Rye Mayor Josh Cohn has provided the following letter (in Q&A form) to MyRye.com is response to the recent news from State Assemblyman, former Rye Mayor and Rye Country Day School alumni Steve Otis that he has secured Rye County Day School the right to purchase the Thruway property.
Cohn continues to be opposed to this alternative, as has former Rye Mayor Joe Sack, who accused Otis back in September of playing "favorites with his rich friends".
(PHOTO: Mayor Cohn delivers his acceptance speech in January 2018.)
MyRye – Response to Otis Press Release
by Rye Mayor Josh Cohen
Assemblyman Otis’ press release, appearing here on November 26, is confusing at best. A straightforward Q & A may help relieve readers of misconceptions.
But first, basic facts: Law #1 (2017) gave Rye Country Day School an advantaged Thruway Property purchase right IF it entered into a shared use agreement with the City of Rye. The law did not define what a shared use agreement might be. Otis’ Law #2 (2019) stripped out Law #1’s critical reference to the City of Rye and a shared use agreement, and gave RCDS the same advantaged purchase right, subject only to a weak requirement that RCDS make facilities available for rental to the public 29% of usable hours. RCDS terminated the shared use agreement negotiation after passage of Law #2.
(PHOTO: The Thruway parcel is directly across the Boston Post Road from the private Rye Country Day school.)
Now, Q & A:
1. Q. Will the “community acquire the parcel” under Law #2 as Assemblyman Otis implies.
A. Absolutely not. Rye Country Day School will acquire the property.
2. Q. Will Rye user groups get guaranteed shared use of facilities on the Thruway Property under Law #2?
A. Unfortunately not. RCDS will be subject only to the minimal requirement that it make facilities available for rental to the public at times RCDS chooses. Assemblyman Otis cut all mention of Rye out of the operative provision of Law #2. To whom RCDS offers to rent, the times it chooses to offer, the rental fees and the rental terms are all up to RCDS. As the overall Law #2 requirement is merely to “make available for rental to the public,” the school actually need not succeed much in renting to anyone – and it will be hard for anyone to do anything about it.
3. Q. Can we count on RCDS to take good care of Rye user groups?
A. RCDS has been a good neighbor. It even offers some groups some free time, which is much appreciated. However, no one can say what policies will be adopted by future RCDS administrations. RCDS demanded an agreement that would last forever. If the City agreed to that, it would be only fair that the “forever” part include a commitment to share use with City of Rye residents. To my great surprise, RCDS refused to make that commitment. We tried different ways of coming at the issue, but the RCDS response was always negative.
4. Q. What was the City’s primary goal in the shared use agreement negotiation?
A. To get guaranteed shared use for Rye residents over the forever term that RCDS required. The City was fine with RCDS control of the facilities, so long as RCDS was subject to a commitment not to use control to end shared use.
5. Q. What is a shared use agreement?
A. There is no definition of a shared use agreement and no model for what is appropriate in a situation like this one. Some of us on the Council began with the thought that this would not be a rental arrangement and that at times there would be open and free Rye resident access. We ultimately conceded that it would be a closed rental facility and that RCDS would get its initial choice of hours. We could not concede, however, that the City should sign on to shared use agreement provisions that might be used to diminish or eliminate shared use in the future.
6. Q. What effect did Assemblyman Otis’ Bill #2 have on the shared use negotiations?
A. Otis passed Law #2 before the shared use agreement negotiation had actually begun and completely undercut the City’s position. The law handed the property to RCDS – without ANY obligation to rent the property to City of Rye residents. Law #2 placed minimal responsibility for shared use on RCDS. RCDS may have continued negotiations with the City for public relations purposes or to see if it could get a shared use agreement as weak or weaker than Law #2. RCDS terminated the negotiations when it had become clear the City would not permit that.
7. Q. What purchase advantage does RCDS get?
A. RCDS will not have to buy in a competitive public auction, which gives it two advantages. First, it and only it can buy. Second, it can buy at a fixed, appraised price, rather than at the bid-up price that a valuable property near the railroad station and highway entrances might fetch at auction.
8. Q. Was the Thruway Authority impatient with the negotiation of the shared use agreement?
A. No. We checked.
9. Q. Did Rye Country Day have other property it could have acquired instead?
A. It stretches credulity to think that RCDS would prefer anything over property across the street from it. Watch and see how RCDS integrates the Thruway Property into its existing campus over time. Owning the Thruway Property can unlock huge potential in the existing RCDS campus as uses and needs evolve over decades to come.
10. Q. What Role Did Assemblyman Otis play in the Shared Use Agreement Negotiation?
A. He appears to have been involved on the RCDS side, but largely not so on the City side. To the extent Assemblyman Otis contacted me or has taken public positions, he has consistently advocated for the RCDS point of view, as he continues to do.
I would never have expected the negotiation with Rye Country Day to have been as it was, or for Assemblyman Otis to undercut it as he did, nor would I have ever expected someone who claims to represent the City of Rye to favor one special interest over the many residents of our City. I have no doubt Rye Country Day will present itself well In the near term. How it behaves in the decades to come is the real and unanswerable question.
City of Rye