Nothing Sacred About the Plans for the Wainwright Property
By Robin Jovanovich
The future of Wainwright House and residential Milton Point from the intersection of Milton Road and Stuyvesant Avenue down to the private clubs at the southern end of Rye is very much in the balance. A petitioner, the Milton Harbor Foundation, made a presentation through its attorney, Jonathan Kraut, at the January 21 City Council meeting.
The petitioners seek a “Zoning text amendment” in order to construct a 7,000 square-foot multipurpose facility, one that includes gathering and class space, offices, and a floating dock, and will “serve both civic and community use.” In fact, the petitioner wants to move RowAmericaRye, which is currently next to the municipal Marina on Milton Road and has outgrown the space it is in, to the Wainwright House property on Stuyvesant Avenue. Their plan is to raze Fonrose House, the carriage house named after Fonrose Wainwright Condit, who lived there until her death in 1983, and erect a spacious facility for the growing rowing community.
There are many stakeholders in this proposed change, starting with Marc Castaldi, the owner of the land, building, and row docks that RowAmerica leases to run its programs. He has owned the property since 2005. In 2013, he agreed to let Howard Winklevoss operate a rowing program there. RowAmerica is in year nine of a ten-year lease. Recognizing how much the sport has grown, Mr. Castaldi reached out to Mr. Winklevoss and offered to expand the building or tear it down and build a new facility to accommodate current and future needs. He has yet to receive a response. In fact, it was only through an article in this paper that he learned that Mr. Winklevoss had joined forces with the Wainwright House board through the Milton Harbor Foundation, to relocate there.
The Milton Point Association is 60 years old. Its members felt compelled to form Friends of Milton Point to “keep a commercial enterprise such as RowAmericaRye” out of their residential neighborhood.” On their website and at recent Council meetings, they explain why they believe a potential re-zoning of the Wainwright property is not just a Milton Point issue. “Once a change like this is allowed, the genie is out of the bottle,” emphasized Milton Point Association president Sander Spierings.
To date, 230 Milton Point residents have signed a petition protesting the plan. They recommend that RowAmerica “demonstrate a willingness to work within the City’s current zoning” if they want to expand operations.
In response to the strong opposition of Milton Point homeowners, the City Council set up an email address to which Rye residents could send their opinions in writing on the prospective plan by January 27. After reviewing those comments, the Council said it hoped to announce “next steps” at its February 3 meeting.
Regarding a Zoning change, the Council has complete discretion, noted Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson at the January 21 Council meeting. “They can table the proposal; ask the applicant to modify their proposal; or refer it to the Planning Commission for their review,” she explained.
At the last Council meeting, Jonathan Kraut, attorney for the Milton Harbor Foundation, made his case for the Council to move the project forward. “Our firm represents two Rye institutions, RowAmericaRye and Wainwright House, a well-known 501c3. We’re putting forth a petition that marries two institutions. The primary use of the new facility would remain not-for-profit.” Having a sound-proof facility, rather than tents, where weddings could be held would “solve the outdoor noise problem,” stated Kraut.
Due to ongoing complaints about noise and traffic, when there were as many as 30 weddings a year at Wainwright, nearly a decade ago, the City set a limit of ten weddings a year there. Since then, Wainwright, historically a spiritual institution, has been struggling to remain a financially viable one.
The five-acre property is zoned for religious use. The applicant is asking that it be rezoned in a new category for civic and community use.
In his November 25 letter to City Manager Greg Usry, attorney Kraut writes: “Rather than arguing that rowing is to Wainwright House what a CYO basketball program is to a Catholic church, the petitioners felt it was best to address a hole in the current Zoning.” He added that the plan “had the potential to foster additional access to water.”
For the record, when this paper asked the president of the Wainwright House board, in late October, whether the board was contemplating leasing part of the property to Mr. Winklevoss for a new rowing facility, the president emphatically denied that such a plan was being entertained.
At the January 21 Council meeting, Councilmembers asked Mr. Kraut a variety of questions, including when and why was the Milton Harbor Foundation started; who is on the board; why didn’t RowAmerica just team up with Wainwright; the proposed location of the dock; how does rowing fit into a community center; and is there really a demand for indoor weddings.
Mr. Kraut didn’t have a ready answer for most of the questions but promised to get back to the Council.
Would Fonrose Wanwright Condict, who, in 1951, donated the property to the Laymen’s Movement, of which Dwight D. Eisenhower and E. F. Hutton were members, approve of the razing of the carriage house she lived in until her death in 1983 and the building of a commercial venture?
We’ll never know but we do have her thoughts in writing. “This is a sacred house. Because it is sacred, it should be consecrated to the development of human potential, in healing, and growing forms, to serve the advancement of humankind through spiritual, philosophical, and ecological paths.”