Every summer, Rye Town Park’s Great Lawn becomes a parking lot.
At Long Last, RTP Commission Commits to Green Parking Solutions
By Jamie Jensen
On most summer days, and particularly on sun-filled weekends, walkers, bikers, and motorists going along Forest Avenue can’t help but notice that the Rye Town Park’s Great Lawn is covered with cars. For years, local residents have complained, arguing that “This is a park, not a parking lot.” Others have said, begrudgingly, “It’s the way it’s always been. We give up four months a year, so that we can have the park to ourselves for the other eight.”
The fact is that visitors from across the tri-state area find their way to our little town beach and pull up for a day on the Sound. Recent figures suggest that nearly 90 percent of summer beachgoers come from outside the City of Rye and the Town of Rye, and they pay roughly $20 to park, providing the lion’s share of the Park’s annual operating budget.
Whether protesting or accepting, most local residents acknowledge just how unsightly and environmentally unsound it is to have a sea of cars parked on the greens.
At their monthly meeting February 12, the Rye Town Park Commission unanimously approved Phase 1 of the Parking Solutions plan, which includes $85,000 investment this year. If fully implemented, the plan will substantially limit the number of the cars on the green.
The real work began in May 2018, when the Commission passed a resolution to hire Rita Azrel of Laybel Consulting for $7,500 to help the Commission improve parking. The Parking Resolutions Committee was formed in October with two Commissioners, Emily Hurd of Rye City and Benny Salanitro of Rye Neck, and three residents, Lindsay Jackson, Katie Kubursi, and Russ Gold. Park administrators Laurence Vargas and Debbie Reisner rounded out the committee. (Vargas has since resigned as Park Director and a search for his replacement is underway.)
The RTP Commission tasked the Parking Committee to: maximize designated parking areas in order to minimize parking on green space; increase safety and efficiency in traffic flow; and use technology to streamline operations. According to Committee Chair Russ Gold, “Since our initial meeting last fall, we have steadily progressed to the point where we expect to have significant, positive impact in response to all three mandated points.”
When the park season officially begins, May 1, residents should see newly installed multi-spaced pay stations, new signage, new markers designating where cars can park, and new enforcement practices. Removing cash transactions between patrons and park staff will ease long-held community skepticism that years of skimming from the books has truly stopped. Once automated, the Park will also need fewer seasonal employees, thereby reducing operating costs.
New procedures will maximize existing spaces in the paved and gravel lots that run alongside Dearborn Avenue. Changing traffic flow patterns will redirect cars from driving over the small bridge adjacent to the park and increase pedestrian safety for visitors.
Implementing Phase 1 of the plan still has some sticking points. Given the other capital needs facing the Park Commission, there is no room in the capital budget for repaving the blacktop or repairing the adjacent grass lot. Such an effort would cost in excess of $250,000. While the Commission will look to grants in the future, for now the goal is to prepare the lots by sweeping and cleaning, patching potholes, sealing cracks, and then restriping the existing lots.
Rye Town Council’s Chief of Staff Debbie Reisner reached out to each of the four partner municipalities — Port Chester, Rye Brook, Rye Neck (Mamaroneck) and Rye City — to ask for DPW support in this effort. In-kind services from the four municipalities have not yet materialized, with city managers citing they do not have the bandwidth and indicating they are not a priority. But as Gold points out, “Ignoring long-term maintenance efforts is, over time, not good practice if we expect this public park to continue to attract parkgoers and operate in the black.”
Currently, Rye Town Park is self-sustaining and operates without tax dollars, almost like an enterprise fund. However, if there is a short fall in a given revenue season, Rye City residents are obligated for 40% of that shortfall and Rye Town residents for 60%. The more in-kind services we receive as forward payment the less likely local taxpayers are to have to make up for revenue shortfalls.
Meanwhile, Zuckerman and Reisner continue to seek alternative solutions. “The problems of the park are many and one of our tasks as a community is to find ways to address its many capital needs without relying on environmentally challenging solutions,” says Zuckerman. “Altering the parking model, as we are doing, is one such solution. Another might be using permeable materials when we ultimately repair or replace the pavement.”
The Commission has benefitted from a successful round of grant awards. In December, a $300,000 grant from the State Office of Parks and Recreation was awarded to upgrade the park and beach facilities to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Last October, with help from Assemblyman Steve Otis, the Park received the green light from the New York State Dormitory Authority to proceed with a $250,000 State and Municipal Facilities Program grant to help fund the replacement of the bathhouse roof. And most recently, the Commission was notified they have been recommended for a $130,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Westchester Urban County Consortium. All three grants will require a match of equal funding from the Commission.
Zuckerman noted that “The community roundly rejected the privatization concept originally put forward by a prior administration, but we as park stewards need to create a model whereby park needs are met, and our environment preserved. Whether through a conservancy or a different governing format, the current model of relying mainly on parking and beach fees, supplemented by concessions, is not an adequate formula for sustainability.”