As a former mayor of the City of Rye and chair of the Rye Recreation Commission, I have extensive experience in planning and implementing both the City Capital Plan and the Recreation Master Plan. I am well versed on community needs and have led numerous outreach efforts to identify and deliver solutions that meet those needs. In isolation, the plan to move the DPW may have merit within the four corners of the plan; however, when put in context of the overwhelming capital needs of Rye — roads, flooding, sewers, sidewalks, fields, Police Station updating, general infrastructure maintenance, sidewalks, and roads again to name a few — it stretches the City’s capital capabilities in terms of priorities, dollars, debt, personnel, and core operational service levels.
With a high residential to commercial tax base ratio, Rye in many ways operates as a small town and supports practical point solutions that improve quality of life and increase overall community property values. In my experience, the successful capital projects are ones that have identified and solved a specific community problem within the priorities of the total capital needs — the Downtown improvement project, the Damiano Center, Whitby, the Sluice Gate, Disbrow Fields, and affordable senior housing to name a few. The capital projects that have proven to be problematic – the Police Station move, the Lester’s site, the NYS Thruway lease, the Nursery Fields, for example – are ones that looked to solve one problem, but also created others. The DPW plan does that as well.
The unintended consequences of such a transformative plan will bring more problems to the City than it can handle to include the huge financial investment, cost overruns, the increased debt levels, disruption to staff, disruption to City services, the lack of focus and resources on other core capital needs, the lack of strong project management and oversight, and aesthetic impacts among others. There is a reason why other municipal governments do not take on a transformation of this magnitude – because the return is never fully realized from what was expected, but the true cost (both known and unknown) is much greater than planned for.
What to do? Stick to the original plan. Plans have been put together for the Boston Post Road site for a multipurpose field. RCDS has been a willing partner. The opportunity to purchase the land in balance with the risk of other potential uses keeps the City in control. The explosion of club teams, youth, and female participation have been well-documented, and highlight the need for more field facilities. Rye is behind other communities in field quality and space. Current DPW facilities can be prioritized and upgraded as needed.
Most importantly, keep it transparent and accountable. Nothing raises the temperature in town more than land-use decisions – and rightfully so. The Council will be better served if it moves forward on legislation I proposed that would video and televise all land-use committees and meetings. The public needs to know the what, why, who, when, and how land-use decisions are made that impact overall property values. The cost is minimal with today’s technology. Surrounding communities have done this for some time. It’s time for Rye to bring the public into its land-use decision-making process.
- Douglas French, Mayor of the City of Rye from 2010-2014