Council Plans Nursery Field Presentation, Offering New Councilmembers History Lesson on Proposal

The Rye City Council voted on. Jan. 24 to hold a presentation on the synthetic turf proposal for the Nursery Field space.

Published January 26, 2024 4:40 PM
3 min read

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The Rye City Council voted on Wednesday to direct city officials to prepare a public presentation
on a proposal to install synthetic turf at Nursery Field – a plan that has pitted members of the
community, and the council itself, against one another. 

The presentation is scheduled for Feb. 28, as a newly installed council looks to pump the brakes
on a turf field project that had advanced under the previous council. The new council members
have paused the spending of another $100,000 to complete design plans so that new members
can get up to speed on the project.

The motion was made by Democratic Councilman Josh Nathan, who said he had a lot of
questions surrounding the project late last year before sitting down with City Manager Greg Usry
and City Engineer Ryan Coyne. Nathan proposed a similar presentation in public that addresses
“different spaces around Rye” and identifies issues that are still pending. 

“It is incumbent upon us to use this time to get everyone up to speed and finish the discourse,”
Nathan said.

Any decision on the project is currently halted following a 4-2 council vote on Jan. 10 to pause
any movement until Feb. 28.

Part of the rationale for the pause was the city’s inability to put shovels in the ground – if it were
to move forward with the replacement of the existing grass field – until August, because of
legislation that governs the Milton Road city-owned property, Nathan said.

The new year has also ushered in a changing of the guard with the appointment of former
Councilwoman Sara Goddard to fill a seat vacated by Councilman Ben Stacks, who abruptly
resigned in late December, and the addition of two new council members – Democrat Jamie
Jensen and Republican Keith Cunningham – elected in November.

“I was just elected … it is important to understand all the liability issues and worst-case
scenarios,” Jensen said. “You are all going to be asking me to make a difficult decision for the
community…. I really feel the responsibility.”

Nathan’s motion passed unanimously with support from all six council members present at the
Jan. 24 meeting. Councilman Bill Henderson, a Republican, was absent.

But Deputy Mayor Julie Souza was visibly frustrated by the delays with the project.

 “The fact that there has been four years of studies … there has been enough analysis to make an
informed decision,” said Souza, a Democrat. “I don’t understand what you’re going to get in two
months that you didn’t get in four years. It’s just a delay tactic.”

The previous City Council, under the direction of Mayor Josh Cohn, authorized spending
$390,000 for design and studies of the project. And Cohn and Souza remain steadfast in wanting
to bring the project to fruition. 

The Nursery Field property, which was purchased by the city in 2002, has become a lightning
rod of controversy pitting families affected by lack of adequate field space in Rye against
environmentalists and homeowners who fear the project, located near the flood-prone Blind
Brook, will exacerbate their concerns. 

Lack of field space has been a talking point in Rye for years. 

“The reason Nursery Field has been such a lightning rod is because it is such an enormous
issue,” said Goddard, a Democrat who left the council in 2021. “It’s not just about fields. It’s about the
environment, fiscal responsibility, use of private funds.”

If the city decides to move forward with the turf installation, it is not legally allowed to begin
work until Aug. 1, according to the city manager. 

Before any artificial turf can be approved, the council would have to raise the necessary funds to
see the project through. A group of local residents has pledged to raise roughly more than $2
million to pay for the project, and to reimburse the city for money already spent developing
plans.

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