It was standing-room-only in the Rye library’s Community Room — as well as the adjacent hallway — the evening of December 11.
By Bill Lawyer
It was standing-room-only in the Rye library’s Community Room — as well as the adjacent hallway — the evening of December 11. Close to 300 residents were there for a presentation on the proposed Field Zone that is part of Sustainable Playland Inc.’s restoration plan for the park.
Four-page, illustrated “Facts About The Field Zone at Playland” brochures were distributed, answering 15 “FAQ’s” about the project.
Sustainable Playland (SPI) executive board member and vice president Robert Balachandran began with a brief explanation of the format of the meeting. He noted that it was an informational meeting, not a public hearing.
He went on to say that the purpose was to provide Rye residents and the general public with detailed information about the Field Zone component of SPI’s proposal and to answer concerns and allegations regarding this component. He added that the members of the Field Zone team would speak, and people could submit written questions, focusing on the field zone, not the other components of the project.
Instead of going right to the presentation, however, various SPI board members went into detailed descriptions of the history of the project, and the qualifications of the people involved in it. This included historic preservationist Sussanne Pandich and president Kim Morque, a real estate development executive.
They also acknowledged other members of the board, many of whom are Rye residents, who were in attendance. This included architect and Rye resident Doug McKean, whose master’s thesis project back in the 1970s was the basis of the original plan.
From the moment the meeting started, however, it was clear from the mumbling and grumbling and the many out-of-line interjections that many people in the audience were in attendance because they wanted to vent strong opposition to the plan. And they were very unhappy that the format precluded them from doing so.
Once the field zone presentation began, five of the principals and consultants of Playland Sports LLC launched into detailed, illustrated slide presentations about the project’s economic viability, footprint, flood-zone compatibility, environmental sustainability, lighting, security, traffic, parking, and community impact.
These included John Abate and Eric DeGraw, and Norm Gill of Pinnacle Indoor Sports. They said that they have had much experience with this kind of business, and that the Rye area was “off the charts” in terms of economic viability.
Their presentation was from the point/counterpoint school: They quoted a concern or allegation that has been raised and then countered it with their facts and findings.
Speaking to the concern that the project would interfere with neighbors’ views of Long Island Sound, the presenters used aerial and cross-sectional views to show that current views would be unaltered. In SPI’s diagram, the 35-foot-high field house structure is five feet lower than the existing maintenance building that runs along the western edge of the Playland parking lot.
The presenters noted that their project would actually reduce the amount of impervious surface, thereby allowing for more run-off. They noted that they would be using a high-quality Astro-turf that does not have crumbled rubber that could be washed into the sound by a storm.
They referred to consultations with FEMA, hydrologists, and stormwater management experts who have contributed to their designs.
The field house will be built on 65-foot pilings and will be “dry-proofed” two feet higher than FEMA requirements.
The traffic and parking engineer report stated that extensive data processed from Playland, going back several years, enabled them to determine the needs required for the sports zone and the other components of Sustainable Playland.
Lighting would be kept to the required minimum for safety and security. The use of highly efficient and environmentally-friendly fixtures would actually result in a decrease in lights affected neighbors.
The proposed hours of use are 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Fewer events would be scheduled if major events were being held in other parts of the park, to allow for adequate parking.
While it was clear that the Playland Sports (PS) group was trying to convey the message that they were answering the public’s concern, it became apparent as the details were elaborated upon on that many in the audience were unsatisfied.
At two points during the presentation, audience members began shouting out accusations that they were not being given an opportunity to respond to the “facts.” People accused the presenters of lying, or giving inaccurate information.
Longtime resident George Szczerba of Adelaide Street stood up and asserted that the maintenance buildings are 30 feet high, not 40 feet, and thus the new building would be seen from the neighboring houses. Another neighbor said that he heard that the maintenance buildings were going to be torn down (untrue according to SPI).
SPI board members and audience members shouted out dueling claims —“I’ve lived in Rye for 16 years” versus “I’ve lived here for 40 years” — to support the validity of their arguments.
Another resident said that when Playland traffic is heavy people would drop their kids off on Sanford Street and “sit there drinking their coffee.”
Several audience members accused the traffic consultants of lying regarding the validity of their study and projections.
Deirdre Curran alleged that both Catherine Parker and Nick Everett have conflicts of interest.
SPI board member Balachandran stepped in during these heated moments and called for calm. He recounted his experiences in getting support for the creation of the Hudson River Park in New York City. He noted that in that case impassioned residents voiced a wide range of fears and concerns, but, through a series of meetings, compromises and creative solutions were achieved, allowing the project to be successfully built.
He expressed optimism that the same could be done with Playland.
The event ended with the SPI board and PS staff answering written questions. These included whether Rye residents would get preferential treatment for facility use or jobs. The response was that because it’s a county park, those issues would have to be decided on the county level.
Another was whether or not Sustainable Playland would be viable without the sports zone income. The answer was that that would depend on the final determination of the other components. But board members stressed that the field zone was the key element in making Playland financially sustainable.
Many other questions from the audience related to doubts as to the validity or honesty of the PS determinations regarding floods, drainage, parking and traffic.
President Morque expressed frustration that due to infighting between the county executive and legislature, no clear format for public hearings or final decision-making has been laid out. He urged people to demand that such a process be put in place, and that they then express their opinions at those hearings.
You can watch the video of the information session at http://www.ryetv.org/12132013-749.