As we note the 50th anniversary of Rye’s acquisition of its own golf course, it would be well to recall how it came about and who deserves the greatest credit for the acquisition.
The course used to be privately owned and the time came when we on the City Council began to hear that the owner might be planning to sell to developers. We could visualize the many gorgeous acres crowded with dozens of houses great and small.
How could we avoid such a calamity? How could we keep the magnificent acres open and forever green? After all, a landowner has certain prerogatives and can sell to developers, subject only to such valid local land use rules as are in place.
We in Rye knew about Westport’s town-owned golf course in Connecticut and wondered why we could not have something similar. It was rare for small communities to possess such seeming luxuries, but we in Rye possessed something rare too: a mayor of vision, organizational skill, leadership and courage, H. Clay Johnson.
The golf course owner was approached about selling to the City of Rye. He might have been interested at a price, but any price of his was not of interest to Rye. How could we compel the owner to sell at a reasonable and defensible figure? No one seemed to know the answer, except Mayor Johnson.
The mayor told the City Council that we needed to start proceedings to acquire the golf course by eminent domain, in other words, to condemn it. This can be a risky process, because condemnation leads to a forced sale, at a price to be fixed by a court. If the court goes way high, the buyer is stuck and must pay up.
Mayor Johnson never showed any sign of apprehension that I could detect. He calmly but persistently nursed us along until all us members of the City Council were willing to vote in favor of acquisition by condemnation without knowing what price we would be stuck with.
Rye paid a hefty price for the golf course, but in light of the vast increase in real property values since then, it was a genuine bargain. I hate to think of its or Rye’s image being tarnished by any more recent events. The image of Mayor H. Clay Johnson can never be tarnished.