By Ryan Prime
I would like to give a voice to the residents who turned out for the Disbrow Park & Facilities Master Plan meetings this past summer and friends and neighbors in nearby Rye neighborhoods who are in favor of the Concept C Park Expansion plan. Before I delve into the issue of costs versus benefits, let me lay out the impacts from a social, economic, and environmental perspective so that we as a community continue working toward the most sustainable solution.
First, consider what Disbrow represents today. The park and DPW facilities are located in one of the most densely populated areas of Rye with neighborhoods to the north, south, east, and west. The 47-acre parcel contains mostly wetlands and open water on the north and east sides and developed areas on the south side of the property. The developed areas for the most part include DPW facilities, tennis courts, baseball fields, a soccer field, and a sewage treatment plant. The 2014 FEMA Base Flood Elevation follows the perimeter of the developed area with the exception of the area where the flood boundary transgresses landward onto Feeley Field and again near the sewage treatment plant. In its current state, Disbrow is disjointed, insufficient, vulnerable to flooding and unsightly. I have heard from many residents about the traffic flow issues, the inadequate field appurtenances, and varying levels of soil contamination.
I also am very aware of the role DPW plays in keeping our town safe and functioning at a high level of service, and the need to repair or replace certain assets to ensure adequate capacity to meet the City’s future needs. The competing interests between having a public recreational space versus building a state-of-the-art DPW facility create a situation that will never result in the existing parcel’s full potential as either a park or a DPW facility. This will be accomplished only by separating the two goals entirely.
At one of the planning meetings, I made a statement that I stand by today: having a park and DPW occupy the same space is like buying shampoo and conditioner in one — it’s not a very good shampoo <or> conditioner. Both the recreational amenities and the functionality of the DPW directly affect the quality of life in Rye, for which reason it is of utmost importance that we think long-term in evaluating the best course of action.
It does not require a degree in city planning to recognize that moving DPW to another location — preferably one that is not located in a marine environment or surrounded by neighborhoods or combines with public space — makes utmost sense from an operational perspective.
Let’s take the Thruway property as an example. The Thruway property along Route 1 is on high ground, relatively flat, located on the outskirts of town, and happens to be for sale. Furthermore, the Thruway property is literally sandwiched between two major interstate highways that provide excellent mobility, particularly in the case of an emergency or severe storm event. However, we must not forget the cost. Moving DPW to another site, regardless of where that may be, would appear to have a higher upfront capital cost than leaving the facilities where they are in Disbrow Park. A full analysis should be completed to capture all costs <and> benefits over a reasonable life cycle. Moreover, the full analysis should include options for cost sharing, such as partnering with Rye Country Day School and other private or public entities interested in working with our community to develop an optimum solution for Rye.
It makes sense to move DPW out of Disbrow Park in terms of everything that matters except cost. So let’s stop arguing on whether relocating DPW out of Disbrow is a good move and start discussing the best way to pay for it.
The Rye Record published a recent article about the importance of green space that was entitled “More Reasons to Get Outside”. The article extolled the virtues of spending time in nature. The article mentioned [how spending time in nature can] “increase well-being, improve cognition, dramatically reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), reduce blood pressure, narrow the income-related mental health divide, alleviate symptoms of PTSD, boost self-esteem and confidence in children (and especially in girls), increase empathy, and make us more likely to engage with the world and each other, among many other things.”
Opponents of Concept C will tell you that the plan will spend tens of millions of dollars for only one additional field. That statement could not be farther from the truth. I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with the presentation by Stantec on the City’s website. You’ll see that while Concept C provides one “Multi-use Field,” it also includes new walking paths, wetlands observation area, green space for any number of outdoor activities, a dog park, and most of all creates a proper public park connecting four densely populated neighborhoods in Rye. One City Council member astutely pointed out at the last City Council meeting that not all children play sports. I’d ask you to imagine the opportunity for our community to enhance Disbrow Park to include a marine science field station for local schools, outdoor theater, picnic areas, biking trails, geocaching locations, obstacle course, etc. None of this would be possible if DPW were to remain in Disbrow.
Here comes the multi-million dollar question: how do we pay for it? The program can be phased and planned accordingly — the City need not put up all the funds up front. The City can elect to relocate DPW in the first phase, then focus on park enhancements after further planning and community outreach already underway with Rye’s Comprehensive Master Plan as well as the Capital Improvements Program. We can look to private entities like Rye Country Day or any other private or public entity to develop the Thruway site or another viable parcel to reduce costs. Developing Concept C further may allow for additional funding through grants, specifically if you highlight historical preservation with respect to the resting places of early settlers of Rye or look to NYS DEC or NOAA for funding opportunities to create trail networks, educational opportunities, marine science field labs, etc.
I assert that we should be arguing not whether or not Rye should move DPW (that argument for the most part is mired in special interests trying not to let the Thruway property slip through their fingers) but how we can come up with a plan to do so that is phased accordingly and met with financial responsibility.
As a Rye resident and a Sustainability Director for one of the largest infrastructure developers in the United States, I believe we have an extraordinary opportunity to create a lasting piece of infrastructure that will benefit future generations and provide positive social, economic, and environmental impacts so long as Concept C is planned appropriately. The full potential of Disbrow <Park> cannot be realized unless the DPW facilities are relocated offsite, which begs the question of where to put the relocated facilities. The Thruway site has many advantages in terms of its distance from residences, its proximity to I-95 and I-287 for mobility, and the added benefit of removing critical infrastructure from close proximity to the flood zone where it currently resides. If there are other sites in contention, we should be discussing them as well.
In closure, Concept C: Park Expansion makes the most sense for Rye.