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Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Home Government City of Rye Allendale Residents Call on Rye Golf for More Project Transparency

Allendale Residents Call on Rye Golf for More Project Transparency

Map with Allendale Drive and Rye Golf Club
(PHOTO: Allendale Drive residents abut Rye Golf Club.)

Residents along Allendale Drive are calling on the Rye Golf Club and its governing commission for more transparency regarding its various activities including tree removal and flood issues along holes 4-5-6 as well as the larger ongoing master plan process, saying “it has been developed in secrecy”.

(PHOTO: Like so many places in Rye, flooding plagues Rye Golf Club too.)
(PHOTO: Like so many places in Rye, flooding plagues Rye Golf Club too.)

Over 350 people have signed a petition calling to “End Tree Destruction at the Rye Golf Club Before It’s Too Late” asking Rye Golf to abandon its master plan – the first phase of which requires the removal of 120 trees. The petition says the master plan “does not take the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods in to consideration and will wreak environmental destruction in the process.”

In a letter to members on October 14th, Rye Golf Club Commission Chair Terry McCartney and Rye Golf Club General Manager Jim Buonaiuto shot back in regards to the petition, saying “misleading information is being disseminated and missing information being strategically left out.”

“Historically Rye Town Golf has taken a lot of trees,” said Allendale Drive resident Lindsay Lorraine, saying there is no real tree replacement program. “No one understands what the objective of the whole project even is. We want a seat at the table. This is planning that is going thru without input from neighbors.”

What’s next? The Rye Golf Club is expected to present its plans at a Rye City Council meeting in December or January.

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Here is the October letter sent by Allendale Drive residents:

October 19, 2021

Dear Mayor Cohn, City Council Members, and Concerned Rye Residents,

We have reviewed the October 14th letter to Rye Golf members from Commission Chair Terry McCartney and GM Jim Buonaiuto, written in response to the petition created by us. We are encouraged that they have now made the commitment to 1) mitigate and IMPROVE flooding issues adjacent to the fifth hole of Rye Golf Club, 2) total transparency going forward with respect to any redesign of the course and 3) an environmentally friendly solution to any redesign proposal submitted to the Rye City Council. However, having followed this process since late July of 2021, we do have serious concerns regarding statements made in the RGC letter as well as additional topics that the RGC membership and Rye public may not be aware of. Beyond the very specific tree removal and brook-piping issues, there have been instances of RGC lack of transparency surrounding this project, that we believe the City Council, RGC Membership and Rye residents should take seriously.

We had hoped that we could wait for this project to make its way to the City Council, as part of the approval process.  However, we have reasons to believe, which we describe below, that this project is in the advanced stage and not the preliminary stage as implied by the RGC letter. Each day brings new concerns, and we find ourselves at a point of even deeper unease than when a group of us met with Mayor Cohn and Councilman Ben Stacks in early October. We see this increased level of community discussion and enhanced awareness by the Rye City Council, as a positive step. There will be a time for public comment once plans officially move to the City Council, but we continue to feel that it makes sense for all stakeholders, including Rye residents beyond the borders of RGC, to discuss concerns while the plan is being developed, rather than after.

Our deepest interests remain with the potential for exacerbated flooding, permanent scarring of the Rye environment, Rye property values and ongoing animosity in the community.  We welcome the opportunity to work with you, the City Council and the RGC to find the most appropriate way to resolve each of these concerns. RGC was designed by Devereux Emmet – he was known as a naturalist.  As RGC celebrates its 100 year anniversary, we implore RGC’s leadership to take on Emmet’s spirit and personal quote of “integrate, don’t decimate”.

  • Transparency

This project, developed over two years, was only unveiled in a public forum three months ago.

  • The Commission’s own minutes from its 7/21/21 meeting acknowledge that the plan had not been widely discussed before then. “The club manager noted that the club would host a public meeting to present the 4-5-6 rerouting concept to the entire membership for the first time”.
  • While the RGC letter states that the project has been discussed “at public meetings over the last two years,” a review of the 2020 and 2021 RGC meeting agendasshows that the first time that the rerouting proposal for holes 4-5-6 explicitly appears on an RGC agenda is for the 8/02/21 RGC Golf Course Planning Workshop.  There was no opportunity for neighbors to be aware of the project prior to this time.
  • We have no way of knowing whether the proposal was discussed in 2020 because the minutes for 2020 have not been published, yet over $40,000 has been spent on plan development.
  • This is not the transparency we had hoped for as RGC neighbors, nor is it the transparency described in the 10/14/21 letter to RGC members.
  • Had two neighbors, who are RGC members not received the membership survey in late July 2021 regarding the proposed changes, we may not have known about these extensive plans until they reached the City Council level and/or massive tree removal commenced.
    • Concerned members of the neighborhood began attending RGC Commission meetings on 8/02/21. The statement that the commission and club “has met in person with individual neighbors and groups of neighbors” ignores the fact that the neighborhood at large was not considered when formulating the proposal.  In fact, this statement is likely referring to the course “walkthrough” with neighbors and GM Buonaiuto that occurred on 8/09/21 – after the plan had already been disseminated to RGC members and following the vocalization of neighbors’ concerns.
    • When concerned neighbors began attending RGC Commission Meetings in 2021 after the release of the proposed re-design, we were told “not to worry”, that the redesign was in the planning stages only, and that no actions would be taken until “if and when” a final plan was submitted to the Rye City Council in January of 2022.  Shortly after, it was discovered that 120+ trees had already been identified and marked for removal. RGC had prepared a detailed Request for Proposal calling for the destruction of 120 trees on just holes 4 and 5 four months before the membership, let alone the neighbors, were informed about the project.
  • Timing and Environmental Considerations

RGC committed significant time and financial resources to a plan and is only now completing an environmental assessment. This sequencing suggests that environmental considerations are low on the list of priorities.

    • The 10/14/21 letter to members states that RGC had hired an environmental engineer “well before the events of Ida”:
      • During 8/09/21 course walk through of the proposed changes with GM Buonaiuto, he assured neighbors that RGC would be hiring an environmental engineer to assess the impact of the proposed redesign.
      • At the 8/25/21 RGC Commission meeting, we reiterated our concerns regarding flooding issues and provided commissioners with photos of the flooding which occurred on the 5th fairway during Tropical Storm Henri.
      • On 8/31/21, GM Buonaiuto confirmed to us via email that RGC had hired an environmental engineer.
      • One day later, Tropical Storm Ida impacted neighborhoods adjacent to the course, throughout Rye and surrounding communities.
    • The more relevant issue discussed in our petition and confirmed by GM Buonaiuto is that the Commission did not receive any input from environmental engineers during the two-year planning stage, despite the plan calling for piping over a brook and removal of 120 trees in the context of known water issues on Holes 4 & 5.  Why would the Commission roll out a video presentation on the proposed redesign for members, before determining if the proposed design was environmentally feasible?
  • Tree Removal and Replacement

The tagging of trees, the removal of which the 4-5-6 plan necessitates, implies that this project is in an advanced stage of planning. There is no current plan to replace trees.

    • When discussing the removal of 120+ trees, RGC’s statement refers to a tree replanting program that has never existed, was not considered in the two-year planning stage, and has not yet been implemented.  In an email on 9/24/21, GM Buonaiuto states that “we have asked our environmental consultant to suggest a tree replacement program”.  The Commission has concrete plans to remove 120 trees but abstract plans to replace them.
    • When trees started being removed adjacent to Eldredge Court on 9/13/21 (a location central to the re-design), neighbors received conflicting messages from Manor Tree Company and the RGC.  Disease, storm damage, and course re-design were all given as different explanations by workers, managers, and RGC employees.
    • Over and above the RFP calling for felling 120 trees on holes 4 and 5, there is a separate RFP calling for cutting 41 trees on various holes, which RGC has begun to implement, and no explanation has been given for why 29 of them need to be cut.  Nor has there been any suggestion an RFP exists for tree replacement.
    • There is little evidence that tree replacement is a priority for RGC – for this specific project and prior to this project.  Conversations dating back to 2018 regarding errant ball issues on Hole 5 have not produced any trees of significant size to address any errant ball concerns.
    • In this time of acute concern regarding flooding, it is important to consider that a mature oak tree can draw up to 50+ gallons of water per day; replacement tree plans need to consider the volume of saplings required to replace such a precious resource.
  • Safety Issues

The RGC’s letter describes the plan as improving safety for members.

    • The Chairman and GM’s letter states the rerouting plan for holes 4-6 as creating a “safer experience for our members.”  In its presentation to members about the plan (on 7/23/21), RGC merely claimed that “this renovation would not add any new areas of safety concerns within our golf course boundary.” Management of RGC also reported that the plan emanated from “focus group style meetings” in which members expressed a “low opinion of the club’s 5th hole.” We have inquired about errant ball issues many times with RGC.  If there are still concerns regarding errant balls leaving the golf course property, there were eight more cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions presented to the Commission in 2018.
    • While the proposed redesign will potentially reduce the number of errant balls on two neighboring properties, the RGC’s ball dispersion study shows that it will potentially increase errant balls on four different neighboring properties. RGC is not solving the problem, it is transferring it to others.
    • There are lingering concerns that the golf architect has not calculated for the loss of trees between holes 4-5, which currently provide a safety buffer for golfers on the course.
  • Items of Concern for all Rye Residents and RGC Membership
    • According to the budget workshop meeting on 10/12/21 RGC has plans for capital projects/repairs priced at approximately $11M.  They have access to $3M in “unrestricted funds”.  It is unclear to us if the $11M includes the $5.7M Golf Course Master Plan re-design.  To fund these projects, commissioners identified these options at the RGC Budget Planning Workshop held on 10/12/21:
      • Assessment of current members.
      • Raising fees for current membership: residents and non-residents.
      • Raising fees for people coming off the waitlist at a proportionately higher rate than current members, with non-residents on the waitlist paying the most.
      • Current wait list to join RGC is approximately 300 applicants, made up of non-residents and residents.  When asked at the 10/21/21 budget planning workshop if residents would be given priority in coming off the waitlist, Commissioner McCartney indicated that the money is needed from non-resident memberships.  It was also stated that this year has been the first year that residents have not been given priority re membership. Non-residents will increasingly have a say in how to manage a city asset.
    • RGC’s capital projects include needs beyond the golf course.  The pool system is failing (and may soon not be serviceable in its current state, at which point the current budget of $500K will not be adequate) and historic Whitby Castle requires significant repairs.  At the same 10/12/21 budget workshop, one RGC commissioner stated that he does not want golfers paying for “a single penny” of the Castle improvements.  It was suggested that perhaps Rye City would like to “take on portions of the club”.  It is unclear to concerned neighbors what this means.  We would like to make sure any future discussion regarding potential shifting of financial burden to Rye taxpayers is completely transparent.
  • Items not discussed in the Commissioner/GM’s letter to RGC members
  • Cart Paths to be constructed along neighborhood home property lines is clearly an issue for homeowners. In addition, the new cart paths’ impact on errant balls (ricochets), has been left off the ball dispersion study.
  • The original rerouting plan called for course dump to be re-located to property lines of Allendale Drive neighbors. We have received confirmation from RGC that this part of the plan has been scrapped. This newly created out of bounds area remains of concern, regarding upkeep and future usage by the RGC, immediately adjacent homeowner’s property lines.
  • Financial implications of the RGC Capital Projects.
  • The neighbors remain unsure how the RGC membership truly feels about this plan. The initial survey generated by RGC had a response rate of 18% according to GM Buonaiuto.

We sincerely thank you for taking the time to review our concerns. In general, we feel blindsided by this project that has been in the works for two years. Our recent history with RGC suggests that transparency with RGC only happens when concerned members and neighbors take the time to become informed. We still do not understand the compelling reason to redesign the golf course at a starting expense of $1M for holes 4-5-6 when the club has a waitlist of 300 applicants and pending capital projects/repairs in excess of $11M.

Respectfully,

Jason Yacavone

Carisa Schneider

Christine Donley

Joseph Donley

Lindsay Lorraine

Shaun Lorraine

Kari Black

Ed McGann

E.J. Scott

Gill Scott

Philip Bianchi

Elaine Bianchi

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