Nursery Field Advocacy Group Sues City Over Artificial Turf Plans, With City Council Vote on Proposal Expected April 17

The litigation potentially throws a wrench into the City Council’s decision-making. The council is planning to vote on Wednesday, April 17, whether to move forward with the turf plan.

The city was hit with a lawsuit over tentative plans to install synthetic turf at the Nursery Field site. Photo Christian Falcone
Published April 11, 2024 1:09 AM
5 min read

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A local group has filed a lawsuit to stop a proposal to put artificial turf at Nursery Field, a week before the City Council plans to take an up-or-down vote on the proposal. 

The Friends of Nursery Field, and 11 of its members who live near the site, filed the suit in Westchester Supreme Court on Friday, April 5, looking to reverse the course of the controversial project and require it to go through more extensive regulatory channels. The city of Rye, Rye City Council, the city Board of Appeals and Building Inspector Guy Carpenito are all named as defendants.  

“They’ve known this was coming for months,” said Dan Adler, one of the group members who filed the lawsuit. ‘We don’t think a synthetic turf field at this location is appropriate.” 

The Friends group, a local community organization, wants the city to keep the playing surface grass. Nursery Field was converted to a park when it was bought by the city in 2002. The terms of that purchase prevent the city from doing anything to the property until August. 

The plaintiffs are asking the court to require that the project comply with local zoning code, be subject to site plan review, and receive a wetland permit. In addition, the suit asks the court to set aside the city’s environmental findings, which concluded that there would be no adverse impacts if artificial turf were installed at the 82,000-square foot athletic space, located on a 6.75-acre property along Milton Road.  

The group had until this week to file litigation challenging the city’s environmental determination. 

Councilwoman Julie Souza, a Democrat, said the lawsuit wasn’t unexpected, but is  “disappointing” nonetheless. 

“This is a community field that is supposed to be serving its purpose as an athletic field and you’ve got neighbors trying to interfere with the intended use of the field,” Souza told The Record. “I don’t understand how you objectively look at this (project) and see it’s not in the best interests of our community as a whole.” 

According to the court filing, the project does not account for the health risks associated with turf fields, flooding issues in the area, and the concerns of local and regional agencies, including environmental groups.  

Rye City Council dais
The Rye City Council is expected to decide April 17 whether to move forward with a synthetic turf plan for one of its area fields.
Photo Christian Falcone

The litigation potentially throws a wrench into the City Council’s decision-making. The council is planning to vote on Wednesday, April 17, whether to move forward with the turf plan. Proceeding with the project would trigger spending another $100,000 on designs. 

Adler said he’d withdraw the lawsuit if the council was willing to have a conversation about field space that excluded artificial turf.  

“We want change, we just disagree with some … on how to achieve that change,” he said.  

An online petition the group began circulating in 2020, urging the City Council to keep the grass field at Nursery, has garnered 528 signatures.  

“We understand field space is lacking in town,” said Paula Fung, a Friends member who is a named plaintiff. “We all want the kids to play.” 

At the heart of the litigation is a tug of war over how best to address a shortage of field space in Rye, a point of contention for decades. 

At various junctures since the purchase of Nursery Field, the city has toyed with upgrading the playing surface there. After a lengthy hiatus, discussions in 2019 started to move toward artificial turf.  

The turf proposal, and installation of a new drainage system, gained momentum over the last year with the emergence of a resident donor group, “Let the Kids Play,” which said it was willing to raise up to $3 million in private money to pay for the project.    

Proponents of the plan, which would increase usage of the field, cite Nursery’s inability to absorb water during rainstorms. From April 10 to May 3, 2023, the field was in use just 42 percent of the time, with 52 of the 89 scheduled hours for Rye youth sports teams canceled due to field conditions, according to data provided by the donor group.  

But there have been safety concerns with synthetic turf — part of an ongoing dialogue nationwide, including in the NFL.  

Nursery Field, located on Milton Road in Rye.
Nursery Field is subject to a high number of cancelations due to the field’s inability to properly drain after rainfall.
Photo Christian Falcone

A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine analyzing NFL foot and leg injuries from 2012 to 2016 found a 16 percent increase in injuries on artificial turf compared to grass. And a study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis of 26 high schools found that athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury on turf than on grass.  

Rye High School’s Nugent Stadium is the city’s only public artificial turf field. 

Mayor Josh Cohn declined comment on the lawsuit but reaffirmed his support for the artificial turf plan.  

“As for improving Nursery Field with artificial turf, I remain for that, having considered since 2019 our very real need for resilient field space, the questions raised and the satisfactory answers provided,” said Cohn, who is politically unaffiliated.  

Cohn and Souza have supported the turf field project from its inception — voting to spend $290,000 in city money on designs and studies — but lost the majority of the City Council when Carolina Johnson lost re-election in November and Ben Stacks abruptly resigned in December. 

A new bipartisan majority voted in January to pause spending additional money on the project while new council members got up to speed on the proposal and heard additional viewpoints. 

Adler credited the new council majority with being “very receptive” to listening, although he said the conversations were too late and did not offer concrete ideas.  

The pause is set to be lifted at midnight on April 17. 

City Attorney Kristen Wilson could not be reached for comment. 

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