Governor Signs Amended Thruway “Playing Fields” Bill
By Tom McDermott
The Rye community’s long quest for additional room for playing fields took an important step towards fruition November 21 when Governor Cuomo signed an amended bill (A8339) allowing Rye Country Day School to purchase Thruway-owned land on Boston Post Road across from its campus. The bill requires the school to “make the athletic field and track [and any recreational buildings that may be constructed] available for rental to public recreation groups for no less than 29 percent of usable hours each calendar year.”
Assemblyman Steve Otis, who drafted the bill — “the culmination of four years of work” — said, “This new law is a big win for Rye recreation groups, including Rye Youth Soccer, Rye Youth Lacrosse, Rye Rangers Hockey Club, and Rye Recreation, current users of the school’s existing facilities who will benefit from the new field, track, and expanded recreation space.”
The next step, according to Andrea Sullivan, Rye Country Day School board president, is for the Thruway Authority to arrange for a new appraisal, since the original one – $7.4 million – performed when the City was considering a purchase, has expired.
While the bill calls for a minimum of 29 percent of available time to be shared, the actual percentage will be higher if measured using afterschool hours and weekends, rather than the entire school day, as the base, noted Sullivan. Afterschool use is currently split 50/50. Fields are available for half of Saturday and all-day Sunday.
The signed bill was supported by Assemblyman Otis and State Senator Shelley B. Mayer. It amends a previous bill, signed in 2017, that included a requirement that Rye Country Day enter into a shared use agreement with the City of Rye as a condition of purchasing the land.
Both versions of the bill, and Otis’ action, were heavily criticized by two successive Rye City Councils and mayors. Most recently, Mayor Josh Cohn and other members of the current Council considered Otis, and by extension Mayer, to have been secretive about the new bill and to have damaged the City’s negotiating position with the school.
Otis contended that he and Mayer wanted to have a backup plan in the event the City and Rye Country Day could not reach an agreement.
Asked for comment, Mayor Cohn said, I am disappointed. This allows Rye Country Day to buy public land without going through a public auction and without committing to benefit Rye residents. Now it is incumbent on Rye Country Day to show Rye residents how good a community member it can be — now and in the many years to come.”
Rye Country Day has estimated the cost of purchase and development of the Thruway property at $30 million.