Community conversation can be noisy and it certainly was at the July 8 City Council meeting.
By Robin Jovanovich
Community conversation can be noisy and it certainly was at the July 8 City Council meeting. When the public hearing opened on the proposed rock chipping legislation, homeowners, builders, architects, and lawyers had their say. Depending on who was speaking, the audience applauded, snickered, or erupted.
Councilman Richard Slack, who has led the public discussion so far, prefaced his remarks by saying that the actual language in the local law to amend chapter 133 “Noise” was not vetted by the citizen’s study group. By the end of the hearing, Jim Hedges, an Indian Village resident and a member of the Mayor’s study group, was able to respond on the group’s behalf. He recommended that, because of the quantity of rock in Rye, applicants “need to do more due diligence before buying a site.” He pointed out that a refraction survey, whose cost is minimum, could save buyers money in the long run and spare residents the negative impacts of rock chipping. If Rye is to enact legislation, Hedges noted that Greenburgh has some of the best chipping and blasting codes.
Paul Murphy, a fellow Indian Village resident, allowed that, “he was the most conflicted guy in the room. I’m a realtor but I live in ‘Ground Zero.’ We want the ability to enjoy our homes in relative peace and quiet. We wouldn’t need a law if we all trusted and respected our neighbors.” He added, “We want a law that works for everybody.”
Many of the people who came to the podium were developers; one resident counted up 13. Builder Roger Paganelli, a lifelong resident, feels the City “rushed to judgment” on rock chipping. He said it should be viewed as a “temporary scenario.”
Joe Lorono, who has been building homes in Rye for over 30 years, stated, “Construction has provided the backbone of the community. Much of that will cease to exist if this law is passed.” He continued, “The concept is flawed. This law is ten times more restrictive than Mamaroneck’s law, which has been used as a template. The Council should instead consider regulating rock hammering on a workday rather than calendar day basis.”
Developer Paul Varsames, who has an office in Rye, said, “It is imperative we give this matter further thought. The size of a property needs to be considered. This [the current six-month moratorium] is drastically affecting my business. I have contracts on my desk that I can’t sign, a $5 million project I can’t move ahead on.”
Later on in the meeting, Dorothy Mattison, a Mendota Avenue resident, responded to Varsames’ plea by advising the Council “to follow the money on this issue… No one has a $5 million contract on their desk and doesn’t know how much rock chipping is involved.”
Greenleaf Street resident Adele Centanni asked the Council to also consider that the community is looking for a bigger solution to the noise and dust. “There are sites where chipping shouldn’t be permitted. A lot of work could be done on the front end to avoid projects [that disrupt neighborhoods].”
Apawamis Avenue resident John Leonard asked whether architects had forgotten how to do partial basements. His recommendation, which received a resoundingly positive response from many in the Council Room that night, was that any floor space created in a home be included in the square footage. Leonard said, “It’s not hard to tell where the rock is. Where there is an economic incentive, there should be an intelligent solution.”
Ridgewood Drive resident Bob Zahm agreed with Leonard, and made an additional recommendation: that the notification to neighbors be expanded from 500 feet to 1,500 feet. “Sound travels far. I could hear the rock chipping on Highland Road a quarter of a mile away.”
The reason that rock chipping has increased in town in recent years, explained architect Doug Wilk, is that more and more clients are asking for full basements as the City has enacted limits (most recently, the Attic law) on the overall size of homes.
Attorney Jonathan Kraut speaking “on behalf of several residents and developers” said, “The local law should be scrapped. What’s happened in Rye — the changes in the law to reduce the height and bulk of homes— has had unintended consequences. Over a long period of time, the Council has reduced size and put a premium on basements.” He went on, “We can’t have a situation where basements are allowed and partway through the project can’t meet the construction deadline. It’s not a laughing matter, this will affect property taxes.”
Dawn Pike of Orchard Lane said this is the fourth summer in a row that she won’t be able to enjoy her home and backyard because of rock chipping activity in her neighborhood. “I urge the Council the consider the frequency with which this goes on.”
Carolyn Cunningham, a former member of the City Council and current chair of the Conservation Commission Advisory Council, said the CCAC, as well as the Sustainability Committee, supports proposed limitations on permitted hours and number of calendar days on rock chipping. “This is a much-needed local law. It is needed for the public welfare. We suggest additions: the law should also address dust and air quality and mandate procedures to prevent simultaneous rock chipping in a neighborhood within the same 30 days to lessen the cumulative impact.”
After the last of dozens of speakers had had their say, the Council moved to continue the public hearing to the next Council meeting, August 5.