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When Mayor-elect Josh Cohn and the new City Council members takes office New Year’s Day, they will face several pressing land-use issues: DPW and the Playing Fields, the Master Plan, and appointments to Planning Commission and Zoning. In a recent interview with The Rye Record, Cohn shared some of his views.

Disbrow Park

“I do not think the decision-making process regarding moving or renovating DPW has been a healthy one,” said Cohn. “It should not have been up to the Recreation Commission to approve a consultant’s proposal regarding DPW, one that has major planning implications.” [On ---, the Rye Rec Commission recommended for Council approval a $20-26 million plan to renovating DPW at Disbrow Park, moving access roads, and adding new tennis courts.]

“I do believe that Rye Rec’s focus should be on recreation, fields and field safety, and I looks forward to hearing their view on the needs of the recreational and athletic community.”

The Master Plan

One of the major initiatives of Mayor Sack and the Council last year was to revise the 1986 Master Plan. A consultant, BFJ Planning, was hired, a Master Plan Task Force was appointed, and a timeline set to approve a new plan by May 2018.

“I am very worried that the process is much too fast; it does not allow enough time for thoughtful input,” said Cohn. The Mayor-elect noted that the previous Master Plan took several years to develop. He hopes to broaden the membership of the task force to include those with expertise in city planning. Cohn emphasized the need for further time and study so that the Plan didn’t inadvertently contradict zoning regulations.

Appointments to Planning and Zoning

On January 1, 2018, the terms of six members of the Board of Appeals and Planning Commission will expire. All will have served over a decade, and several between 15 and 20 years.

Since the election, Cohn said he had talking to both members of the public, who deal with Rye’s land-use boards and commissions, as well as the sitting members, as to how they have functioned.

“I’m concerned there is a public perception that these boards are looked on as clubs or closed shops,” says Cohn. The Mayor-elect plans to review the performance of these bodies as he considers new appointments.

Would he consider enforcing or establishing term limits for Rye’s boards and commissions?

“Having spoken to members of other communities about land-use boards, I find there is a value in experience gained, including gaining a tolerance for the procedures, lengthy at times,’ Cohn remarked. “I think appointments should be judged individually on the merits, rather than a blanket tenure policy.”

 

The community is invited to the Swearing-In Ceremony of the newly electedMayor and City Council members to be held January 1 at 2 p.m. at City Hall. The occasion marks the 76th anniversary of the City of Rye.

 

 

At 2:45 a.m. on December 13, Rye Police responded to a call from a Johnson Place resident about suspicious persons walking down a neighbor’s driveway. The call turned out to be prelude to a wild and dangerous car chase and manhunt for the officers involved.

As responding units entered Johnson Place, a Lexus SUV and a black Infiniti with headlights on drove directly at them. The Lexus struck the front end of an RPD SUV, with Sgt. Jason Washco at the wheel, causing the Lexus to roll over, after which the suspect was placed in custody. The driver of the Infiniti stopped, observed the officers, and quickly fled eastbound toward Boston Post Road, striking a second RPD vehicle, driven by Officer Keith Parker. Washco was injured and required assistance due to injury from Officer Angie Cyr who was also on the scene.

The Infiniti, reportedly stolen in New Jersey, was driven around police units, over a lawn, then eastbound on Barlow Lane as it was pursued by police to Trails End. There, the suspects fled on foot from the vehicle over a fence to Long Island Sound.

Officer Parker was joined by Officer James Foti and they pursued on foot, joined by Port Chester Police. One suspect was captured and officers found a pack containing a fully-loaded Springfield Armor .40 calibre Semi-automatic handgun. Two other suspects fled the scene and remain at large at press time. A Code Red message was sent to Rye and Rye Neck school districts and area residents.

The suspects in custody were later charged with the following felonies: Grand Larceny and Reckless Endangerment, and Fleeing an Officer in the 2nd Degree; Criminal Possession of Stolen Property 2nd Degree; Criminal Mischief 3rd Degree, as well as felony weapons and motor vehicle violations.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran stated that he was “extremely proud of our officers for their bravery and professionalism in engaging these dangerous individuals.” He reminded residents to lock vehicles overnight and not to leave keys or valuables in vehicles.

 

By Robin Jovanovich

The final City Council meeting of a calendar year is generally short and without controversy. The budget for the next year has been vetted and trimmed and Councilmembers, City staff, and the handful of citizens in attendance may be more inclined to drift off to White Christmases than reiterate their positions.

But before the mayor called for a vote to adopt a budget, Councilwoman Emily Hurd and other proponents of going ahead with a design study for additional sidewalks and improved pedestrian safety along Forest Avenue made a last push.

Former Councilman Mack Cunningham made a strong case for bringing down the proposed tax increase further. “The environment has changed.” He urged the Council to postpone hiring three new members of the Fire Department on the grounds that lifetime benefits don’t go away.”

In the end, the Council majority voted 5-2 to adopt a budget for 2018 that calls for a tax rate of $172.83 per $1,000 taxable assessed valuation and a tax levy of $24,311,043. The 3.03% tax increase is under the tax cap.

The Council cut $765,000 from the budget initially proposed by the City Manager by using $200,000 from the Fund Balance, trimming their outside legal fees by $100,000, counting on $160,000 in savings from LED lighting, eliminating their $50,000 contribution to Rye Town Park, and deferring a $100,000 Parking Deck study and a $150,000 Forest Avenue Sidewalk study.

Having passed the budget, Mayor Joe Sack announced that the City would provide the opportunity for property owners to prepay the City portion of their 2018 tax bill. Comptroller Joe Fazzino has set up the process. “It is with the proviso that there is a disclaimer by the City.” Whether taxpayers will actually reap tax benefits by prepaying remains a big question, but hundreds of residents contacted City staff and officials this month once passage of the federal tax bill seemed sure. (It passed this week.)

The Council also approved a new retainer agreement with Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson, who had worked without a raise since 2010. Under the new agreement, her retainer will go from $100,000 to $140,000.

As the December 20 meeting was the last one for Mayor Sack and Councilmembers Julie Killian, Terry McCartney, and Kirsten Bucci, they were given the opportunity to say a few words about their time on the Council. For all, the experience was a good and memorable one. They praised the dedicated City staff, thanked their families for putting up with their absences, and said they were glad to be able to give back to a community they love.

Mr. McCartney said he was proud to add the City Council to his accomplishments. Addressing the mayor, he said, “I’ll be your wing man any time. Looking to the back of the room where the Council-elect sat listening, he said, “I hope you’ll give the Disbrow plan a good look.”

The mayor had the last word. He said, “I’ve had the time of my life.”

 

 

By Tom McDermott

At its December 11 meeting, the Rye Recreation Commission approved a Disbrow Park & Facilities Master Plan proposal, designated “Plan B2,” developed by Stantec Consulting. The Commission described it as being the best parts of the original A and B concepts offered by Stantec in June (available at ryeny.gov). It includes significant upgrades to recreation areas and public works facilities within Disbrow Park.

The preliminary total cost estimate is $26 million, nearly evenly divided between recreation and public works costs. The estimate includes the highest range of public works facilities remediation costs, $4.8 million. The work would most likely be phased in over an unspecified number of years if approved by the City Council.

A week later, in a separate but related development, according to State Assemblyman Steve Otis, Gov. Cuomo signed a bill authorizing Rye Country Day School to purchase NYS Thruway land on Boston Post Road across from its campus. The bill requires the school to use the land for recreational purposes and be shared with the City of Rye before the land can be sold. Otis, the bill’s main sponsor, stated, “…Governor Cuomo’s support for our local goals for this property has been tremendous. The next step will be a shared-use agreement between the City and the school, transfer of the property, and a new field for the kids to play on.”

While the bill offers the City an opportunity to enter into an agreement with Rye Country Day, it is not bound by the bill to do so.

Some of the recreational highlights of the Disbrow Park proposal are:

  • Creation of a two-way vehicular circulation loop through the park;
  • A gathering area near the entrance with a playground, restrooms, and baseball/softball viewing areas;
  • A pedestrian plaza at Feeley Field;
  • Relocation of Grainger field and Founders Field No. 1;
  • Synthetic turf improvements to Sterling Field;
  • Relocation of public recycle drop-off into a covered facility;

Additionally, the proposal calls for four new public works buildings: salt shed and truck washing station; a refuse truck garage; a police garage bay, offices, and flexible storage; and a truck garage. Some of the public works upgrades have been in the City’s Capital Improvement plans for several years as “high priority.”

Councilman Terry McCartney Council liaison to the Commission, who attended the meeting, said that the work would be accomplished through bonding. The proposal is subject to some adjustments in design and cost estimates by Stantec.

The Recreation Commission hopes to have Stantec present the plan to the incoming City Council in early 2018. Asked how the process might go forward, City Manager Marcus Serrano said, “It comes down to what the Council wants to do. They may want to get better cost estimates and have both DPW and recreation staffs review the proposal more closely.” Ryan Coyne, the City Engineer who oversees DPW, did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

How receptive will the new Council be toward the proposal? Mayor-elect Josh Cohn said, “Speaking for myself, I would be open to having a presentation. The Recreation Commission has gone to a lot of trouble and has put forward a point of view.” Cohn said that he and Councilmembers-elect – Sara Goddard, Julie Souza, and Ben Stacks – will prioritize “budget concerns, improving DPW, and being responsive to the need for fields.” To that end, Cohn expects the Council to conduct a comprehensive field-use survey.

The Disbrow plan does not include any new field for soccer or lacrosse, something that a number of Commission members had wanted. Asked if the Governor’s signing the bill offered Rye an opportunity to solve that problem, Cohn told the paper, “It is important that both Rye Country Day and the City be successful. Rye would need to get serious use of fields at the property.”

 

By Bill Lawyer

Back in 2006, Westchester County applied for a federal grant to enhance the ways people could get to Playland Amusement Park if walking or biking from the Rye train station. It would also provide people with an enjoyable way to walk or ride safely just for the fun or fitness of it.

The $2 million pathway project grant called for a 2.65-mile walking and biking path that began from the start of Theodore Fremd Avenue to where the current pathway begins, on the east side of Boston Post Road. From there it would proceed parallel to the Parkway all the way to the Playland entrance.

The enhanced parkway would be a vast improvement from the existing one, which is an uneven blacktop path frequently narrower than two feet wide. The new one would be eight feet wide, properly graded, and handicap-accessible.

It would also include a bridge across Blind Brook for pedestrian safety, along with the planting of shrubs and other plants (let’s hope deer-resistant varieties).

The County’s proposal was approved, a contract was signed, and the first design drawings and details were presented at a public meeting in the spring of 2012.

The public in attendance at the meeting was overwhelmingly in support of the project. Only a few people whose houses were adjacent to the widened pathway expressed concern about the impact on their property.

Given public approval, the County planners at the meeting estimated that construction might commence as soon as 2014. However, between the many steps required by the Department of Transportation, it wasn’t until this fall that the County Executive’s Office announced the project has been green-lighted and construction will begin in late 2018 and be completed within a year.

The progress on the project was evidenced at the November 8 Rye City Council meeting, at which Anthony Zaino, Director of Design for the Westchester County Planning Department, made a presentation that included final specifications.

The City Council then authorized the City Manager to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with Westchester County to allow the County to make improvements to portions of the Theodore Fremd Avenue and McCullough sidewalks as part of the pathway project.

Mr. Zaino said that the costs of all the improvements to the City’s existing infrastructure would be borne by the County.

<For details, go to planning.westchestergov.com/playlandpkwypathwaypres.>

 

Existing Playland Parkway pathway by Milton Road