By Gretchen Althoff Snyder

In the final debate before Election Day, the candidates for City Council went head to head on October 19 at The Osborn.

After each candidate presented a brief opening statement about their qualifications, the moderator asked a series of questions prepared by the Osborn Civics Committee. Only one candidate from each team was permitted to respond to each question.

<What is your position on the proposal that would move DPW to the Thruway property, and what is your cost estimate?>

Ben Stacks, who is running on the Democratic slate, said he is strongly opposed to the proposal: “It’s pure folly to think about spending this kind of money when we have a lot of other issues to address.” Regarding cost, Stacks relies on Stantec Consulting, which estimated the cost at $39.9 million, depending on whether environmental costs and the purchase price are included. Stacks is concerned the current majority is not focusing on the real issues that face the City today.

Councilman Terry McCartney, a Republican, assured residents that the Disbrow/DPW situation is years away from being on the Capital Improvements Plan. As a longtime youth sports coach, McCartney said the fields in Rye are inadequate, and the goal at Disbrow is to improve the field situation. He noted that there were six options presented to the Council regarding Disbrow, and that, “We are not going to spend $50 million to move DPW.”

<What is your position on the Crown Castle proposal to install cell equipment on many poles around Rye?>

Sara Goddard said this very contentious issue really boils down to the fact that, “People want a say in what gets plunked on their front yards or near their property.” The semantics of “front yard” vs. “right of way” isn’t really relevant, said Goddard, when it has the potential to adversely impact a resident’s quality of life from noise pollution or reduced property values. She stressed that people have a right to express their concerns and be included in the process, and that if she were on the Council, “I would have started with representing the City first,” then gone to see what Crown Castle had to say.

Susan Watson agreed this issue is a contentious one. Having worked for MCI, Watson says that while not a legal expert, she knows that Federal Communications law gives certain rights of way to telecommunications companies. Watson says the Council heard residents’ testimony on the matter and ultimately turned down the original proposal. Now that Crown Castle has sued the City, she thinks they will probably have more flexibility to do what they want rather than if the City had “negotiated more gently in the beginning.”

<Is a multi-level parking facility the answer to the parking problem downtown?>

Elizabeth Parks, who is running on the Republican ticket, is not sure a multi-level facility is the right answer, but stressed that the goal is to keep our downtown healthy and vibrant. Parks said she hears again and again that residents want to support our downtown businesses, but often cannot find parking and end up elsewhere for their shopping. “It’s important to keep zoning laws in mind, as a large, ugly structure would be upsetting to everyone and would destroy the town’s character.”

Julie Souza, who is running on the Democratic slate, agreed the parking problem needs to be solved, but suggests we step back and look at the issues of cost, scale, and economics: “We need to make sure there is an aesthetically pleasing option that doesn’t disrupt the charm of the community.” With an eye towards the future, Souza also suggests looking into amenities within a parking facility such as solar panels, electric car charging stations, and bike racks.

<How, as a Councilmember, would you make sure the public is listened to and adequately responded to?>

Stacks replied that this question touches on the central theme of their campaign: whether it’s Starwood, Crown Castle, or rock chipping, “the current Council is tone-deaf to the citizens of Rye.” It took public outcry from thousands of residents for the majority to finally be responsive, he noted. Stacks assured listeners that his team is dedicated to changing this pattern and committed to hearing from Rye residents on all issues.

McCartney explained that the Council has a process. First they try to educate themselves on a particular issue, and then they go to the public for input. Many Council meetings go into the wee hours, said McCartney, because we let people come up and talk about their concerns. He stressed that over 20 hours of meetings have been spent on Crown Castle, and that public hearings have been going on for over ten months. “I’ve often changed my position because of what residents have said, including on this issue.”