Amidst strife, SPI founder resigns

By CHRIS EBERHART and PHIL NOBILE
The Review has learned Peter Rukeyser, a Rye resident who co-founded Sustainable Playland, Inc. and served on its executive board, has resigned from the group, leaving the nonprofit without any of its original founding members.

Rukeyser, along with fellow Rye resident Dhruv Narain and wife Sandhya Subbarao created SPI in 2010 in response to Westchester County’s request for proposals to renovate Playland amusement park. Republican County Executive Rob Astorino chose SPI to run and renovate the park in 2012. A year later, Narain resigned after it was revealed he owed back taxes.

Rukeyser remained on SPI’s Executive Board of Trustees and served as its treasurer until his resignation last month.

“The plan has morphed from the plan I was excited about to one I’m not,” Rukeyser told the Review by phone this week.

In Rukeyser’s resignation letter, which was obtained by the Review, he wrote, “It was a plan to reinvent the park that not only included changing how it was used at the county level, but also as a local park available to Rye residents, a new way to approach this rarely used space for local residents with year-round open access with walking paths and green space/open space to the waterfront.”

Rukeyser said the vision changed after a “never ending and dysfunctional county process.”

“We were seemingly pressured to increase the amusement zone by some [Westchester County] Board of Legislator members at the expense of the bulk of the great lawn,” Rukeyser said. “This move, combined with the sizeable field house, causes an irreconcilable problem with the lack of available parking.”

The proposed 82,500-square-foot field house, which would be built in the Playland parking lot that abuts one of Rye’s residential neighborhoods, has been a bone of contention for the amusement park’s neighbors. The unrest among the park’s neighbors has caused Rye’s City Council to consider legal action in claiming jurisdiction from the county, which owns the park.

Rukeyser cited the field house criticism and the City of Rye’s legal pursuits as part of the reason for his resignation.

“The size of the field house/fields have been a lightning rod for criticism around Rye, and now we have lost the support of our local City Council and many supporters,” Rukeyser said. “Our own City Council chose a legal route rather than work constructively with our volunteer group, a huge disappointment.”

SPI spokesperson Geoff Thompson said, “It’s a personal decision [Rukeyser] made. He was a founding member and has played an invaluable role with the organization and made a tremendous commitment to the Playland project and the City of Rye.”

Thompson said SPI board members are currently discussing a replacement for Rukeyser as treasurer.

On April 30, SPI returned to the Board of Legislators’ review of its Playland Improvement Plan, which details the nonprofit’s proposed renovation of the amusement park, after suspending its involvement on April 1, citing legal concerns, according to SPI President Kim Morque.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com; phil@hometwn.com