While the City Council passed a local law June 17 temporarily prohibiting mechanical rock removal or the use of explosives for more than 30 consecutive calendar days, it is not yet close to a roll call vote on permanent legislation.
By Robin Jovanovich
While the City Council passed a local law June 17 temporarily prohibiting mechanical rock removal or the use of explosives for more than 30 consecutive calendar days, it is not yet close to a roll call vote on permanent legislation. At the Council’s August 5 meeting, Mayor Joe Sack said they are continuing to vet the issues and are unlikely to call the matter to a vote for at least two more meetings.
Longtime residents Gene and Nancy Collins were among the many voices for approving the recommendations of the Rock Chipping Committee, which include limits on permitted hours as well as the 30-calendar day maximum and an 18-month hiatus between applications for additional chipping on any residential property.
“We’ve had three experiences with rock chipping in our Cowles Avenue neighborhood in the last nine years: lasting seven months, four months, and one month,” said Gene. “We’ve been assaulted by the noise and have had to cease babysitting for our grandchildren. This is a violation of my property rights.” Nancy added, “Rock chipping and large homes are destroying the quality of life we moved here for. Neighborhoods deserve quiet time.”
Frances Ginsberg, a neighbor of the Highland Road property that has been under construction for over a year and the project that focused the community’s attention on the need for legislation on mechanical rock removal. “It has been a horrible year for me, as it has been impossible to have a phone conversation or enjoy a quiet meal,” she said. “I don’t understand why developers object so much to this sensible proposal for the health and tranquility of the community.”
Tony Piscionere, an attorney who is a longtime member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and chair of the Rye Republicans, stated that he wasn’t there to advocate for one position or another but rather to highlight the issues the Council should take into account. “Unfortunately, we’ve developed a community that people want to move to, and a natural consequence of that is development,” he began. He stated his belief that if the City puts limits on rock chipping, it would incrementally increase all of our tax bills and home values would decrease.
Rockridge Road resident Lori Fontanes asked the Council: “How desirable are we making Rye? Does every new house need a big basement? Individuals are allowed to chip away at peace and quiet. There may not be any quiet left if we don’t deal with this soon.”
Liz Garrett, whose Milton Road property backs up to Cowles Avenue site where an underground basketball court is under construction, said she had never felt the need to come to a Council meeting before “because the town has been in pretty good hands.” But three teardowns and two rock chipping experiences drove her there.
“I can’t imagine hiring a contractor who didn’t know what he was getting into when he rented a rock chipping machine.” Garrett said she has renovated three homes in three communities, and all without a variance or inflicting this level of noise on a neighborhood. “Unless it’s a Sunday, we can no longer read the paper out on our screened porch, and even our 15-year-old son complains about the layer of dust on our furniture from the construction.”
Bob Clyatt, who works out of his Milton Road home, emphasized that it is hard for anyone who isn’t here during the weekday to appreciate the impact of rock chipping. “We can improve the tax base without it. Chipping reduces value to the people around it and cuts into enjoyment.” He continued, “We built a home with a basement and huddled with our builder to build a smaller one. If a house is built on spec, the future owner isn’t asking for a big basement. You may not be able to build a pool on rock as one of our neighbors did, but under the proposed law you can get enough.”
Former City Councilwoman Carolyn Cunningham, speaking for the Conservation Commission Advisory Council and the Sustainability Committee, noted that not one person on either of those groups found the 30-day period too limited. “Speaking as a former Councilmember, when you have a public health and quality-of-life issue you don’t delay.”
Longtime Forest Avenue resident Allen Clark came equipped — with the names of 25 residents who urged the Council to pass the law. “At the podium, he reminded the Council that its committee “wasn’t charged to come back with a negotiable package. You asked them to find the best solution to an atrocious problem. If this came to a public vote, thousands would come out.” He added pointedly: “People don’t move here for basements; they move here because of quality of life — serenity, camaraderie, services.”
Mayor Sack responded, “When I appointed the committee I thought they would have a report in 30 days, silly me. It’s almost unfair to put that responsibility on them. I don’t think the entire group ever came out with a definitive recommendation.”
Councilman Richard Slack, one of the two Council liaisons on the Committee, asked to add some clarity on that issue. “We had many robust conversations that in many ways mirrored this and at the end the majority of the group agreed to what has been presented.” His view is that the legislation reflects their recommendations and is a compromise everyone can support.”
Former Rye resident Deirdre Curran, who walks many dogs in town, described the quality of life as abysmal. She said she knows a number of young couples that rented here but decided not to settle here because of the noise. “Rye is becoming more of a construction zone than a community.”
Paul Fulenwider, who lives in Indian Village, remarked that when his neighborhood flooded “we didn’t complain. But a jet taking off is fewer decibels than rock chipping. Some of the developers have taken the approach that this law limits their property rights; that’s the ‘Animal House’ defense. We’re talking about rock chipping, not liberties!” He went on to recommend that if an applicant does a seismic survey and it turns out to be inaccurate or there is equipment failure, we could give him more time. “No one wants someone to do everything right and be punished.”
On several occasions, Mayor Sack inserted himself into the conversation. He noted that the Council gets complaints about all kinds of noise. “The model for us is we try to engage in the balancing test, try to take all views into account.” He fears that “people are digging in their heels and talking past each other.”
Orchard Lane resident Maggie Jahn and her family have endured four rock-chipping projects in their neighborhood. “When it occurred we had to leave our house. We couldn’t work at home, talk on the phone. I support the 18-month quiet period for a neighborhood. I’m a pediatrician and the damaging effects of prolonged and loud noise on children are well-documented.”
Louise Sullivan, who with Jahn recently formed the Build a Better Rye group with the goal of decreasing the rate of teardowns and creating policies that encourage restoration and preservation of older homes, asked the Council why they give developers the same value that they do residents. “With this law you’re not telling them they can’t conduct business, just that they may not be able to build exactly what they want for as long as they want. A good person adapts to change.”
Build a Better Rye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is hosting an informational meeting on rock removal September 9 at 7 p.m. at the Rye Free Reading Room.
Attorney Jonathan Kraut, representing Rye builders, said that the issues have been captured in sound bites. “The building community was caught by surprise. Rock chipping is part of a vibrant community.” He added that the builders have begun to study mitigation and will present concrete suggestions at the Council’s September 16 meeting.
Mayor Sack said the September 16 meeting will also be the one at which the Council gets a chance to speak.