It Takes a Community Conversation
By Jamie Jensen and Russ Gold
At the Rye Town Park Commission’s Annual Community Conversation May 5, dozens of local residents, taxpayers, and park regulars gathered under the Pavilion for 90 minutes. They brought their questions and concerns regarding the condition and care of one of the town’s most valued plots of land – the 68 acres of park and waterfront beach sitting between Dearborn and Rye Beach avenues.
On hand were Mayor Josh Cohn and Councilwoman Emily Hurd, representing Rye City, and the other four Commissioners: Rye Town Supervisor Gary Zuckerman, Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg, Port Chester Mayor Fritz Falanka, and Benedict Salanitro, representing Rye Neck. Mr. Salanitro is the longest serving member of the Commission and the most knowledgeable about the park. State Assemblyman Steve Otis was also present.
The Commissioners have made this annual meeting an important part of their commitment to transparency and sharing of important updates with the community. Laurence Vargas, the new park director, emphasized this goal, and invited park patrons to reach out to him at any time with suggestions.
According to Zuckerman, the Restaurant Concession agreement has been finalized and is scheduled for a vote during a special Commission meeting on May 9, post-press time. The 3 Guys Restaurant Group, which operates The Barley House in Thornwood, is set to sign a ten-year contract with the option to renew for two more five-year periods.
Mayor Cohn and Councilwoman Hurd acknowledged they played a role in drawing out the negotiations over the last several months, explaining that they’d entered the conversation after 3 Guys was selected and wanted to ensure Rye residents had a strong contract with appropriate contingencies in place before entering into a potential 20-year deal.
Residents came forward to re-visit the overflow parking arrangement and express their desire to further reduce parking on the grass, particularly when demand by out-of-town beachgoers is highest in July and August. During those particularly busy times, the park, from Oakland Beach to the crest of the hill just shy of Rye Beach Avenue, is filled with hundreds of cars. Despite improvements made nearly eight years ago, those in attendance argued it was time to take another look.
While the Commission applies for state grants, obtains architectural and engineering reports, seeks approval from various government entities, and sends projects out to bid, safety and maintenance concerns grow. Six years after the sea wall at the end of Dearborn Avenue fell during Hurricane Sandy, the final repairs remain a season away.
Parkgoers would like to know why there is, as yet, no contingency plan for a temporary concession while 3 Guys awaits the necessary building permits and completes upgrades most observers agree will take several months. They asked whether portable handicap-accessible ramps will be made available as the Commission figures out how to fund the long-term ADA requirements imposed. (The Commission’s 2017 grant request to New York State for ADA dollars was not approved.) They also want a better understanding of how to propose and help with park programs.
The Rye Town Park Commission meets the third Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. The next meeting is May 15. As of April, the 2018 budget has not yet been approved and will likely be on the agenda. Residents are encouraged to attend.
Laurence Vargas, Rye Town Park’s new director, encouraged patrons to share questions, concerns, and suggestions throughout the season.