Breaking: SPI back at the review table

By CHRIS EBERHART and LIZ BUTTON

Playland’s Dragon Coaster of a renovation saga took another turn Wednesday afternoon when Sustainable Playland, Inc. announced it will return to the Board of Legislators’ review of the nonprofit’s park improvement plan after a four-week hiatus.

Playland-12The announcement comes a day before a May 1 deadline imposed by board chairman Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat, over Easter weekend.

Kim Morque, president of SPI, made the announcement that the nonprofit will return to the table in a letter addressed to Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, who chose SPI to manage and redevelop the park into a year-round destination in 2012, and said the organization’s leadership expects the Astorino administration to be more involved in the process moving forward.

“After thorough deliberation by our board, we are prepared to resume the review,” Morque said. “We understand that, going forward, [the Astorino administration] will take a more active role with us in completing the operator agreements—including parking—and providing the relevant necessary information to the board’s reviewing committees.”

Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack said the county and SPI had ongoing discussions over the past month. McCormack said it seems the last few weeks have brought some clarity for both sides.

“We have always been active, but I think they have asked us to take an even more active role in the contract negotiations because we have some of the resources they don’t have, and we think that will make things easier,” he said.

SPI first suspended the Board of Legislators’ review process on April 1, citing legal uncertainties over jurisdiction between the City of Rye and the Astorino administration as well as an ongoing legislator lawsuit over the 10-year asset management agreement the county struck with SPI on July 23, 2013, allowing it to run and renovate the park.

In a March 20 letter to the county, Rye designated itself as the lead agency in the environmental review process yet to come, which would give the city—not the county—final authority over the project and subject SPI’s proposal to Rye’s land use boards. The historic amusement park is owned by Westchester County but lies within Rye City borders.

Rye believes it should be lead agency because city residents who live just yards away from SPI’s proposed 82,500-square-foot field house would be the ones most impacted by the project. However, Astorino’s administration has held steadfast to its view it will have the final say.

In a recent interview with the Review, Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said when he met with Astorino on April 3, neither party—the city nor the county—was willing to budge from its claim as lead agency.

The other legal uncertainty SPI’s letter alluded to is county Legislator Ken Jenkins’ lawsuit over the asset management agreement.

Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat and former board chairman, filed a lawsuit in May 2013 against the county, claiming the agreement, which had not been finalized at the time, should be nullified because Astorino overstepped his power as county executive by authorizing the agreement, which Jenkins said qualifies as a lease. The lawsuit was dismissed on Dec. 24, 2013, but Jenkins renewed the suit six days later, adding SPI as a second defendant.

In the April 30 letter to the county, Morque said SPI is of the understanding the county will protect the group if SPI is named in any current or future lawsuits relating to the approval and implementation of the group’s Playland Improvement Plan.

McCormack said the county is comfortable representing SPI in any current or future lawsuit related to the process.

Mayor Sack could not be reached for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com
liz@hometwn.com