came from the improvements, there would be a dis-incentive to improve.” —Benjamin Howells, former City Council president, Allentown, Pa.

“The City of Harrisburg continues in the view that such a land value taxation system, which places a much higher tax on land than on improvements, is an important incentive for the highest and best use of land. . . . The same two-rate system tends to discourage real estate speculators and others who would be inclined under normal conditions to tie up land tracts that could otherwise be used for development purposes. . . . With over 90 percent of the property owners in the City of Harrisburg, the two-tiered tax system actually saves money over what would be otherwise a single rate system that is currently in use in nearly all municipalities in Pennsylvania.” —Mayor Stephen Reed, Harrisburg, Pa.

Joshua Vincent

Director, Center for the Study of Economics

Philadelphia, Pa.

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