Opinion

On the state Thruway property

To the Editor,

Dear Mayor Sack and members of the Rye City Council,

I write to express my concerns over the way in which the city is proceeding on the New York State Thruway property, Disbrow Park, and the Department of Public Work operations.

First, I have serious reservations about relocating DPW to the Thruway property. As former Mayors Dunn, Otis, and French have stated, the city has worked for decades to protect this important gateway to Rye from commercial or industrial development, including from a state DPW-type facility. The city has expressed significant concerns over the proposed development of the former United Hospital site, citing increased traffic on the already congested Route 1 and the proximity to Rye’s residential neighborhoods. Relocating DPW operations to the Thruway property would only exacerbate these concerns and result in the loss of valuable open space at the eastern edge of our city.

Second, it appears that your consideration of this project has been done without appropriate transparency, without involvement of the entire City Council, and without providing adequate information to taxpayers. Mayor Dunn notes in his letter to the editor published in the June 23 edition of The Rye Record that moving DPW might well be the largest capital expense the city has ever undertaken, and might well raise our borrowing to the highest level ever reached. Mayor French’s letter raises similar concerns.

The proposal to move DPW raises complex environmental, transportation, fiscal, and land use issues, none of which have been discussed in an open forum. And yet, at the June 7 City Council meeting, certain council members were advocating placing a referendum on the November ballot that would authorize a bond issue for this project. It is inconceivable to me that the city would request taxpayer approval for such a significant capital project with so little information on its financial, environmental, and logistical implications.

Third, I am confused and disturbed by Mayor Sack’s sudden decision to oppose Rye Country Day School’s purchase of the Thruway property. The city, RCDS, and Assemblyman Otis have been discussing a public-private partnership to acquire the Thruway property since 2015 when the state Thruway Authority indicated its intent to auction off the parcel to the highest bidder. Assemblyman Otis quickly intervened and convinced the Thruway Authority to work with the city and RCDS on a recreational use plan.

In the fall of 2016, the city decided not to purchase the property itself, but instead requested that RCDS fund the purchase and permit the city to use the facilities. Assemblyman Otis and RCDS proceeded in good faith to accomplish this plan. Otis drafted the necessary special legislation to implement the plan that the City requested. On May 30, before the bill was introduced, he sent the draft legislation to the mayor and City Council for their review and comment, clearly stating that he intended to introduce the bill within the next week. This was reiterated in a June 1 letter to the mayor and the Council.

The bill, drafted in direct response to the city’s request, fully protects public access to the property and gives the city veto power over the sale to RCDS by requiring a shared use agreement as a precondition to the sale. Assemblyman Otis also offered to discuss any issues or concerns that the city might have, either individually or as a group.

Without notifying Assemblyman Otis or RCDS, and without any open discussion before the City Council, Mayor Sack wrote to Gov. Cuomo on June 21 urging him to veto the Assembly bill that passed on June 15. Sack’s letter asserts that Otis “pushed the bill through the Assembly” and that “[n]one of this was heretofore known by the city of Rye; Assemblyman Otis did not advise us this was happening.”

This assertion is contradicted by the facts I have outlined above. Moreover, Mayor Sack’s letter is inconsistent with his remarks at the June 7 City Council meeting when he assured the president of RCDS’s board of trustees of his interest in continuing to work cooperatively with the school.

The last minute reversal of the city’s position by the mayor and his veto request puts at risk the game plan agreed to by the mayor, the City Council, Rye Country Day School, and Assemblyman Otis. Most importantly, it puts at risk the Thruway property that the city, Otis, and RCDS have worked so hard to preserve.

I urge you, first and foremost, not to undermine the very property that you have endeavored to save from unwanted state development. I further urge you to work cooperatively with the entire community and with Rye Country Day School to implement plans for this property, as well as for Disbrow Park, that are economically viable, environmentally sound, and that reflect sound land use management policies.

 

Pamela McGuire,

Rye

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