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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

 

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.

 

 

By Bob Marrow

Endless Hudson was born in 1913 and died in 1950, four years after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He is buried at the African-American Cemetery in Rye, as are veterans of World War I, the Spanish-American War, and the Civil War. Samuel Eshmond Bell served in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. He participated in the assault against Fort Wagner, S.C., dramatized in the motion picture, “Glory.” Edwin Purdy served on an ironclad ship during the Civil War. Frank Woods participated in the Civil War assault on Port Hudson, La., in Company E, 20th U.S.C.T. Their commanding general said of them, “They answered every expectation. Their conduct was heroic. No troops could be more daring. They made during the day three charges upon the batteries of the enemy, suffering heavy loses and holding their position at nightfall.... The highest commendation is bestowed upon them….”

Robert Purdy, a runaway slave from Louisiana who arrived in Westchester, saved enough working as a laborer to purchase 12 acres of land for $270 in Scarsdale, which he farmed with his family. He became one of the most successful African-American businessmen in the county and, in 1852, co-founded the Barry Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church. In 2012, his achievements were commemorated by Scarsdale’s mayor who declared August 11th “Robert Purdy Day”.

The cemetery is an essential link to the lives of African-Americans in Westchester County and their role in the story of our country. Sarah C. Smith was the first person buried at the cemetery in 1840. There are two former slaves interred there along with 35 documented veterans, 22 of whom fought in the Civil War. Of more than 290 documented burials there, only 79 headstones have been found.

<“Each person here was like a tiny wildflower — beauty unnoticed and worth unappreciated. Yet in their individual quiet splendor through humility and courage toils and love they left an indelible mark and the world is forevermore a better place.”> William Sutherland

A detailed history of the cemetery and the stories of many of those buried there can be found on three informative signs posted at the entrance located at the end of a winding footpath in the southeast quadrant of Greenwood Union Cemetery. The cemetery encompasses 1.4 acres of meadow bordered by wetlands and a pond. It is a serene site with trees, flowers, butterflies, chipmunks, birds, waterfowl, turtles, and, of course, an occasional deer.  

A number of interested Rye and Port Chester residents, including Doris B. Reavis (whose relatives are buried at the cemetery), David and Joan Thomas, David Parsons, Peter Rolland, Louise Perette, Maurio Sax, and myself and my wife Ellen, met recently at the home of Ann and Tony Spaeth to discuss future plans for the cemetery, which, while located in the City of Rye, was deeded to the Town of Rye in 1860. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, the cemetery needs more friends to help restore gravestones, maintain the bucolic nature of the site, fund a project, using ground-penetrating radar, to identify unmarked graves, and build a permeable gravel roadway to replace the unpaved path leading to the entrance.

<The Friends of the African-American Cemetery is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Its founder, David Thomas, can be reached on the Facebook page “Friends of the African American Cemetery” or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..>

 

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

The November 29 City Council meeting featured a Budget Workshop in which representatives from the Rye Free Reading Room, RyeTV, Police and Fire departments, the Boat Basin, and Rye Recreation made brief presentations to the Council in support of their financial requests for 2018. But, the most important budget discussion came towards the end of the workshop, when Comptroller Joe Fazzino and Councilwoman Kirstin Bucci presented options that would create a tax compliant 2018 budget. The City’s original budget request called for a 6.2 percent tax increase, $744,000 over a tax-compliant budget.

Fazzino presented the Council with revenue and cost savings options that would reduce the budget by $745,000.

He proposed savings of $145,000 created by