Rye Mayor Joe Sack accepted the MyRye.com invitation to submit views on the NY State Thruway property and added thoughts on Disbrow and the current he said she said with former Rye Mayor and current State Assemblyman Steve Otis.
Here are Sack's views in full. What do you think? Submit a comment below.
By Rye Mayor Joe Sack:
Thanks Jay. I'd like to take you up on your offer, and take the opportunity to talk about two topics of City interest — Disbrow Park and the New York State Thruway property.
About how these topics may or may not be related. About important infrastructure investments the City ought to consider. About how essential it is to have a full and open-minded discussion about these matters. And finally, about the need to follow a collaborative process that results in as much community consensus as possible.
With participation in youth sports at record levels, one of the most frequent needs we hear expressed in our community is the need for more field space.
I have spoken numerous times with the leaders of Rye Youth Soccer and Rye Youth Lacrosse about the demands and challenges their popular programs face in securing enough fields for practices and games.
There simply isn't enough open space in Rye to meet their needs. The space we have in Rye is often in poor condition, or plain unusable due to weather and flooding.
Unbelievably, these youth sports programs have budgetary expenses in the six figures each year just to rent field space outside of Rye.
I have also spoken many times with leaders of Rye Little League, Rye Babe Ruth and Rye Girls Softball about their own sub-standard playing conditions, and also the dangerous traffic conditions surrounding their fields.
With that background in mind, as you know from prior updates, the City of Rye retained professional consultants to work with the the Rye Recreation Commission to develop creative options for possible upgrades and enhancements to the Disbrow park.
This has been an open and transparent process, with the decision to retain the consultants considered and approved unanimously at a public City Council meeting.
And subsequently, with multiple publicly advertised meetings to elicit community ideas and feedback. Consistent with this approach, the work and progress of the consultants has been published on the City website for all to see and follow.
The consultants have begun to deliver on their task of coming up with a variety of different options for us to consider.
In the process of incorporating community feedback that went beyond even the desire for more usable field space, the consultants took into account other wishes expressed by members of the community, including more walking and nature trails and possibly even a dog run enclosure.
The consultant also addressed the presence of our Department of Public Works in the park, and what that might mean, both in terms of needed upgrades to the DPW facilities regardless, and opportunities that might be achieved by re-configuring the location of DPW within the park, or removing DPW from the park altogether.
All things being equal, if we were starting over again with a clean palate, we would probably not put these public works facilities in the center of our residential neighborhoods next to youth sports fields.
Of course, we are not starting from scratch, but we should not necessarily limit ourselves from conceiving big ideas simply for that reason.
The discussion of Disbrow intersects with another discussion — what to do with the Thruway property. Whether we should buy it at all. Whether we should use it for field space. Or whether we should consider that location as a spot for some or all public works facilities, which would be a potential tie in with the Disbrow plan.
As we have made clear from the beginning, we are in the process of considering ideas, and no decisions have been made. No decisions can be made until all of the options have been sufficiently articulated and vetted and weighed against each other.
It cannot be stressed enough that we are very early in that process, and are not close to any final decisions. Nor should we be.
I do not know which if any of the ideas will be implemented. And I humbly submit that it would be pre-mature for anyone to jump to conclusions or pre-judge any of the choices.
With that said, certainly cost will be a factor to keep in mind. None of the ideas come very cheap. And this may ultimately be a reason to pass on one or all. But these ideas should also not be rejected solely because they require a significant monetary investment.
I am reminded of the decision the City made 50 years ago to purchase the Rye Golf Club. In today's dollars, I believe that purchase amounted in excess of $10 million I am not sure if that same decision would be made today.
But I am also certain that I cannot imagine Rye without the club, and all the recreational opportunities it offers, along with a positive impact on our property values.
I am also reminded of the City's decision made not too long ago to forgo the chance to purchase the Durland Scout Center on Milton Point. A committee of residents recommended not to do so because it was deemed too expensive.
But I wonder whether that decision may have been short-sighted. With all the millions of dollars required for repeated dredging of the City boat basin at the mouth of the Blind Brook, we could have used the location for a marina in the outer harbor, without the need for recurring future dredging.
There are always costs to doing a project, and to not doing a project.
In addition to impact on taxes, the environmental impact that any of these ideas, if implemented, may have on the community will be a factor to ponder as well. The best location for necessary DPW buildings is a subjective question and certainly a matter of wide open debate.
And I think that we should not discount the inherent aversion to change in general that understandably permeates our beloved City of Rye. Folks near both Disbrow and Thruway have gotten used to the way things are, and may be reluctant to consider making things different, for fear of the unknown. And I totally get that.
We need look no further than our recent experience with Playland to see this in action. Folks near the amusement park have perhaps grown used to the normal noise and traffic through the years, but are very leery of any other new encroachment.
In the case of the County's proposal for a field house, the desire for more field space — from Rye's consensus perspective — was outweighed by the fact that it was just too big and too close and too much of an environmental impact on the abutting neighborhood and the City at large.
Another consideration with the County field house was that we in the City of Rye were not guaranteed significant usage. We would have had to wait in line with other users.
A similar consideration will need to be made depending on at least one option kicked around for the Thruway; namely, as a conceit to the cost issue, allowing RCDS to buy the property, with at least some usage being granted to the City.
This sounds nice in theory, but no guarantees have been made, and it would stand to reason that if the private school is fronting all the money, they would want and expect all or most all of the choice usage.
Even if the City could acquire some acceptable use under such an arrangement, this may never be enough, and it could be the only way to alleviate the incredible lack of field space is to make it completely the property of the City.
I do not know the correct answer to any of these questions. I do know that we have not had enough time or information to properly answer these questions.
This cost to benefit analysis on usage is part of the overarching analysis that we must do. Do we even want fields? There are likely some without kids who will say no, despite increase to property values. Do we even have a choice on replacing old DPW facilities? It could be that we may need to even put this need ahead of field needs.
All of this will be taken into consideration. And it takes time.
Some folks seem to have made up their minds already with regard to some of these options.
That of course is their right. And we need to hear from them. But the certitude that some have expressed, and the forcefulness with which they have expressed it, are not always amenable with the process which we have outlined.
It could very well be that the course advocated early on by some folks may be a path similar to what we eventually choose. We are not there yet.
I totally get that the Rye Country Day School has desired the Thruway property for some time, and would like nothing better to secure the property for its own use. And I accept that the school encouraged its faculty and parents to inundate the Council inboxes with similarly sounding messages expressing their pointed views.
But when you are Mayor, and a member of the City Council, you do not have the luxury of advocating for a special interest, and especially not this early in the process. You need to listen to and consider all views and alternatives.
It could be that the best option for the City as a whole will be for the City to acquire the Thruway parcel for public purpose. It could be that the best option for the City as a whole is to keep DPW at Disbrow, and use Thruway for field space only.
There are just too many other issues not even mentioned here still left to consider.
And whether the private school or the public ultimately buys the property, neither entity will be closing on a deal any time soon pending further environmental and engineering reviews. Nobody is ready to make the leap at this moment. All the more reason for the process to continue apace.
The main problem with the actions of Assemblyman Otis in attempting to push through the option of selling the Thruway land to RCDS right now, is that it circumvents this process. I am sure Steve had only good intentions for choosing this path. But the record is clear that we asked him not to do it, even before his bill was introduced in committee in Albany.
I like and respect Steve, and have been gratified to be able to work with him on lots of matters. But it is indisputable that he did this without the Council majority's consent — or knowledge.
Really, there is no better indicator about what happened here than the fact that Steve enlisted some unknown upstate senator to co-sponsor the bill. When we contacted George Latimer, he was quite surprised; George told us he always co-sponsors any bill affecting the City of Rye.
This maneuvering is an unfortunate side show. And it is only a symptom for how the right process has been derailed. But hopefully only temporarily. Hopefully we all get back on track together, and we need Steve there with us.
But supporting a rushed outcome is a tenuous thing. Tomorrow, on a different issue in a different context, you could be on the losing end of that same type of outcome with an incomplete process.
I would encourage all residents, even residents who have already expressed their leanings, to embrace the same open and fulsome process that I have have embraced, together with a majority of my Council colleagues, and I hope soon a full Council.
These issues are too important to be passed through the prism of partisan politics.
Fortunately, I have had positive conversations with the chair of the RCDS board, as well as none other than former Rye Mayor Ted Dunn. There is no stronger supporter of RCDS than Ted; he has been quite generous with the school, and even has the school's performing arts center named after him.
But as a former Mayor, Ted also understands the need and importance to consider and analyze all options, and I have been happy to see and hear him express those same sentiments.
Meanwhile, there are those few on political blogs who encourage others to aggressively express "outrage" at this process. This is a phenomenon we have encountered of late on certain controversial topics in town. This is certainly one route.
But I respectfully submit that the better approach, and the most effective approach, is to remind ourselves that we are all in this together, and that we will get the best outcome if we all work through this together.
There are so many folks with whom we have not ever engaged on Disbrow and Thruway, and I look forward to hearing from you all.
Thank you for your interest, and please stay tuned!
Wishing you a fun, safe and relaxing summer —