By Tom McDermott
A not so funny thing happened on the way to a third community meeting to discuss a new Disbrow Park Master Plan to improve recreational areas and DPW facilities on June 20. The meeting was rescheduled to June 27, due to Gary Sorge of Stantec Consulting being unavailable to attend, according to City Manager Marcus Serrano. But, more importantly, a civic donnybrook was breaking out between Mayor Joe Sack on the one hand and Assemblyman Steve Otis and Rye Country Day School on the other, over who would purchase a nine-acre parcel of land near the school, the City of Rye in order to possibly move DPW there (Plan C), or the school for playing fields to be shared with the City.
In a strongly worded and accusatory letter to Governor Cuomo dated June 21, Sack urged the Governor to veto a bill which was passed by the State Assembly and Senate June 15 which would allow Rye Country Day to purchase the property. The bill stipulates that the land must be used for recreational purposes and must be shared with the public through an agreement with the City. The bills were a matter of public record as they coursed their way through the legislative process, but Sack accused Otis, and by extension the school, of forging ahead despite the City having recently indicated to Otis its desire to purchase the property itself. Additionally, the Mayor stated the Council had declined to approve a home rule resolution supporting the sale to Rye Country Day. Although not publicly disclosed, the cost would be $7.44 million.
“At best, the actions of Assemblyman Otis were premature. At worst, they represented a behind-the-back attempt to steer the parcel to Rye Country Day without our knowledge and against our wishes,” Sack wrote to Cuomo.
Wasting no time, Otis fired back with his own letter and accompanying documents stating Sack was “Putting forth demonstrably inaccurate information to the public or other levels of government.” Otis reviewed the long history of Rye’s trying to protect the parcel from becoming a Thruway maintenance yard or other such commercial site. He also reminded Sack of the Mayor’s previous endorsement of the sharing plan with Rye Country Day and stated that “at no time was a home rule resolution requested of the City.”
“The legislation actually provides the City veto power over conveyance of the parcel to the school because it requires execution of a shred agreement,” Otis stated. Asked by the paper today why it mattered that Rye Country Day and Otis proceeded, based upon that veto power, Sack questioned “Why do we need the law?” He also said no decision had been made by the City as yet regarding moving DPW from Disbrow. “The City might decide to buy it for a DPW site; it might buy it for playing fields itself; and it might renew talks with Rye Country Day to share it.”
Otis provided a copy of his June 1 letter to the Mayor and City Council reviewing his efforts over a couple of years to forge a plan for the Thruway Authority to sell the parcel to either the City or the school. “In the fall of 2016, the Mayor...requested that the terms of the sale be changed: the City wanted the state to sell the property to the school.” He also provided a Confidential May 26 letter to Sack and the Council that provided a draft of the proposed legislation for their review and comments. “Our plan is to introduce the bill within the next week,” Otis stated in that letter.
What did Rye Country Day have to say about all of this? A June 5 letter from the school’s Board of Trustees President Andrea Sullivan to the Mayor and Council made available to the paper expressed opposition to the idea of moving DPW to the site, estimating additional development costs of $20 million for the site (track, field, parking, possible fieldhouse). She stated in the same letter that Otis had already introduced the legislation. “If the DPW plan moves forward, you can anticipate opposition from the school and many residents,” she wrote. In a June 13 letter to “Former RCDS Parents Who Live in Rye,” Headmaster Scott Nelson wrote about “several serious concerns regarding a DPW move to the site,” including Safety, Traffic, and Cost. Nelson urged the Rye Country Day community to express their views to the City Council, which is set to discuss the Disbrow plans at its July 12 meeting.
As of June 21, this was how the situation stood: The Mayor believes he and the City were blindsided by Assemblyman Otis forging ahead with the bill. Otis is feeling the City is under-appreciating his efforts and is incredulous that the City somehow did not know he was introducing legislation for the school to buy the property and share it with the City. He called for an apology to the community from Sack. Rye Country Day is feeling jilted by its one time partner for whom it was willing to provide all the capital needed for the purchase and seems to be gearing up for a possible fight.
While this storm raged, residents may have been forgotten that Stantec Consulting also presented Disbrow Plans A and B, both of which improve recreational fields, safety, and DPW facilities within the existing boundaries of the park. Those plans, and Plan C to move DPW, are available for comment on the City’s website, ryeny.gov, until June 25.