banner1gif.gif

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.

State Senator George Latimer and Assemblyman Steve Otis are pleased to announce state construction grant awards for the New Rochelle and Rye City library systems. The grants are part of a $19 million capital fund appropriation for public library construction in the 2016 state budget.

The Rye Free Reading Room has been awarded $31,129 to create a quiet study space, while the New Rochelle Public Library will receive $78,804 to install a new HVAC system in its main building and a $28,804 grant to replace the interior windows of the Huguenot Children’s Library.

Otis, who serves on the Assembly Libraries and Education Technology Committee, stated: “These grants will help modernize and enhance our library spaces, making them more efficient, functional, and enjoyable for residents. State assistance for these important projects eases the burden on local property taxpayers to make these improvements.”

Latimer added, “For many years, libraries have served as a cornerstone in our communities. We have a responsibility to our communities — parents and children as well as the libraries, staff, and dozens of volunteers who support them — to ensure that the facilities are top-notch and best serve all those who utilize them.”

Rye Free Reading Room Director Chris Shoemaker said, “The new quiet study spaces will give teens and tutors a place to learn, and small business owners places to work and grow. We’re grateful for our legislators’ longtime support of libraries and the construction grant program.”

On May 26, the Rye Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit arrested Rye resident, 28-year-old Anthony Forgione, who was in possession of six glassine bags containing a substance suspected to be cocaine. The accused was charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 3rd degree with intent to sell, a Class B Felony. He was processed, arraigned, and held on $10,000 bail.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran stated, “This arrest is the result of outstanding investigative work, spanning several weeks, by our Special Investigations Unit.” The unit’s primary mission is narcotics enforcement.

By Tom McDermott

A larger but more skeptical audience attended the second Disbrow Park Master Plan meeting at Damiano Center May 31 than the one three weeks earlier. A number of residents voiced their displeasure at the Recreation Commission and City Hall about a lack of communication regarding meeting schedules and an online survey. The survey ran May 11-25 on the City’s website with 261 responses, which Stantec Consulting’s Gary Sorge characterized as statistically reliable.

Sara Goddard, Chair of Rye’s Sustainability Committee, who is also a Democratic City Council candidate, said she “only heard about the meetings through a resident’s message on her Committee’s website.”

While the May 31 meeting was meant to discuss those survey results and present preliminary design plans, some residents were asking more basic questions: “What was the impetus for making changes”?; Who got the ball rolling”?; “What problem are you trying to solve”?

City Planner Christian Miller told residents, “We knew we needed public works improvements and saw an opportunity to look at a plan that would accommodate recreation improvements as well. Before we invest in public works and park improvements, let’s do some planning.”

Stantec presented three alternative plans, all of which moved the main access road from Oakland Beach Avenue to the west boundary of the park: Plan A, “The Commons”; B, “The Promenade”; and C, “Park Expansion”, a radical approach that would eliminate public works facilities, except for a County water treatment center, from the park. Residents were asked to note their likes, dislikes, and concerns regarding each plan.

Residents clearly found Plan C to be the most interesting alternative, followed by Plan A. Many were put off by a version of Plan B that included an additional DPW-only access road. Plan C, however, prompted a logical question from residents: “Where would the City put public works and how much would that cost?” Lisa Dempsey, co-chair of the Recreation Commission, told the audience that an alternative location would be presented at the next meeting.

Goddard later told the paper, “It’s a risky enterprise to entice one neighborhood with the prospect that DPW could be moved and plop it down into another neighborhood.”

City Manager Marcus Serrano confirmed that the strip of land near I-95, across from Rye Country Day School, currently owned by New York State Thruway, is a possible future DPW facilities site. Serrano said, based on resident feedback on the Disbrow plans to date, the City Council may consider “moving DPW there, or building a new playing field there and keeping DPW at Disbrow.” A partnership between the City and Rye Country Day to jointly buy the land from the for athletic fields fell through several months ago.

The subject of playing fields and the possibility of moving DPW to the Thruway site arose at the June 7 City Council meeting during a discussion of a possible November bond resolution. Councilman Terry McCartney described the enthusiasm of residents for moving DPW and the “incredible opportunity” available, asking that people at least keep an open mind on the issue. Councilman Richard Mecca also fully supported the concept. Other Council members were noncommittal.

Andrea Sullivan, President of Rye Country Day’s Board of Trustees, told the Council that the school was interested in reviving talks regarding a field-sharing agreement, but cautioned that the school would not support moving DPW to the site. That sentiment was echoed by a Loudon Woods resident.

Stantec will present two edited alternative plans June 20 at the Damiano Center at 7 p.m. Survey results and the May 31 plan presentation are available at ryeny.gov.

 

Joseph W. Polisi, an accomplished musician and scholar who has served as the president of The Julliard School since 1984, received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at Tufts University’s commencement May 21. John Bello, a trustee of the university was on hand to escort his neighbor and his wife, Elizabeth, and to participate in his hooding.

Polisi has led Julliard to more than three decades of growth, increased collaboration with partner institutions, and global development in support of the arts. He has performed extensively as a bassoonist, both as a soloist and chamber musician. He received a Master of Arts in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts in 1970.

 

Tufts University trustee John Bello, left, with fellow Rye resident Joseph Polisi

At the College of Staten Island Commencement Ceremony May 30, President Dr. William Fritz conferred honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees upon Robin and Peter Jovanovich for their unique and generous support of scholarship students in the Teacher Education Honors Academy. These scholars go on to teach Math or Science in New York City public schools.

Robin and Peter are, respectively, president and former chairman of the Alfred Harcourt Foundation, which provides need-based college scholarships to students from underserved high schools. Their efforts over the last five years have resulted in over $250,000 in Ellen Knowles Harcourt Scholarships awarded to Teacher Education Honors Academy students and an ongoing annual commitment of $135,000. This scholarship money guarantees that the recipients will graduate with no debt, which is critically important for students who are committed to a career in teaching.

“What distinguishes these scholarships is the special role Robin and Peter play,” noted Mathematics Professor Dr. Jane Coffee in her nomination. “They visit the College of Staten Island each semester and meet individually with the Harcourt Scholars. They review each student’s record, discuss their achievements and problems, and, as one Harcourt Scholar said, ‘they care about me.’ They have had a personal impact on the lives of these students.”

CSI President Dr. William Fritz, at left, and Senior VP for Academic Affairs/ Provost Dr. Gary Reichard with Robin and Peter Jovanovich

Two Democrats and two independents are running together as a ticket on the Democratic line for City Council in this fall’s election. In a joint statement, Josh Cohn, Sara Goddard, Julie Souza, and Ben Stacks said, “Our goal is a City Council that responds to residents’ concerns and welcomes public participation. We are running because you deserve to be heard.”

Cohn, who is running for Mayor, is best known by the community for co-founding the citizen’s group, Protect Residential Rye, in order to prevent, in the short-term, an application to install cellular equipment in the residential right-of-way, which would negatively impact quality of life and home values all over town.

Watching the current City Council handle citizen concerns was “motivational” for Cohn, a Rye resident since 1991. In a conversation last weekend, he said he’s been disappointed in the Council’s response on a number of issues, not solely Crown Castle’s application to install 68 mini cell nodes. “The fact that the current Council comes to public meetings ‘pre-decided’, before hearing from the community. Their actions and behavior convinced me that I could accomplish something.”

Among those tangible “somethings” is: taking better care of roads, finding funding for dredging at Milton Harbor, strengthening the City’s tree law, and ensuring that residential development projects don’t diminish Rye’s character or add to citywide drainage issues.

“I am not anti-development,” said Cohn. “We should neither discourage the development we need, nor a thriving real estate business. But we must do so with an eye to preserving the character that drew so many here.”

Cohn, who retired last year from Mayer Brown, a leading global law firm, of which he was a partner and head of the U.S. derivatives practice, says he has the energy and the enthusiasm the job of mayor requires and will be a good financial steward, finding efficiencies and securing more grants.

As founder and chair of the Rye Sustainability Committee, which produced the Rye Sustainability Plan and won national recognition from the EPA, Sara Goddard has been a strong and steady leader on conservation and protection of the environment. “I am a task-oriented person who likes to get things done, and one of the reasons I am running for City Council is that I’ve been frustrated by the Council’s inability to get things done, especially in an empathetic way.” She added, “A level of empathy defines how I conduct my life.”

Goddard says one of her primary goals is to ensure that the community works <with> the environment — in the form of a strengthened tree law, and pesticide-free public property.

Since leaving the world of energy and structured finance to raise three children, Goddard has volunteered her time and skills to benefit the Rye community full-time.

Ben Stacks is Market Manager for Northeast Commercial Real Estate at Capital One Bank. A longtime member of the Rye Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee, he is active with the Protect Residential Rye residents group.

In addition to a career in sports media, Julie Souza serves on the board of directors of Carver Center, is president of the Loudon Woods Neighborhood Association, and volunteers with Midland Elementary School, POTS, and the Children’s Philanthropy section of the Woman’s Club of Rye.

— Robin Jovanovich