Last week, while a friend was visiting, I opened my back door to get drinks for us out of a cooler on my back deck. She turned to me as she heard cheering, “What is that?” she asked. “Soccer practice,” I said. “Wow,” she remarked, “You’re close!”
Yes, we can hear it all, the coaches, the players, sometimes even parents. And that is fine! Further, when the leaves have fallen, we can see directly down to the field from our bedroom window. While closing our blinds each night, I murmur a quick goodnight to the light that stays on all night at the “comfort station”, which is clearly visible.
The fact that I am not in favor of an artificial turf field at Nursery Field has nothing to do with the fact that it is quite literally in my backyard. (Although lesser projects have been stalled or stopped for just that reason.) No, I am against artificial turf in this location because Rye grapples with major flooding problems and Blind Brook, whose banks are well known to breach, is directly across the way, just beyond the historic Milton cemetery. The field is next to the Knapp House, the oldest house in Westchester. Artificial turf is prone to cause more injury (who knew Taylor Swift would have an opinion on this!) and brings forever-chemicals to our environment.
We all agree that Rye could use more field space. Our three children participated in Rec teams for soccer and lacrosse and two played lacrosse at Rye High. Through the years, practices and games were sometimes canceled because the grass fields were flooded. The high school turf was occasionally unplayable as well, and ahead of a big storm the lacrosse coaches would call the athletes to come lay sandbags across the field. In one of our recent, heavy storms, September 29, the RHS turf field was under water and Milton Road was so flooded that cars were unable to enter the Nursery Field property. Artificial turf does not resolve all the problems of canceled practices, particularly in this location.
Many Rye residents would like the field to remain natural grass and for better drainage to be installed. We have established a group called Friends of Nursery Field (FNF) and over 350 people have signed a petition to that effect. We have reached out to Let the Kids Play, the group that is in favor of artificial turf at Nursery, to try to work collaboratively to promote more playable hours, but we’ve been told that their mission and their money is only for artificial turf.
FNF was told by our elected officials that both natural grass and artificial turf would be considered in a side-by-side comparison. This was never the case, as the group hired by the city, Stantec, is a developer of artificial turf fields. During Council meetings, although we were able to raise concerns within the allowed three-minute time limit (a shot clock sits on the dais), many concerns were stated but not addressed by the Council. Our group requested reports by non-affiliated consultants (engineers, hydrologists); that request was ignored.
It’s important to look at the field’s history. The land was a nursery (my family used to buy flats of pansies and walk them back up the hill) until it was deeded to the City of Rye in 2002, a conveyance assisted by monies received from a NYS grant orchestrated by, among others, former resident Michael Klemens, who was chairman of Rye’s Planning Commission from 1997-2003. The terms of the grant proscribed creation of a playing field and restoration of a portion of the wetland closest to Playland Parkway. It was meant to allow for both these interests and, notably, they were not seen as competing.
Among the many Nursery Field Improvement Project documents available on the City website (rye.ny.gov), is an extensive study done by the firm of Woodard & Curran, assessing the issue of artificial turf back in 2011. The conclusion of their report: “Nursery Field would be the last priority as far as recommending the use of synthetic turf due to its location in a floodplain, potential for settlement due to the presence of unsuitable subbase materials and considering the incorporation of the NYSDEC Grant scope-of-work requirements.
“W & C’s opinion of a prioritized list of the sites where synthetic turf would provide the most value to the city is as follows: 1) Recreation Park, 2) Disbrow Park, 3) Nursery Field.”
It is unclear how the “worst choice” has somehow become the “only choice”. The issue of a private group directing the use of a city-owned space also begs scrutiny. The City has already committed considerable resources to this end, perhaps because the outcome was pre-determined all along. The field is in a wetland buffer, sitting in a flood plain, in a modest residential neighborhood. Artificial turf in this setting is not appropriate.
Lastly, it is already a field, a field that gets played on plenty, as demonstrated by the enthusiastic chorus of coaches, players, and parents. Come on over and have a listen, I may still have some cold drinks in that cooler, and I’m happy to share.