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Kudos to Don McHugh for his thoughtful article on McMansions in Rye… “The Character-Changing Consequences of the Building Craze on Our Community.” As a former member of Rye’s Board of Architectural Review (1990-2001), I can confirm that in the early ’90s we too saw it happening, and we did what we could to inhibit excessive size. Under the leadership of BAR chairs (the late) Wendy Rolland and then Nick Everett, and with Planning Commission collaboration, we tightened the rules for calculating permissible floor area (for example, by requiring that two-story entry halls be counted as two floored spaces).  

Loss of privacy is prominent among the “character-changing consequences” of ballooning houses Mr. McHugh has identified. He mentions how his neighbor’s house looms over the six-foot fence that separates their backyards; he fails to note, however, the character-changing consequence of the fence itself. In the 1990s, as megamansions were blooming throughout Rye, we were also seeing more and more six-foot fences, as homeowners sought to scratch back a few feet of privacy.  This bothered the BAR, not so much for aesthetic reasons as for its predictable social impact — increased isolation of neighbors and an erosion, however subtle, in our sense of neighborhood and community. Sadly, today, fences, walls, higher hedges – and gates – increasingly define Rye.  

 

— Otto Spaeth

The more City Council meetings I watch, the more dismay I feel at our local government’s lack of responsiveness. 

 

I attribute this to Mayor Joe Sack, who appears to favor commercial interests over residents’ quality of life. For example, he ignored massive rock chipping projects, Starwood’s United Hospital Plan, and Crown Castle’s wireless proposal — until citizen outrage forced him to take notice. 

 

In a single, typical meeting (December 7, 2016), Sack said he wanted a solution to Crown Castle proposal that “benefits the entire city and not [the 64] individual property owners” who are upset at the prospect of being forced to host wireless mini-cell towers on their lawns. He interrupted resident Josh Cohn, who was speaking politely and appropriately, with a long, angry, and utterly inaccurate tirade. One resident told me she found Sack’s treatment of Councilwoman Emily Hurd in the closing section of that evening so distressing that she had trouble sleeping that night. 

 

If Mr. Sack decides to run for re-election, I predict that he will suddenly appear more interested in residents’ opinions. Voters should not be fooled. This November, we should choose a Mayor who works for the benefit our community all the time, not just when running for office. 

 

 

— Meg Cameron, Rye Democrats chair

 

Thank you for the excellent article in the March 3 issue by Don McHugh about the building craze that has gone unchecked in our community. I would like to think our Mayor, City Council members, members of the Board of Architectural Review, the city planners, and every single real estate agent in town read it, but I hold no illusions. Are Rye’s leaders ever going to realize they are letting developers destroy the character of this town?

Every time I see a “For Sale” sign these days, I snap a picture of the house because the certainty that it will be demolished and replaced with a monster is so great. So much so that when one sells and doesn’t get torn down I want shower the new owners with gratitude. More frustrating than the ominous “For Sale” sign, though, is when a house is just suddenly under demolition, with no warning until the bulldozers appear, because it was sold directly to a developer. Shouldn’t there be some oversight and review before a house, especially an old, charming, and possibly historic one, can be torn down and replaced?

Isn’t there a good chance many of these so-called teardowns might be sold to people willing to do renovations and updates, rather than allowing developers to replace with something that is almost always too large for the lot?

Every house in Rye doesn't have to have six bedrooms, does it? Whatever happened to the idea of a starter home? And what about the many baby boomers that might love to downsize to an affordable cottage, or a ranch with fewer steps to climb? It feels like Rye is telling empty nesters, “Just leave,” and middle-income starter families, “Forget about it.”

When did Rye give free reign to developers to build the monstrosities Mr. McHugh described, on lots way too small for them? These ghastly look-alike behemoths, many of which are built on spec, have no place on the average street in Rye. One need only look at the number of spec houses that have been sitting unsold for six months or longer. Isn’t it time for Rye to just say enough?

It’s not just about the houses either. At a recent Council meeting, Councilwoman Tagger-Epstein mentioned that Rye was once a USA Tree City, but had lost that honor in recent years because of the loss of so many trees. And yet, developers take them down, unrestricted, all over town, or carelessly destroy the roots of whatever few remain, so that they too are eventually dead or dying. The developer responsible for the monster mansion on our block a few years ago not only took down four beautiful trees but undermined the roots of four more that were eventually also lost. How long are we going to continue to let this happen?

Mr. McHugh listed countless reasons why this overbuilding is not good for our city, so I won’t repeat them. But I would urge people to get up in arms about this. Do we really want to see Rye turned into a mini-suburbia, all humongous houses with plastic-looking landscaping, fewer and fewer old-growth trees, no character, no charm, and no history? Because it’s what’s happening. We need to stop it now, or soon, very soon, it's going to be way past too late. 

 

 

— Bonnie Council

 

I was struck by School Board President Katy Keohane Glassberg’s remark that “We all acknowledge that we live in a tax-cap world” (“School District Proposes $86.9 Million Budget, 2.64% Tax Levy Increase,” February 17, 2017). I’m not sure what bothers me more — the sense of resignation that this comment conveys or the fatalistic message it condones. 

We may, indeed, live in a tap-cap world, but we don’t have to like it or accept it as a permanent condition. I regard Governor Cuomo’s tax cap as a prescription for the slow death of quality public education in Rye. The extent of the damage is not always noticeable right away, like a slow leak in an automobile tire. But, when “the tire” starts to wobble and you lose control, the results can be dangerous and the damage too late to repair.

To be clear: I’m not advocating higher taxes. What I wish our community members, school officials, and elected representatives would fight for is a return to “home rule.” As in the past, the citizens of Rye alone should decide the size of the school budget, based on what’s needed to continue to provide our children with a first-rate education, not by having to overcome an arbitrary limit set by politicians in Albany by extraordinary means. 

— John E. Stafford

For some time now I have been concerned about the horrific noise level in our local restaurants. Some of the noise is due to deliberate design, with nothing but hard surfaces and loud wait staff, but I also think that folks’ manners, expressly the lack thereof, is greatly responsible. People need to be reminded to keep their voices down. No one needs or wants to have to speak louder because of inconsiderate people at the next table or across the room.

 

We had dinner on Purchase Street last week. It was positively ghastly. You could hear the noise a block away. I told the manager as we left, and he immediately concurred, screaming at the top of his lungs, though I could barely hear him.

 

Needless to say, our special dinner with our daughter was a huge disappointment. Everyone in the place was shouting. No one even tried to speak at a polite level — they just yelled louder.

 

It is rude to disrupt other people’s meals with loud voices. We all need to be reminded of basic courtesies and manners. 

 

 

— Nancy Jane Carson

 

With Respect

 

As a neighborhood, we are writing to express our disappointment—and frankly, dismay—with the way the Crown Castle cell phone tower issue has been handled by our local government.

 

We understand that this issue is a complex and nuanced one.  We understand that the City Council is weighing many factors: federal law versus the capabilities and limitations of local law; risk assessments of various courses of action and the implications of each; technology infrastructure in various permutations both now, and conceivably in the future; precedential issues; citizen concerns.  We understand that this is not a clear cut or simple topic.

 

What we don’t understand, however, is the manner in which this topic has been addressed by (some of) our elected officials. For an issue of such obvious concern, why hasn’t a committee or task force composed of local officials and citizens been created? Why is there such opacity to the work the Council has done to evaluate our options? The lack of open communication is concerning. And of even deeper concern is the open contempt with which the concerned citizens of Rye—City Council’s constituents—have been treated. The disrespect shown the citizens is unbefitting the community we have built and seek to preserve and is simply unacceptable.

 

There must be a way to govern more respectfully. More cooperatively. More effectively. We implore Rye’s City Council to find a better way.  The formation of a joint committee would be a good first step.

 

 

 

– <Loudon Woods Neighborhood Association>

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