Rye’s Wainwright House, the nation’s oldest non-profit, non-sectarian holistic learning center, is in a row with the Rye Record newspaper on what it says is one-sided and inaccurate coverage. MyRye.com has been provided a letter sent by Wainwright to the newspaper.
Like many non-profits, the pandemic has been tough on Wainwright, wiping out its event income from weddings and its rental income from the two organizations – the Rye YMCA and the Brava Dance Studio – that typically hold classes at the five acre property.
Fast forward and Wainwright was tossed a lifeline of sorts from Row America Rye. The rowing program has expressed interest in running its programs from the Wainwright grounds. Even though the move is 7/10th of a mile down the road from the rowing program’s current location adjacent to the Rye City boat basin, the prospect has evoked concern from neighbors.
The Rye City Council recently voted to take no action (not expressing a option for or against the Wainwright and Row America collaboration) on the proposal, so the matter is still ongoing with swirling and strong opinions on all sides.
All this should provide a context for the letter, from Wainwright:
We write to express our disappointment with the one-sided and inaccurate front-page article published by The Rye Record on January 29, 2021 entitled “Nothing Sacred About the Plans for the Wainwright Property.” This article, which focused on a petition submitted to the Rye City Council by two non-profits (the Milton Harbor Foundation and the Wainwright House), was filled with misinformation from a small group of vocal opponents. In researching this article, the paper never approached or spoke to a single representative of either organization to hear our side. As a result, we want to set the record straight.
You labeled the proposal, incorrectly, as one for a “commercial venture” even though the words of the proposed zoning amendment make clear that “[n]o primary activity is carried on for gain.” This strongly suggests that the petition was not reviewed carefully. And by asserting in the headline that there is “nothing sacred” about adding the sport of rowing to the many other offerings at Wainwright House, you mischaracterized the author’s mere opinion as “news.”
The Wainwright House Board unanimously disagrees with this one person’s opinion, and has determined that an obvious synergy exists between the sport of rowing and the “development of human potential” that is part of Wainwright House’s charge. We sought to modify Wainwright House’s classification from a “religious institution” to that of a “community and civic center” to clarify that we could pursue additional eco-friendly water-dependent uses, such as rowing, in addition to the kayak and paddle-board launches we have historically offered. There is absolutely nothing “commercial” in the proposal.
Some have argued that this was “commercial” because it would bring traffic to Wainwright House. For the past seventy years, the lifeblood of Wainwright has been people visiting and enjoying our beautiful property and life-affirming classes. Indeed, Wainwright House was situated on Milton Point long before any of its neighbors moved to the peninsula that also hosts three popular and active social clubs and a public pier. It was our desire to be responsive to the complaints voiced by our immediate neighbors about noise from the limited outdoor events with amplified music that we host that motivated us to pursue a relationship with Milton Harbor Foundation, which would have resulted in the gift of a beautiful new multi-use facility that we would have owned and a new program offering utilizing our waterfront space.
While the article acknowledges that there are “many stakeholders in the proposed change,” not even one person from Wainwright House, Milton Harbor Foundation, or RowAmerica Rye was interviewed. In addition, Rye residents who don’t have the luxury of living on Milton Harbor are also stakeholders, but you apparently did not consider their views either. Although you did acknowledge that the proposal “had the potential to foster additional access to water,” the article did not explain that the proposed zoning change was to enable Wainwright House to use its space for the benefit of this broader Rye community and fill the void left by the closing of the Durland Scout Center, which was once one-door down and is now taken up with two residential parcels.
Unfortunately, the City Council decided to table this petition at the start of its most recent meeting. Your article—as well as the false narrative perpetuated by a few neighbors, including through a website and a letter-writing campaign that flooded Milton Point— impacted this decision. We take issue with the process provided by the Council, which failed to make part of the public record all communications received, opted not speak with the main stakeholders on all sides, and denied counsel for Milton Harbor Foundation any opportunity to come back to it with answers to the questions left open from the prior meeting. The hasty decision to depart from past practice and not exercise its discretion to allow the Planning Commission and City employees to vet the petition with an eye toward what is best for all of Rye was a mistake. We urge the Council to reconsider.
The Wainwright Board of Trustees.
[The board includes: Robert Manheimer, President & Treasurer; Staci Ramachandran, Vice President; Patricia Goodwin-Peters, Secretary; Rick Gallos, Wendy Sheldon, Deborah Walker, Charles Albertario, Lexy Tomaino and Yuko Watanabe.]