The following “public announcement” comes to you from your local newspaper: Every Rye resident needs to watch the last three City Council meetings. In those meetings, members of the public, as well as elected officials shout at, threaten, bully, and dismiss the opposition. In those meetings, the Council majority pays little heed to the comments of the Council minority. The vote on every agenda item appears to be preordained at 4-3.
Consider the two most recent votes: Four Councilmembers sue the City-appointed Board of Ethics for questioning the appropriateness of calling a special meeting when there is a question of conflict of interest, and assuming the community has no issue with paying their legal fees; the same four approve the plan to spend another $150,000 of taxpayer money to further assess whether putting synthetic turf on top of a wetland, in this case, Nursery Field, will help meet the critical need for playing fields. No matter that hundreds of residents have signed a petition against the plan. The private group calling themselves “Let the Kids Play” promises to contribute up to $3 million to create a new field, on the grounds that our children’s mental health issues will multiply if we don’t have more usable fields “right here, right now”.
Councilmember Josh Nathan asks a perfectly reasonable question: What evidence does the City have that this so-called grassroots group has the funds to commit? Turns out, absolutely none. Yet the 4-3 majority “is willing to take the risk.” Councilmember Bill Henderson, also in the 4-3 minority, asks if we’ve had substantiative conversations with the School District about using one of their fields? The answer is moot.
When a Council minority member brings up Rye Country Day School’s shared-use athletic fields and facility project on Boston Post Road, a member of the Council majority dismisses it as something the community can’t count on. We spoke to Rye Country Day Head of School Randall Dunn shortly afterward. He confirmed that the school officially closed on the Thruway property in December and that the 8.971-acre parcel “will be made available for public use approximately 29 percent of the time for a nominal cost or no cost. The state-of-the-art fields and indoor playing areas will serve both Rye Country Day and local athletes.” While Mr. Dunn said the timeline of the project is not yet fixed, he has every confidence the project will go forward.
Residents who want to understand the concerns of people opposed to a synthetic field on the Milton Road site should add the letters on the City website to their summer reading list.
The paper reached out to Paula Fung after reading her letters to the Council. In response to our question about the suitability of replacing a natural grass field with synthetic turf, she said, “An environmental study by Woodard and Curran in 2011 concluded that Nursery Field was the worst possible place in the City of Rye to locate a synthetic turf field. While some members of the City Council dispute the impact the field would have on wetlands delineated on official maps, I and many others are skeptical until the DEC reviews the plan.” She added, “Flooding occurs on Milton Road even after just a moderate storm. The experts from Stantec maintain that their field design will not increase flooding or impact the wetlands. When residents asked the City for a second opinion, the request was denied.”
Further, Fung, like many other residents, feels the process for vetting and approving the resolution to move ahead was “inherently biased and fiscally irresponsible.”
Fung, who raised three children here, brings a common-sense perspective to the question of field space, which she recognizes is in short supply: “We don’t have as much field space as other towns, but we have the water! We have beaches! If we feel we need to be competitive with other towns regarding field space, then I hope they accommodate us and build us some waterfront.”
Alison Relyea, who is also opposed to the plan, offered: “We’re all on the side of creating more field space; what divides us is that artificial turf at Nursery Field is a bad idea. There are experts other than the one the City has engaged. We need to maximize recreation space, but not at cost to neighbors, Long Island Sound. We’re asking for due diligence.”