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Completion Date for Affordable Housing Project in Sight

The idea of constructing affordable housing in Rye, on a site owned by Westchester County, goes back to the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the dream began to take shape. And by early next year, expect to see people moving in to the four-story, 41-unit building going up at the intersection of Theodore Fremd Avenue and North Street.

Earlier this month, the last hurdle was completed, and with the project financing in place, developer Lou Larizza expects the modular units to arrive any day.

All the preliminary site work on the 2.07-acre property development was completed by the spring of 2016 and it was hoped the project would be completed by last fall.

However, the New York Housing Finance Agency reported a huge backlog in processing new projects, which delayed the start by many months. But, reported Larizza, thanks to the efforts of State Senator George Latimer and Assemblyman Steve Otis, the project got back on track.

By mid-April, all the infrastructure and utilities were in place, and the office and other non-residential elements of the project the grounds near completion.

The units will start arriving from the Scranton, Pa., in early June, and take about two months to be assembled, using cranes to mount them down from above — sort of like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, or Legos.

When finished, 27 of the units will be counted toward the Federal government’s requirement of 750 affordable housing units throughout Westchester County.

Michael Martino, an associate of Mr. Larizza, estimates the project with be completed within another six months, with people moving in by January or February of 2018.

— Bill Lawyer

By Jamie Jensen

While the town has achieved surpluses in its operating budget for two years running, deferred maintenance costs to the sea wall and the landmarked buildings are estimated to be as much as $14 million.

The Rye Town Park officially opens its summer season today. From all accounts, there are many things to celebrate this season, including a roadmap for the park’s future.

The Ocean Grill, which has replaced Seaside Johnnies as the waterfront restaurant (and concession operator) for the park, is open daily from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Owners Al and Joe Ciuffetelli are responding to community feedback and have built a reasonably priced menu with crowd-pleasing, healthy options. Not only is the menu making folks smile, they have opened a café which features a bakery case and café tables in the restaurant vestibule. Plans are to begin serving coffee at 7 a.m. Additionally, the owners will pilot a Friday night concert series with the first scheduled for late June. As the purveyors of both the Ocean Grill and the beach concession stands, Al and his partners are hoping to add bit of fun and some culinary variety to the park goers’ experience.

Park Director Terri Fanelli and Assistant Director Bill Lawyer are finalizing the season’s programs thanks to local sponsors TD Bank, Atria Senior Living, Carpet Trends, and the Ocean Grill. Among the program highlights are the Tuesday Night Concert Series in the South Pavilion, an evening magic show and outdoor movie night for families in July, and the Lawn Chair Theatre’s staging of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” the last weekend in July. The Rye Free Reading Room will bring summer story time back to the park on Tuesday mornings. On a more permanent basis, the Rye Arts Center and Soul Ryeders are working separately on new installations for the park. Details for all the events can be found on the Rye Town Park’s new website, http://townofryeny.com/rye-town-park-and-beach.

Behind the scenes, the Commission has much to do and the publication of the NYU Capstone Report brings several critical issues into high relief. Last fall, a team of NYU Wagner Master of Urban Planning students joined with park officials to formulate recommendations for an action plan. The officials from the Town of Rye asked the team to focus their work on a guiding question <“How do we (RTP) steward and maximize access to this social good while working to protect it?”> The question captures the tension faced by the park: How do we maintain public access to this precious 62-acre property located in the heart of our community while preventing overuse? With over 1,000 respondents to the survey, more than a dozen extended interviews with community leaders, and three public forums, the NYU Capstone team had much to sift through and share.

Some of the most notable recommendations from the report include the need for active engagement of community members in assembling a vision for the park and developing a strategic plan; transparency in the day-to-day operations of the park and communications with all its stakeholders; and a strong park conservancy, like the Central Park Conservancy, that can build on the legacy of the Friends of Rye Town Park and expand to reflect the changing nature of the park’s community and its needs.

Currently, operating revenue is generated from user fees – beach permits, day passes, as well as rental fees. While the town has achieved surpluses in its operating budget for two years running, deferred maintenance costs to the sea wall and the landmarked buildings are estimated to be as much as $14 million. What taxpayers have been willing to overlook for years is now becoming an outsized problem that both the Town of Rye and the City of Rye can no longer ignore.

The park, rich in history and natural beauty, is one of the few beachfront parks on the Sound Shore that is still open to the general public. And despite recent budget surpluses, there are constraints to what can be accomplished. The fee-based revenue stream, a complicated governance process, deteriorating infrastructure, and continued overuse during the summer months pose long-term threats to the health of the park that require community vigilance and additional funding. The common refrain among local residents, “this is a park, not a parking lot,” continues to be heard loud and clear.

Last Sunday, the Rye Town Park Commission held its annual community-wide meeting under the South Pavilion. Let us hope that the Commission gives citizens many more opportunities to engage in the strategic planning process — something that needs to happen if there is to be any benefit from the work of the NYU Capstone team.

By an overwhelming majority, 1,275 to 259, voters approved the Rye City School District’s $86.9 million budget for 2017-18 on May 16. Considering that the budget called for a modest increase in taxes, 2.2%, and that it was tax-cap compliant, strong support of the District was expected.

School Board members Karen Belanger and Blake Jines-Storey were reelected with 1,276 and 1,109 votes respectively. While they ran unopposed, there were 63 write-in candidates.

By Gretchen Althoff Snyder

Parents, teachers, coaches, and administrators all need to send the clear message that there are no good drugs for adolescents.

Nearly a year after the RyeACT Coalition held its first meeting amidst serious concerns over teen drug and alcohol use, things appear to be headed in a better direction. On May 9, the Coalition presented the results of the November 2016 survey, in which 90% of Rye students in grades 7-12 participated. The results show lower rates of past 30-day alcohol use across all grade levels than in the November 2014 survey. Significantly, 53.2% of 10th graders reported using alcohol in the 2014 survey, whereas only 35.5% reported past 30-day use. The numbers for 11th graders dropped from 75.7%% to 58%. And, with the exception of 12th grade, marijuana usage decreased across all grade levels.

Despite the lower numbers, alcohol use among Rye 10th and 12th graders is substantially higher than the national averages — respectively, 35.5% versus 19.9%, and 71.7% versus 33.2%. E-cigarette usage among Rye teens is also way above the national average.

Catherine Parker kicked off her re-election campaign for County Legislator of the 7th District at the home of Amy Siskind, a Mamaroneck resident and well-known social media advocate. The fundraiser, attended by close to 100 supporters, featured remarks by Parker as well as State Senator George Latimer, who is seeking to unseat County Executive Rob Astorino in November.

“I’m incredibly excited to be surrounded by such energized and active residents who support my initiatives to protect the environment, to maintain a responsible and balanced budget, and to ensure that the checks and balances are in place to protect citizens from Astorino’s privatization efforts at the airport,” said Parker.

Disbrow Park Master Plan Gets Fast-Tracked

By Tom McDermott

Mention Disbrow Park to Rye residents and you could get a dozen different reactions. The 47-acre property is known for its Little League and softball fields (Grainger, Founders, Feeley), public tennis courts, and an often-soggy soccer field (Sterling). It is also home to Rye’s Recycling Center, various DPW garages and storage buildings, and a County treatment plant. One-third of the property is designated wetland, through which Blind Brook picks its way. All this, and basically one access road from Oakland Beach Avenue, limited parking, and many traffic safety hazards, particularly when young athletes are about.

One thing many residents seem to agree on: It’s time for a fix. Which is why late last year the City retained global design and project management firm Stantec Consulting to help prepare a Disbrow Park Master Plan and cost estimates.

The first of four planned public meetings to enlist feedback from area neighbors, recreation user groups, and interested residents took place May 11 at Rye Recreation’s Damiano Center. The same day, an online survey went live on the City’s website, ryeny.gov.

At the meeting, Lisa Dempsey, chair of the Rye Recreation Commission, introduced Gary Sorge and Jennifer Waldron of Stantec who conducted the meeting and breakout sessions. City Councilman Terry McCartney and Mayor Joe Sack observed and participated in the breakout meetings.

Some residents voiced a concern that not enough notice had been given for the meeting or the survey; others were particularly worried about protecting the wetlands. But as the night progressed, the four smaller breakout sections allowed for concerns to be heard while eliciting ideas and suggestions.

Each breakout section shared its combined thoughts regarding the park’s assets, current weaknesses, opportunities, and possible threats presented by a new design. Common assets mentioned were the natural beauty and need to protect the wetlands (in a FEMA flood zone), central location, and valuable field space. Many agreed the fields needed to be fixed – especially Sterling Field, buildings need to be nicer, traffic flow must be improved, more parking and restrooms were musts, as well as safe drop-off areas. An opportunity to create better sight lines at Feeley Field emerged, as did the idea of a new walking path. Some saw too much parking as a threat to the park, and a basic conflict of purposes between the recreation and public works functions.

On May 31 at 7 p.m., Stantec will present preliminary plans based on resident input and information gathered from the survey for further public comment. Based on feedback from that meeting, Stantec will present a preferred design alternative on June 20. Both meetings will be held at Rye Rec. A “final” presentation will take place at the July 12 City Council meeting.