The village of Port Chester is interested in entering into a shared-use agreement with the city of Rye for the state property along Boston Post Road, and has sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to disallow the Rye Country Day School to buy the property.
Last month, Port Chester Mayor Richard “Fritz” Falanka, a Republican, issued a letter to Cuomo, a Democrat, asking him to veto a bill put forth by state Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Rye Democrat, and state Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, a Republican from Erie County, in July that would allow the private school to purchase the New York State Thruway Authority land for construction of a playing field, track and field house. The vacant 4.7-acre land parcel sits in Rye, parallel to the school and along the Port Chester border.
“The village is very active in inter-municipal cooperation efforts with its neighboring municipalities, whether it [is] in the area of fire protection, emergency services, and public works or library facilities,” Falanka’s letter reads. “Use of the site, as proposed in the referenced bill, would deny Port Chester and its neighbors the opportunity to continue and deepen their cooperative efforts.”
As of press time, the Rye Country Day School, RCDS, is awaiting Cuomo’s signature of the bill in order to begin negotiations with the state Thruway Authority to purchase the property.
The bill was approved by the state Legislature in June.
However, the school’s purchase could now be in jeopardy if the bill is vetoed by the governor, leading Democrats on the Rye City Council to point the finger at Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, for allegedly engaging in private conversations with Port Chester officials about jointly purchasing the Thruway Authority property.
“It is clear from the [letter] that Joe Sack unilaterally made a decision to bring Port Chester into a conversation about the property and did so without consulting the rest of the council,” said Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein, a Democrat, who believes that Sack persuaded Falanka to write the letter. “That goes against our City Charter and his role as mayor.”
In an email sent to both City Manager Marcus Serrano and Assistant City Manager Eleanor Militana on Aug 1, Sack asked them to forward a letter that he wrote to Cuomo to Port Chester’s mayor. The email states that Falanka requested a copy of Sack’s letter.
In June, Sack sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to veto the bill to allow RCDS to buy the state land. The mayor snubbed Otis’ proposal and wrote that it was “a behind-the-back attempt to steer the parcel to RCDS against [the city’s] wishes.”
Since then, the Republican majority on the City Council has rejected the idea of allowing the Rye Country Day School from obtaining the property.
The city recently became re-interested in purchasing the property after discontinuing ideas to potentially buy the land in the fall of 2016.
For more than three decades, the space has drawn interest from both city and school officials jointly and independently at various times. Obtaining the land has always been a key objective for city officials, who have been keen on protecting it from the potential of being purchased by outsiders.
Despite the village’s recent interest in a shared-use agreement with the city of Rye, Sack said that it is “absolutely false” that he or the city engaged Port Chester about jointly purchasing the property. According to Sack, the Port Chester mayor contacted him over the phone to pitch the idea.
“Two of my colleagues are regrettably engaged in this partisan political thing and the rest of us are trying to solve problems,” he told the Review, referring to Tagger-Epstein and Councilwoman Emily Hurd, a Democrat. “I think it’s really unfortunate that they are trying to advance a false narrative.”
Sack is running for re-election this year to a second four-year term as mayor.