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Friday, February 3, 2023
Home Government Q&A: Council Candidate Lori Fontanes

Q&A: Council Candidate Lori Fontanes

(PHOTO: Rye City Council candidate Lori Fontanes.)
(PHOTO: Rye City Council candidate Lori Fontanes.)

Meet Rye City Council candidate Lori Fontanes, running for election this fall on Tuesday, November 8th. Fontanes is running to serve the last year of Richard Mecca’s four year council term. Fontanes is running on the Dem line and will face Matt Fahey who is running on the GOP line.

We have also published a Q&A with Rye City Council candidate Matt Fahey.

Your Name: Lori Fontanes

Running for: Rye City Council

MyRye.com: Why are you running for Rye City Council? 

Fontanes: Coming from a family of first responders and educators, I am a firm believer in public service. As a long-time volunteer on many different boards and committees, it is clear to me that such service is also incredibly rewarding. And now, after spending hundreds of hours already at City Hall and being involved in so many different aspects of civic engagement, I am up-to-speed and ready to serve my community in a new way.

Why are you running for Rye City Council now

Fontanes: When Rich Mecca stepped down from the Council, several colleagues in the sustainability community and members of the Democratic Committee asked me to throw my hat in the ring. They told me they believed I would be a responsive, courteous and dedicated council member and I am committed to being just that.

What are the three biggest opportunities / challenges facing the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years? 

Fontanes:

  1. Expediting flood risk management, not just for the Blind Brook area but, due to more intense rain rates, everywhere that is susceptible to excess stormwater runoff or sewage system overflow. In addition, we should be actively preparing for other potential hazards such as heat waves (especially harmful to the elderly and other vulnerable residents) and power outages due to extreme weather or other challenges to the grid.
  2. An update to our comprehensive planning, although a complex challenge is also an opportunity– to improve amenities and quality of life as well as to maintain key infrastructure, protect public health and safety, and ensure a strong future for this beautiful coastal city. It is also an opportunity to involve the public in the decision-making process about the future of Rye.
  3. Although the pandemic created some challenges around community dialogue on several important issues, it is time to engage with residents, substantively and in person. The citizens have already told us that they want meaningful action on quality of life concerns such as rock chipping, leaf blowers, and on development that is not sensitive to neighborhoods. I believe we can create good outcomes by listening to the community and collaborating on solutions within a fiscally prudent framework.

What are the three biggest areas for cost containment with the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years? 

Fontanes:

  1. Applying feasibility metrics and assessing/seeking broad community support for expensive, optional projects before hiring consultants (this excludes complex and necessary work such as flood mitigation)
  2. Seeking grant partners and employing collaborative strategies to tackle large-scale but necessary infrastructure improvements and similar projects. Boat basin dredging was inevitable and, arguably, only got more expensive the more we waited to tackle. What other projects are we potentially not facing up to but need to address?
  3. Expand voluntary food scraps recycling to all households as there are substantial savings in diverting such heavy waste materials when conducted at scale

Please Answer the following questions Yes or No

Fontanes: I don’t believe some of these complex questions can be answered Yes or No. Consider the blank spaces to be Maybe, Possibly or It Depends.

Question or Statement Yes or No One sentence explanation.
Rye City is prepared for the next “100 year” flood No We will not be prepared until we actually implement a series of flood mitigation projects. Historically, this had not been given the focus the City is now giving it and there will be vulnerability until we complete the necessary work.
Rye City should update its Master Plan Yes Since the last master plan (the City of Rye, NY 1985 Development Plan), models of comprehensive planning have evolved so I would suggest following current best practices as to how to achieve planning goals.
Rye City should have additional restrictions on residential development Even as we do need an updated plan, I believe the City also needs to be responsive to quickly emerging development issues. I want to be a voice for getting ahead of these issues and responding to resident concerns.
Rye City should be more pedestrian and bike friendly Yes I consider these safety issues a priority.
Are you supportive of an ongoing version of Purchase Plaza (some version of a downtown street closure)? After the Covid-related street closing plan that divided businesses, I think we should be cautious about initiatives that will threaten the viability of some businesses for the benefit of others. That said, if a street closing or other development plan had buy-in and input from all downtown businesses that should be considered.
Rye City property taxes are too high Yes Although the City portion of the tax bill is the smallest part, as a member of the Council I will always look for savings by being prudent and responsible in areas of the budget that are discretionary while maintaining the quality of services that Rye residents expect. The school and county portion is by far larger and controlled by other entities, but I strongly believe that City expenses should be managed carefully.
Landscapers should be registered with the City so practices such as leaf blowers can be more closely controlled No Too many layers of government oversight and simply not necessary.
Leaf blowers are a health and quality of life nuisance and we should consider significant additional controls on their use Yes We are already considering additional controls and I believe we as a community can come up with a satisfying compromise.
Curbside food scrap recycling should be expanded across the City. Yes My grandmother in Philadelphia had municipal curbside food scrap pickup so it’s not rocket science and it would be a substantial savings to taxpayers if properly implemented.
Rye Playland will be in good hands with Standard Amusements After one season of private management, it’s too soon to pass judgment. We all hope for the best but the Council should monitor, stay involved and protect the interests of Rye residents, especially the nearby neighborhoods.
Rye Town Park should be controlled (or owned) by Rye City The City shares ownership of the park with the Town of Rye and purchase does not appear to be an option, nor financially responsible to Rye taxpayers. We currently have two seats on the Rye Town Park Commission but, considering our stake in this asset, perhaps an additional seat would better represent our role.
Rye City needs to reduce its deer population by active management that might include sharp shooters or bow hunting I am open to considering anything that is actually effective, safe and does not burden taxpayers, but with a continual flow of deer into the area it’s a perpetual problem.
Rye City parking downtown is suboptimal and has a negative impact on local businesses and residents enjoying downtown Yes The challenges are longstanding but we should regularly review parking availability, accessibility and rules. Supporting our central business district would be one of my priorities.
Do you believe there is an issue with racial bias and equality in our community and that the City has a role to play in addressing it? Rye faces the same challenges as the rest of the country. The role of city government should be to guarantee equal treatment for all and to be sensitive to issues as they arise.
Do you support the raising of the Pride flag on City flagpoles this past June and every June? Yes I supported the request from residents. Rye joined many other Westchester County communities in providing this statement of respect.

 

Land use and the control of development has been raised as an issue in Rye, fueled by a variety of concerns including flood control, rock chipping and the development of flag lots.

Should more be done to bring transparency and control to land use decisions in Rye? If so, what are three of the top recommendations you would make? 

Fontanes: As a communications professional, I am always supportive of more information, not less. I have spoken to many Rye residents who have told me they do not understand how building decisions are made, which commission or board does what and how they can participate in the process. Transparency can be enhanced through education, timely notification, and outreach.

  1. Update comprehensive (development) plan
  2. Building database (see answer below)
  3. Review all communications methods regarding development/building for improvement

Further on land use, what benchmarks could the City publish annually or semi-annually that could help residents understand the state of land use in the City? 

Fontanes: The City could maintain a resident-accessible database regarding the number and type of applications and update relevant information as needed. Posting statistics, timelines, and process flow would go a long way to helping people understand what is going on. They want to know what their rights are, which board or commission handles at which point, and, most importantly, residents want to feel as if their concerns are being heard and taken seriously.

What are your views on the development plan for the former United Hospital site just over the Rye City line in Port Chester? And what should the City be doing to represent its interests? 

Fontanes: The basics of the plan have already been approved by Port Chester and, clearly, the City of Rye could have engaged more effectively along the way. We should be vigilant and involved regarding any additional changes, traffic concerns, and any public health and safety issues involved with demolition and construction.

The City’s Master Plan was written in 1985, over 35 years ago. Should the City update its Master Plan? If yes, describe the process, timeline, stakeholders, and a few of the issues and policies that might be addressed in this work. 

Fontanes: As I discussed in my early answer, the process must involve the public in a meaningful way. The plan needs to be updated to include our new understanding of flood and other evolving risks. I believe we need to also update the plan to protect the enjoyment and character of Rye’s neighborhoods as informed by a process of public participation where all views are heard. It is also crucial that we protect Rye’s incredible environmental assets, open spaces and nature areas.

Tell us about you:

How would your friends and family describe you in one word?

Fontanes: Hard-working

What is your day job?

Fontanes: Writer/producer, longtime community volunteer and adjunct professor at Manhattanville College where (among other things) I teach young people how to improve their rhetorical skills so as to achieve their professional goals.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why, and who would you take with you?

Fontanes: Iceland for its natural beauty and you don’t know them.

What are you watching these days?

Fontanes: I’m the person who only watches the streaming service until I’m finished binge-watching and then I cancel. So, after Stranger Things, Emily in Paris and, yes, Bridgerton, ended, I got off Netflix. Since I already pay for Amazon Prime, I binged some sci-fi and especially enjoyed Outer Range, that Western SF with Josh Brolin.

Where do you live in Rye and how many years have you been in the City? 

Fontanes: I have had the benefit of living in three different Rye neighborhoods over the years, which has also given me a variety of experiences and perspectives. I lived in Hix Park, then moved to the neighborhood near Milton School where I lived for 10 years, and I recently downsized to a cute little 1940s home near Rye Town Park.

What affiliations do you have with organizations in Rye? 

Fontanes:

Church of the Resurrection (2009-present), ResPREP and Carver Center volunteer (2011-2012)

Rye YMCA Cross-District Wellness Committee (2012-present), also other Rye Y projects such as Derby Goes Green, Healthier Sound Shore, etc.

Member, Board of Trustees, Jay Heritage Center, 2020-present

City of Rye Sustainability Committee, 2014-2017, including co-chair, Healthy Yards Program. Emerita advisor, 2018-present.

City of Rye Conservation Commission/Advisory Council, 2017-2021, including two years as Vice Chair. CC/AC advises council and planning commission on land use and conservation issues and reviews wetland permits.

Rye CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), supporter and volunteer 2012-present

Milton Mom, 2009-2012, Safe Routes to Schools, edible gardens, wellness committee

Project manager, pollinator initiative, Rye Town Park, 2020-2021

Rye Seniors (2022, now eligible!)

NAACP Port Chester Rye Branch, invited and joined in 2022

Public speaker, Rye venues include Rye Garden Club, Rye Country Day School, Watershed Literary Festival, Wainwright House, and Jay Heritage Center.

What are three of your favorite food takeout / delivery restaurants in or around Rye? 

Fontanes: So many good choices wouldn’t be fair to select only three!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Fontanes: Gardening, travel, walking, reading, photography, spending time with friends working on civic projects

Please provide links to:

Your Twitter: @LoriFontanes; @Lori4Rye (campaign)

Thanks Lori!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Oh yes – a city council candidate who wants to listen to her bosses (us residents!). I found myself nodding throughout your interview with Lori Fontanes, as I think she really has her finger on the pulse of our beautiful city.

  2. Great interview with a City Council candidate who understands environmental issues as well as financial. Looking forward to when Lori Fontanes is on Rye’s City Council for the same reasons Pamela posted above. The citizens of Rye need to be heard over consultants, contractors, and cronies.

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