It is important to elect men and women of vision, determination, and good listening skills. Rye residents have been fortunate to have more than our fair share of such public servants over the years.
Four years ago, Republican Councilman Joe Sack ran for Mayor on a campaign to clear up the scandal at Rye Golf Club and restore trust. He did and deserves high marks for that.
But within weeks of Democratic Councilmembers Emily Hurd and Danielle Tagger-Epstein being elected to office in 2015, many residents were disconcerted to hear that they were “kept out of the loop” on City business. Early on, when Hurd tried to add discussion items to the agenda for upcoming Council meetings, her requests were ignored.
The first word the community heard about Crown Castle’s application, on behalf of Verizon to install 64 new pieces of wireless equipment throughout residential neighborhoods, was from Councilmember Hurd. Why wasn’t the plan put clearly forward to residents from the start? Did citizens need to petition, protest, and hire their own counsel to prevent a bad plan from just sliding through the approval process? What was the Mayor’s response during this yearlong period? Initially, he seemed surprised by the level of opposition, and at a number of Council meetings he positively bristled.
It’s odd because residents, both Republican and Democrat, were united in their protest of the Crown Castle plan on the grounds of impairment of property values, aesthetics, and quality of life. Throughout months of public discussion, not a single resident spoke publicly in favor of the plan.
When the community recently learned — once again from a handful of residents — of the plan favored by Mayor Sack to relocate most of the Department of Public Works to the State Thruway property across from Rye Country Day School, which would enable Rye Recreation to build more athletic fields at Disbrow Park, many members of the community were stunned, especially Rye Country Day board of trustees, who with the help of Assemblyman Steve Otis, a three-term Rye mayor, had applied to purchase the property and build recreation fields that, by law, must be shared with the public.
At the most recent of three public meetings on Disbrow at the Damiano Center at Rye Recreation, June 27, many in the packed room hoped to hear from Mayor Sack. He was absent, and instead, the consultant and Recreation Commission Chair Bart DiNardo had to field lots of tough questions from the community. The spokesman from Stantec consulting assured residents that the project — whether Plan A, B, C, C1, or Bare Bones D — would happen in phases, but that didn’t calm those doing the math and realizing that the capital cost could be anywhere from $13 million to $50 million, without known environmental remediation costs.
Former Councilman Gerry Seitz, a Republican, noted that a $13 million plan equates to $600,000 a year in debt service. “What Steve [Otis] has crafted, a bill passed both by the State Senate and Assembly [and now sitting on Gov. Cuomo’s desk], is a fine piece of legislation, and one that would take the cost of sports and lay it onto Rye Country Day.”
Carolyn Cunningham, a former City Councilwoman who currently serves on both the Planning and Conservation commissions, stressed that a plan such as the City’s current one “should not be done hastily, and that environmental assessments need to be included.” Further, she said, “I don’t think the DPW belongs in a gateway to Rye.” She reminded the audience that the Thruway property is a wildlife area, too.
The cost of not including the community in every decision, from the start, results in time and attention being diverted from all the other meaningful things on the City’s agenda. And it creates distrust.
When residents learn about big projects late, they will protest and they will expect their mayor to be listening.
— Robin Jovanovich