Diminishing Downtown Business Community

<The following letter was sent to Mayor Joe Sack and forwarded to the paper for publication.>

My name is Caroline Schneider and I own a store in downtown Rye called Lola. We have been on Purchase Street for over 12 years.

We have watched our business diminish considerably due to both external factors (the Internet), as well as more local issues (disappearing shoppers, parking spaces). This is clearly not unique as we watch neighbors shutter their stores.

If we are to curtail this trend, I think it is critical that Rye take an active role in creating a more user-friendly retail environment, and would welcome the opportunity to speak with you about this.

I am also forwarding a recent article posted by LoHud, as Rye is not unique in this situation, and I think it important that the community gets involved.

— Caroline Schneider

As a former mayor of the City of Rye and chair of the Rye Recreation Commission, I have extensive experience in planning and implementing both the City Capital Plan and the Recreation Master Plan. I am well versed on community needs and have led numerous outreach efforts to identify and deliver solutions that meet those needs. In isolation, the plan to move the DPW may have merit within the four corners of the plan; however, when put in context of the overwhelming capital needs of Rye — roads, flooding, sewers, sidewalks, fields, Police Station updating, general infrastructure maintenance, sidewalks, and roads again to name a few — it stretches the City’s capital capabilities in terms of priorities, dollars, debt, personnel, and core operational service levels.

With a high residential to commercial tax base ratio, Rye in many ways operates as a small town and supports practical point solutions that improve quality of life and increase overall community property values. In my experience, the successful capital projects are ones that have identified and solved a specific community problem within the priorities of the total capital needs — the Downtown improvement project, the Damiano Center, Whitby, the Sluice Gate, Disbrow Fields, and affordable senior housing to name a few. The capital projects that have proven to be problematic – the Police Station move, the Lester’s site, the NYS Thruway lease, the Nursery Fields, for example – are ones that looked to solve one problem, but also created others. The DPW plan does that as well.

The unintended consequences of such a transformative plan will bring more problems to the City than it can handle to include the huge financial investment, cost overruns, the increased debt levels, disruption to staff, disruption to City services, the lack of focus and resources on other core capital needs, the lack of strong project management and oversight, and aesthetic impacts among others. There is a reason why other municipal governments do not take on a transformation of this magnitude – because the return is never fully realized from what was expected, but the true cost (both known and unknown) is much greater than planned for.

What to do? Stick to the original plan. Plans have been put together for the Boston Post Road site for a multipurpose field. RCDS has been a willing partner. The opportunity to purchase the land in balance with the risk of other potential uses keeps the City in control. The explosion of club teams, youth, and female participation have been well-documented, and highlight the need for more field facilities. Rye is behind other communities in field quality and space. Current DPW facilities can be prioritized and upgraded as needed.

Most importantly, keep it transparent and accountable. Nothing raises the temperature in town more than land-use decisions – and rightfully so. The Council will be better served if it moves forward on legislation I proposed that would video and televise all land-use committees and meetings. The public needs to know the what, why, who, when, and how land-use decisions are made that impact overall property values. The cost is minimal with today’s technology. Surrounding communities have done this for some time. It’s time for Rye to bring the public into its land-use decision-making process.

  • Douglas French, Mayor of the City of Rye from 2010-2014

This afternoon, in a moment of quiet at work, I snuck a quick peek at my personal email and noticed one from the city of Rye titled: AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM MAYOR JOE SACK. The all caps subject line was click bait; I couldn’t resist. 

I wish I had. I really didn’t need the cortisol spike.

In a nutshell, the mayor used a publicly owned communications channel to launch into a very personal attack on a fellow public servant, Assemblyman Steve Otis. He clearly wanted to share his opinion of the back-and-forth over the Disbrow Park initiative (and related purchase of public land across from Rye Country Day School). Unfortunately, any message he hoped to convey was obscured by vitriol and character assignations. To have our mayor use a public channel to conduct such a personal attack is absolutely disgraceful. 

The fact is, communication from the mayor about the Disbrow Park initiative (and related purchase of public land across from Rye Country Day) has been spotty at best. I am floored he felt slinging mud at a fellow public servant would be more productive than calling the community to an open forum in which we could all discuss the matter more productively.

We as a community deserve a more civil (and sane) level of discourse. People are going to disagree on things from time to time — that’s life. But if we cannot — or will not — find ways to discuss differences without resorting to personal below-the-belt blows, we all lose.

Mayor Sack ought to be ashamed of himself. He owes a huge apology to his constituents for violating their trust and to Assemblyman Otis for maligning his character.

— Sarah Welch

Once again, the City of Rye will carry on the tradition of honoring its deceased veterans on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29. Rye American Legion Post 128 and the Auxiliary will sponsor a parade, beginning at the Rye Train Station at 9:30 a.m. and proceeding along Purchase Street to the Village Green for ceremonies.

The public is invited to enjoy music, marchers, trucks, and cars. The Rye Historical Society will provide horses and riders. Antique cars will also travel the parade route.

At 10:30 a.m., Post Commander Fred de Barros will begin the formal ceremony on the Village Green. Mayor Joseph Sack will greet guests.

Keynote speaker Martin Dockery, a Rye resident, will share his experience and perspectives. In September 1962, when he landed in Saigon, he was a young, determined, idealistic U.S. Army first lieutenant convinced of America’s imminent victory in Vietnam. While most of the 12,000 U.S. military advisors in-country at the time filled support positions in Saigon and other major cities, Dockery was one of a handful of advisors assigned to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) combat units.

For eight months, Dockery lived and fought in the heart of the Mekong Delta with an ARVN infantry battalion on missions and operations that often lasted several days. In his book, “Lost in Translation: Vietnam: A Combat Advisor’s Story”, he provides inescapable evidence that as early as 1962 the writing was on the wall concerning the outcome of the Vietnam War.

The annual Americanism Award will be presented to Tom Saunders, former Rye Post 128 Commander, and dedicated leader at SPRYE and Rye Rotary.

The ceremony features the traditional reading of the “Gettysburg Address” and the reading of the names of those from Rye who fought and perished in the wars of the 20th century. The John M. Kingery Memorial Day Essay Contest Awards will be presented to winning Rye High School students. The program will also include recognition of Rye Eagle Scouts.

Robin Latimer, president of the American Legion Auxiliary will sing the National Anthem and “God Bless America”.

Prior to the parade, members of the Rye Fire Department will conduct a brief ceremony and lay flowers at the monument in the circle at Milton Road and Grace Church Street at 8:15 a.m. The monument honors Rye firefighters who served their nation.

Moving the Department of Public Works to the Boston Post Road, across from the Rye Country Day School playing fields, may be an excellent idea. In the early surveys it is an outstanding favorite. If so, the concept will stand up to a thorough community discussion that could involve some of the following questions:

This move might well be the largest capital expense the City has ever undertaken. It also might well raise our City borrowing to the highest level ever reached. How does this fit in the City’s annual capital plan? Assuming this capital project proceeds, what effect would this expense have on the City’s other capital needs? Would the money be better spent on resurfacing roads, on repaving the Metro-North parking plaza, on building sidewalks, on reducing pollution flowing into Long Island Sound?

Moving the DPW to this new location would impact significantly on the Boston Post Road, where the City for generations has discouraged development, and locate it on a major gateway to Rye, another subject of long-term protection. Are we ready to commit to this at this time?

Does the whole City population benefit from this largest-ever expenditure? Or is the benefit limited to certain groups?

Is there a study of existing field utilization? Could existing playing field capacity be increased by converting more fields to turf?

In simple terms, maybe the most important question is: How many new playing fields would be created by moving the DPW facilities against how much will this cost? What is in effect the cost per field?

Again, moving the DPW to the Boston Post Road may be the best move the City can make. But let’s take the time to examine it thoroughly.

Edward B. Dunn

(The author served as Rye’s Mayor from 1993-1997 and on the City Council from 1991-1993.)

The Rye Record is a very enjoyable newspaper covering community events and beyond.

I usually find insightful advice in the “Ask Alice” column. In the May 5 issue, however, I was surprised and disappointed. One set of grandparents writes about their <<weekly>> visits with their daughter’s family and less than warm interactions with their son-in-law. Yikes! Who would want their in-laws to show up weekly? The young family must be free to explore their own community and beyond, plus sports and activities with their own friends. The grandparents should do the same, taking in some museums and a movie once in a while. So much enforced togetherness is a burden for all and a pleasure for none. Perhaps once a month there could some interaction if it’s convenient.

Also, in John Schwarz’s “Ruminations” column, the grandfather of 18, two of them twins, expresses wonderment at the large number of twins in the world now. With IVF, twins are much more common than in the past.

Thank you for your quality newspaper!

<— Janet Darlington

A twin, conceived the old-fashioned way, mother of four, and grandmother of ten>