Category Archives: News

A ribbon-cutting took place March 31 for Tuck’d Away, a new bar and grill in town that serves small plate fare in a relaxed atmosphere.

Tuck’d Away pulls back curtain for public

A ribbon-cutting took place March 31 for Tuck’d Away, a new bar and grill in town that serves small plate fare in a relaxed atmosphere.

A ribbon-cutting took place March 31 for Tuck’d Away, a new bar and grill in town that serves small plate fare in a relaxed atmosphere.

By LIZ BUTTON
Choosing a punny name like Tuck’d Away Bar & Grill, patrons and residents can be sure the owner of Tuckahoe’s newest restaurant is excited to connect with the local community.

Tuck’d Away features a comfortable, lounge-type atmosphere with sofas and other seating. The bar and grill serves small plates and appetizers; burgers and salads as well as cocktails, wine and beer.

The restaurant “has a relaxed, comfortable feel to it,” owner Michael Cuozzo said.

On Monday, March 31, the Tuckahoe Chamber of Commerce sponsored a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the bar and restaurant’s grand opening and welcome Cuozzo and his staff to the village’s business community.

Cuozzo, 28, has been in the restaurant business for the past decade, working his way up from busboy and waiter to manager.

“[Starting my own restaurant] is something I always wanted to do,” he said.

Once he came across the Tuckahoe space at 90 Yonkers Ave., he knew he had found the right opportunity to start a business of his own.

The space’s previous tenant, Asian restaurant Aries Thai, left because customers were discouraged by the ongoing portion of closed road during the village’s restoration of Yonkers Avenue, which had been going on since the summer of 2012.

“The street closed, so it really didn’t help them,” Cuozzo said.

When the street finally reopened in January 2013, Cuozzo recognized he had found his chance.

Tuck’d Away Bar & Grill owner Michael Cuozzo said he loves Tuckahoe, which is why the name of his restaurant plays on the village’s name. Photos/Bobby Begun

Tuck’d Away Bar & Grill owner Michael Cuozzo said he loves Tuckahoe, which is why the name of his restaurant plays on the village’s name. Photos/Bobby Begun

With the roadway now passable once again, guests can park on the street in metered spaces or take advantage of parking in the nearby municipal main lot, which is metered until 7 p.m, and is located about a minute’s walk from the restaurant.

Cuozzo said he absolutely loves the Village of Tuckahoe, which is why the name of his bar and grill is a play on the village’s name. Cuozzo grew up in nearby Yonkers, he said.

Tuck’d Away’s soft opening took place on Feb. 21, but Cuozzo said he decided not to do much advertising because he wanted to wait for word-of-mouth about the place to spread.

Apparently it has spread enough so that, on March 18, the evening of the village’s election, the Tuckahoe Democrats used the space as their headquarters to watch the results come in.

Trustee Stephen Quigley was re-elected to the Board of Trustees that night, maintaining the lone Democratic seat on the five-member board.

At Monday’s ribbon-cutting, Mayor Steve Ecklond, a Republican, and members of the Board of Trustees and the Chamber of Commerce were in attendance. Miriam Janusz, the chamber’s executive director, called the food “absolutely delicious.”

The restaurant and bar, which is 2,500 square-feet with a seating capacity of 50, has a menu of casual yet creative fare like a fried mozzarella wedge, buffalo wings with assorted sauces, fried pickles and macaroni and cheese as well as healthier choices like Asian mixed salad, turkey chili and a chickpea burger.

Ecklond could not be reached for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
To honor the fallen police officer, Rev. Carl Maiello recites prayers and reads from scripture in front of a small crowd around Michael Frey’s memorial. Photos/Chris Eberhart

Memories of Michael Frey carry on

Flowers were left in front of Michael Frey’s memorial outside Eastchester Town Hall on March 21. The day marked the 18th anniversary of the police officer’s tragic death.

Flowers were left in front of Michael Frey’s memorial outside Eastchester Town Hall on March 21. The day marked the 18th anniversary of the police officer’s tragic death.

By CHRIS EBERHART
In the otherwise quiet Town of Eastchester, people still can recall the tragic events of March 21, 1996.

Eastchester police officers Michael Frey, 29, and Richard Morrissey, 45, responded to a call for help when Richard Sacchi, Jr. opened fired on the unsuspecting officers with a high-powered rifle from the second floor of his family’s Morgan Street home. Both officers were shot.

One bullet grazed Morrissey’s head. Another crashed through Frey’s windshield and pierced his chest. He was killed instantly.

Longtime friend and fellow Eastchester police officer Mike Denning remembered when the EMTs were loading Frey’s body into the ambulance.

“I remember opening up his shirts and seeing the blood and the wounds and then having to tell his mother,” Denning said.

Frey’s wife at the time—now Marilyn Mazzella, who has since remarried—said, “I remember everything I don’t want to remember from that day.”

Mazzella, 47, recalled her last interaction with Frey was a goodbye kiss the morning before he headed off to the police station.

“When he kissed me goodbye that morning, he grabbed me and held me tight, which was different than usual. I asked him, ‘What was that for?’ And he said, ‘Just because I love you.’”

The day unfolded like a regular day; Mazzella went to work as a school teacher.

To honor the fallen police officer, Rev. Carl Maiello recites prayers and reads from scripture in front of a small crowd around Michael Frey’s memorial. Photos/Chris Eberhart

To honor the fallen police officer, Rev. Carl Maiello recites prayers and reads from scripture in front of a small crowd around Michael Frey’s memorial. Photos/Chris Eberhart

Mazzella said she came home that night and listened to a voice message from Frey saying he was going to be late because he had to go to Connecticut to pick up new uniforms. She said, later on, she heard about a rare shooting in Eastchester from her dad, who told her to make sure Frey was OK.

When she did, she found out her husband had been shot.

In a place like Eastchester, where crime is relatively low, Mazzella said she didn’t think anything of the shooting, figuring it was some sort of practical joke, for which she said Frey was known.

“Then [Lawrence Hospital] called me, and I saw the sergeant coming out of Mike’s [hospital] room sobbing, and I immediately knew,” Mazzella said.“They let me go in and see his body, and I kissed him goodbye.”

The Town of Eastchester, like his wife and good friend, will never forget Frey.

This year, on the afternoon of March 21, police and town officials as well as Mazzella, her family and the Frey family, encircled his memorial outside Town Hall on Mill Road to remember the late officer. Later that night, members of both families, along with friends and fellow police officers, gathered in Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe for a ceremonial mass held in the fallen officer’s honor.

Frey was an altar boy at the church growing up and was also married to Mazzaella there just 17 months prior to his untimely passing.

“I’m amazed every year that so many people come,” Mazzaella said about the memorial ceremony. “But then I see who’s there, and I know those people are the ones that come every year. Those are the people—even without the mass—that are thinking of Mike weeks in advance.”

In the years following the shooting, things weren’t easy for Mazzella.

She thanked her family, the Frey family, Frey’s friends and the Eastchester police
officers—especially Lt. George Barletta—for their support.

“I remember out of nowhere I would just start sobbing. [And] my sister would ask, ‘What was it? Was there a trigger?’ But there was no trigger. It just hits you that this is real,” Mazzella said.

With the passage of time, Mazzella has managed to remember beyond the end of her time with Frey to happier times.

“He was definitely a jokester,” Mazzella said. “If he could play a prank on you, he would do it. There was a Halloween party, and he told this couple that everyone was dressing up even though no one was, so they were the only ones that showed up in costumes.”

Mazzella also recalled Frey’s love of making music.

“Mike loved to play the guitar, and he used to play while I was sitting there watching TV,” she said. “And when I finally asked him to stop, he would say, ‘I was waiting to see how long it would be until you told me to stop playing.’”

As for Denning, he and Frey went back as far as grammar school at Immaculate Conception.

“I always looked up to Mike even back in grammar school,” Denning said. “We both went to Stepinac [High School], then he worked transit while I was in the NYPD and then we worked together in Eastchester.”

Recalling their time spent together in the Hamptons on Long Island, playing golf and shark fishing, Denning said Frey was “always up for a practical joke and just having a good time.”

“We never caught any sharks, but ended up catching a bunch of tuna and I was definitely the better golf player,” he joked. “I miss the good old days and the good old times. I miss him and thank him for watching over me and my colleagues and keeping us safe.”

Frey’s memory has remained alive thanks in part to Denning’s efforts with a scholarship given to a graduating Immaculate Conception School student that will attend Stepinac High School to “retrace Mike’s footsteps,” as Denning said. There’s a night every year—April 5 this year—to raise money, Denning said.

Spectator’s Bar in New Rochelle also donates money to the Michael Frey foundation, which helps fund the scholarship.

Mazzella eventually remarried one of Frey’s old friends, Silverio Mazzella, in 1999 and now has three girls—all with Silverio—that she said know about Frey but not the circumstances surrounding his death.

“I have old news segments and newspaper clippings that I will show them one day,” she said.

She said remarrying was been a big part of getting her life back on track. Since they both knew Frey, she and Silverio swap “Mike stories” and keep his memory alive, she said.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com

 
An independent rendering of SPI’s controversial field house proposal shows what the facility would look like from nearby Sanford Street in Rye. Rendering courtesy Joe Porter

SPI suspends review process

An independent rendering of SPI’s controversial field house proposal shows what the facility would look like from nearby Sanford Street in Rye. Rendering courtesy Joe Porter

An independent rendering of SPI’s controversial field house proposal shows what the facility would look like from nearby Sanford Street in Rye. Rendering courtesy Joe Porter

By CHRIS EBERHART
Coming on the heels of the City of Rye’s recent announcement that it plans to designate itself as lead agency, Sustainable Playland, Inc. has suspended its participation in the county Board of Legislators’ review process of their plan to reinvent Playland.

The Board of Legislators subcommittee Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing had been vetting SPI’s Playland Improvement Plan, which details SPI’s renovation proposal for the historic Westchester amusement park, over the past couple of weeks.

Rye City’s recent self-assertion as lead agency, coupled with a county legislator’s pending lawsuit over the asset management agreement, has now cast serious doubt over SPI’s future as the park’s operator.

The city’s recent involvement and claims that it would contest the project unless granted authority over its review served as the final act precipitating the group from pulling out, according to SPI officials.

The decision by the Rye-based group didn’t seem to surprise County Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat and former member of the Rye City Council. “There is no wonder that SPI has basically said they’re done unless the county can proceed without the threat of litigation from Rye,” she told the Review.

In a letter to the county, SPI President Kim Morque appealed to Republican County Executive Rob Astorino’s administration to clear away the uncertainties caused by the looming legal issues and said SPI will suspend its participation in the review process until those issues are resolved.

“Essentially, it’s a timeout,” Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat and chairman of the Board of Legislators, said during an April 1 meeting of the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee.

Rye City designated itself as the lead agency on the matter in a March 20 letter to the county administration.

Michael Garrard, of the law firm Arnold and Porter, LLP, which is representing the City of Rye in the ongoing Playland dispute, said the county must receive zoning and environmental approvals from Rye in addition to accepting the city’s self-appointment to lead agency.

Rye City Councilwoman and Deputy Mayor Laura Brett, a Republican, said, “This proposal comes with significant changes to the area, including the field house that should get reviewed by our planning and zoning boards…We want to make sure the city’s interests are protected and the improvements done to Playland are consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.”

“It wasn’t the city’s intent to sideline SPI’s proposal, but at the same time, we have to protect our residents,” Brett said.

But Parker didn’t agree with the City Council’s decision to hire its land use attorney saying it was a waste of money because the county would’ve listened to Rye’s input.

“In my opinion, hiring land use attorneys at $10,000 was unnecessary,” Parker said. “At a meeting between Mayor Joe Sack, Deputy Mayor Laura Brett, Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett and myself, Plunkett stated that while the county would be the lead agency, [the county] would take an advisory opinion from Rye.”

Parker went on to say, “I stated that if Mayor Sack directed staff and commissions, Rye could bring their findings to the meeting with the Board of Legislators. As a legislator for Rye, I feel an additional sense of responsibility to incorporate the advisory opinion of Rye into my deliberations.”

Rye’s demand to be heard came three months after county Legislator Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat and former chairman of the Board of Legislators, filed a second lawsuit over SPI’s asset management agreement with the Astorino administration, claiming the agreement was illegal and should be nullified. A renewed lawsuit by Jenkins continues today.

The asset management agreement, between Astorino and SPI, allowed the nonprofit group to renovate the Rye-based amusement park and take over its day-to-day operations for a period of 10 years.

The agreement was approved by the county Board of Acquisition and Contract on April 18, 2013, and later signed by both parties in July 2013.

In May 2013—before the agreement was signed—Jenkins filed the first of two lawsuits, which claimed the asset management agreement was essentially a 10-year lease and thus requires approval from the Board of Legislators. Because approval was not granted by the Board of Legislators, Jenkins said in the lawsuit, Astorino acted beyond his authority as county executive and therefore the agreement should be nullified.

But New York Supreme Court Associate Justice Barbara G. Zambelli disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 24, 2013, in a ruling that said the agreement was not a lease, which meant Astorino acted within his power as county executive.

Jenkins countered the dismissal with a second lawsuit—filed on Dec. 30, 2013 and is now ready to be heard in court—that is essentially the same as the first with the exception of the inclusion of SPI—a formality because all parties have to be included in a lawsuit after an agreement is executed. Jenkins told the Review it didn’t matter if the agreement was a lease or not; it’s still illegal because it wasn’t approved by the Board of Legislators.

With SPI’s April 1 announcement, the group has chosen to watch from the bench as the Jenkins lawsuit unfolds in court and the tug of war between city and county over jurisdiction continues.

“Unfortunately, the current process for moving forward does not reflect a public-private partnership either in spirit or actuality,” Morque wrote in  the letter to Astorino. “Our primary concern is that unresolved issues threaten to delay SPI’s revitalization of the park in ways that will remove the viability of our implementation plans in terms of both economics and timing.”

In the letter, Morque cited financial strain, as well as the legal stressors, as part of SPI’s decision to suspend the nonprofit’s involvement in the review process.

“SPI is not a deep-pocketed private corporation,” Morque said in his letter. “We are a group of citizens who came together with a civic mission to preserve one of the county’s greatest assets. As such, it is neither realistic nor feasible to expect that SPI can remain committed to the project indefinitely.”

Although SPI is taking a step back, the residents neighboring Playland that have been fighting this proposal—specifically the field house, currently proposed at 82,500 square-feet after SPI revised its plan, that would be built just yards away from their homes—believe the review process will eventually resume.

Mack Cunningham, a former Rye City councilman and staunch opponent of the proposal, said, “I don’t think this thing is going away. There’s too much time, money and politics invested in this thing. I think it’s more of a timeout. But the neighbors are still entrenched in their thought process that the [field house] shouldn’t be there.”

Jenkin’s lawsuit has already headed to court and will unfold in the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, Astorino, a Republican candidate for governor this year, said he will be working with Kaplowitz and Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, within the next couple of days to attempt to clear the uncertainties hanging over SPI and its Playland renovation proposal.

“For four years, our goal has been to save Playland,” Astorino said. “We have reached the point that litigation now threatens our improvement plans and the park itself. It is now time for elected leaders to do everything in their power to resolve the legal impediments that stand in the way of moving forward on saving Playland for future generations.”

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com

 

 

The City Council read a statement of condemnation at its March 26 meeting after learning Officer John Holmes, the former Rye City auxiliary cop charged with felony falsification of documents related to the city’s uniform bid scandal last April, had been reinstated to the force. File photo

City Council condemns officer reinstatement

The City Council read a statement of condemnation at its March 26 meeting after learning Officer John Holmes, the former Rye City auxiliary cop charged with felony falsification of documents related to the city’s uniform bid scandal last April, had been reinstated to the force. File photo

The City Council read a statement of condemnation at its March 26 meeting after learning Officer John Holmes, the former Rye City auxiliary cop charged with felony falsification of documents related to the city’s uniform bid scandal last April, had been reinstated to the force. File photo

By LIZ BUTTON
The City Council claimed it was blindsided last week to learn that former auxiliary officer John Holmes, who a year earlier was charged with submitting a fraudulent bid document for a city police uniform contract, had been allowed back on the force. The council has since condemned the police department’s decision to reinstate Holmes. 

The council also revealed to the public at its March 26 meeting it learned Holmes still got most of the police uniform business after the police department instituted a new policy soon after the city rescinded Holmes’ bid award, which that allowed individual officers to seek out their own vendors and get reimbursed by the city. When given this new individualized option, many officers chose to buy from Holmes’ company.

Leading to his arrest in April 2013, Holmes allegedly submitted a falsified letter of warranty that March in order to win a police uniform contract for his company, New England Sportswear, to provide all uniforms for the city police department for a two-year period.

After uniform manufacturer Blauer Manufacturing informed the city it did not sign the warranty letter Holmes submitted as part of the city’s bid requirements for selecting a uniform distribution company, Holmes was suspended from the auxiliary force and brought up on criminal charges of offering a false instrument for filing and criminal possession of a forged document, both felonies.

Holmes faced up to four years in prison before charges were reduced to a single violation around March 12, according to Interim Police Commissioner Robert Falk, who said it was around this time he received a letter from Holmes’ lawyer Tony Piscionere asking whether it was possible for his client to be reinstated.

After some deliberation, Falk put Holmes back on the force on March 19.

“We looked over his past history, his value to the group, his participation in specific details that they are assigned,” he said.

The council issued a statement regarding Holmes at the meeting after learning from City Manager Scott Pickup in a March 20 email that the former officer sought reinstatement once the courts in White Plains disposed of his felony forgery case, reduced the charges and placed it under seal.

Independent Councilman Richard Slack, who read the council’s group statement, called the fact that Holmes profited in the long run despite the criminal charges an “ironic and totally inappropriate result.”

While it is not the province of the City Council to appoint auxiliary police officers, Slack said, the council believes the reinstatement of someone to the auxiliary police force who has submitted a false statement to the City Council “is a mistake.”

Slack said Holmes’ return to the city’s auxiliary force was granted “before the City Council even knew about the request for reinstatement.”

Questions remain as to how, after Holmes was arrested and the police department’s new uniform purchasing policy was put in place, invoices from police personnel submitted to the city to reimburse for stock purchased from Holmes’ New England Sportswear went through without raising an alarm among city staff.

According to Pickup, the police department changed its purchasing policy in June 2013 from one by which the city contracts with an outside company to provide uniforms, to one by which officers buy their own. Both City Council and Police Benevolent Association leaders were made aware of the change at the time via email, Pickup said.

Then-Police Commissioner William Connors would collect all officers’ receipts and prepare and periodically submit all invoices to the city’s Finance Department, Pickup said, a job that now falls to Falk, who was appointed interim commissioner on Connors’ scheduled departure date of Jan. 16.

Interim City Comptroller Joe Fazzino, who runs the Finance Department, said the city manager’s office would not have to sign off on invoices such as these since they were below the level of certain larger transactions, like purchase orders.

“For items of that type of reimbursement, I don’t think that we would get those up here,” Pickup said. “It was not a contract here. It was a reimbursement and [the city] probably handle[s] thousands of reimbursements.”

Fazzino said he personally did look twice when he saw the New England Sportswear name on the bills. But, he said, while he was surprised to see the name of Holmes’ company, there was nothing the city could do at that point.

“[The police] were able to buy from wherever they wanted. We didn’t have control at that time. It was the police’s responsibility,” he said.

Pickup said officers were allowed to choose any vendor as long as the vendor carried the specific types of uniforms required by state law, and it turns out numerous officers wanted Holmes. “John Holmes is a still a New York State contract vendor. His business is not bound by any restriction [that could prevent eligibility for a contract, such as a sales tax violation],” Pickup said. When Holmes was first granted the bid award at the council’s March 20, 2013, meeting, Republican Mayor Joe Sack, then a councilman, cast the solitary vote against New England Sportswear, which Connors suggested to the City Council.

Sack said when the city manager informed the council on March 20 of this year that interim Police Commissioner Falk had reinstated Holmes, members expressed displeasure they were not at least made aware of the former auxiliary officer’s request in advance.

Council members then asked questions about the city’s arrangement by which cops are currently purchasing uniforms, Sack said.

The rest of the council was incensed further when Pickup informed them that, in the months after the bid was rescinded in April 2013, many of the officers individually purchased their uniforms from Holmes.

“What did you think was going to happen if you let the cops do what they want? Holmes is around town, he’s readily available,” Sack said.

Pickup said it was during a conversation about new uniform designs toward the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 that Falk informed him many of his officers had purchased their uniforms from Holmes, despite his arrest. “I don’t think anyone was happy,” Pickup said, although he did not inform the City Council at the time.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
TV crews filmed at Ruby’s Oyster Bar on Purchase Street last week, causing parking problems and slow sales for some downtown business owners. File photos

Filming troublesome for downtown merchants

Parking along Purchase Street and in municipal lots was limited due to filming, inconveniencing downtown businesses.

Parking along Purchase Street and in municipal lots was limited due to filming, inconveniencing downtown businesses.

By ANNAROSE RUSSO
Television production crews filming at Ruby’s Oyster Bar on Purchase Street last week interfered with neighboring businesses and invaded downtown parking lots, according to some concerned business owners.

The CBS network pilot “Madame Secretary” starring Tea Leoni filmed in the Rye restaurant from around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, until 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The show, produced by actor Morgan Freemen, tells the story of a teacher, played by Leoni, who finds herself as the new U.S. Secretary of State and struggles to balance her personal life with her new political position.

While big-name productions might draw interested spectators to the sidewalks and drum-up excitement in the city, some local businesses felt last week’s filming was disruptive and are calling on the city to re-evaluate its negotiations with production crews.

Mike Fabry, co-owner of Rye Grill & Bar, said the restaurant saw less business than a normal Tuesday due to the filming.

“We only did 60 lunches as opposed to the normal 100,” he said. “That’s a 40 percent loss for one afternoon.”

The production crew expressed interest in filming at the Rye Grill, but Fabry decided against it.

“It wasn’t worth shutting down for the day,” Fabry said about the money the production company offered.

TV crews filmed at Ruby’s Oyster Bar on Purchase Street last week, causing parking problems and slow sales for some downtown business owners. File photos

TV crews filmed at Ruby’s Oyster Bar on Purchase Street last week, causing parking problems and slow sales for some downtown business owners. File photos

The restaurant is located across from the Rye Metro-North train station, just off of Purchase Street.

Shop owners along Purchase Street expressed similar concerns about the impact of the filming, mostly related to the lack of parking the production crew left for residents and shoppers.

 

 

 

According to Ruby’s co-owner Lisa McKiernan, the crews occupied the parking lot behind the Wells Fargo bank on Purdy Avenue all day, yet didn’t use the parking lot until 4 p.m. Crews started setting up along the downtown thoroughfare around 7 a.m., diverting traffic and limiting parking in the downtown municipal lots.

“Parking is hard enough,” McKiernan said of the downtown area. “Add [filming] into it, and it creates difficulty.”

The owners of Ruby’s, which was shut down for the entire day due to the filming, received an undisclosed amount in compensation from the production team.

The lack of available parking also impacted scheduling at Pushblow salon, according to manager Kristina DiPietro.

“Since we work on 30 minute appointments, when people spent time looking for parking, it backed us up,” DiPietro said.

Tim Rabb, manager at the Rye Running Company, said the filming affected the store’s traffic on Tuesday.

“Because of the activity, the street closing, the lack of parking, there was no one in the store,” he said. “On the bright side, the crew came in and shopped in the store.”

While the filming inconvenienced business owners, Rye City officials note some of the benefits filming in Rye brings to the city.

Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, confirmed $13,000 was raised from the production company during last week’s filming. In addition, the production company paid for the police overtime required for the filming to take place and the Rye City Fire Department was given $2,000 because it was the site of multiple costume changes.

Rye has been the site of filming on multiple occasions and city officials have taken suggestions from residents and business owners into consideration this year. Since the filming is being done
downtown, many believe the revenue should be put back into the central business district.

According to Sack, a large portion of proceeds from last week’s filming will go into purchasing additional BigBelly garbage compacting machines—solar-powered trash compactors—for the downtown. Sack said the garbage compactors “have been successful in keeping the streets clean and reducing the amount of man hours of our DPW to come and empty the containers.”

When planning with production crews regarding scheduling, City Manager Scott Pickup said the clerk’s office drives a hard bargain and focuses on doing what is best for the community.

“If it’s a holiday event or a time when the merchants might be experiencing high volumes, we certainly try to avoid some of those conflicts so that we don’t disrupt things in the normal day-to-day commerce,” Pickup said.

This production company—differing from other production companies that have filmed in Rye in the past who brought in their own catering services—gave the actors and crew members money to purchase meals in the downtown area, which inevitably drove business to the surrounding restaurants.

Looking to find a solution for the issues filming in downtown might inflict on local businesses, members of the Rye Chamber of Commerce met Wednesday morning to discuss last week’s filming and brainstorm ideas on how to address the needs of local business owners going forward.

One idea suggested asking the city to require a higher fee from production crews, then setting aside a certain amount of money to be given to business owners who suffered a loss due to filming.

Democratic County Legislator Catherine Parker, a former Rye City councilwoman and owner of Parker’s on Purchase Street, said communication between the chamber and the city is key in order to avoid some of the feelings business owners felt after last week’s filming.

“It points out the need for good communication between the city and the Chamber of Commerce so that business owners are able to conduct business without disruption,” she said, adding that, during her tenure on the City Council, she would often pass information between the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council.

Contact: annarose@hometwn.com,
katie@hometwn.com

 
Lisa Sandler will be given the “Going Green” award at the Volunteer Spirit Awards for her service at the Rye Nature Center, where she expanded the summer scholarship program for underserved inner city children.

Rye residents receive volunteer awards

Lisa Sandler will be given the “Going Green” award at the Volunteer Spirit Awards for her service at the Rye Nature Center, where she expanded the summer scholarship program for underserved inner city children.

Lisa Sandler will be given the “Going Green” award at the Volunteer Spirit Awards for her service at the Rye Nature Center, where she expanded the summer scholarship program for underserved inner city children.

By KATIE HOOS
Two Rye women will be honored for their dedication to community service and volunteerism at the Volunteer Spirit Awards, a fundraising event hosted by the Volunteer Center of United Way, on Thursday, April 24.

Reena Kashyap and Lisa Sandler, along with seven other award recipients from Westchester and Rockland counties, will be recognized at the 34th annual celebration held at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown. Kashyap and Sandler, both longtime Rye residents, volunteer at the Rye Nature Center and Port Chester’s Clay Art Center, respectively.

Sandler, 48, recipient of the “Going Green” award, has volunteered for more than 12 years at the Rye Nature Center—a 47-acre nature preserve located at 873 Boston Post Road that includes hiking trails, playgrounds, a museum and classrooms—promoting environmental ed-ucation and conservation in the community. Sandler, a 16-year Rye resident, said she first got involved with the organization after her son went to the center’s summer camp in 2001.

During her four years as the Friends of Rye Nature Center board president from 2009 to 2012, Sandler helped double the number of summer camp scholarships the center presented to students in New York City’s poorest communities.

“Rather than spend summer out on the street or on the concrete, they can spend it in the woods,” Sandler said. “The amazement and enthusiasm with which they take part in the program is incredible and heartwarming.”

The center’s summer programs host more than 100 children each year.

Reena Kashyap of the Port Chester-based Clay Art Center is the recipient of the Arts and Culture award for her volunteerism and dedication to bringing ceramic arts to the community.  Contributed photos

Reena Kashyap of the Port Chester-based Clay Art Center is the recipient of the Arts and Culture award for her volunteerism and dedication to bringing ceramic arts to the community. Contributed photos

Sandler also supported the renovation of the visitor center, started a weekly ecology program for preschoolers and revitalized the center’s playgrounds during her tenure on the Friends of Rye Nature Center board.

Sandler said volunteering has been a way for her to be active outside of her home, and that she values the friendships she has made through her work at the nature center.

“It has allowed me to meet people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met through school or everyday activities,” she said. “I’ve met people across all generations and I really like that.”

The Volunteer Center of United Way, which is hosting this year’s Volunteer Spirit Awards, is a Tarrytown-based organization that promotes volunteerism by supporting nonprofits in the Westchester and Mid-Hudson region. In its 64 years of service, 19,000 volunteers have assisted more than 500 local organizations.

In the same spirit of volunteerism, Kashyap, 60, is being given the “Arts and Culture” award for her dedication to the promotion of the Clay Art Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement of the ceramic arts. The center—located at 40 Beech St. in Port Chester—hosts adult and kids classes, gallery events, and workshops and provides affordable studio space for artists and community members interested in clay arts.

Kashyap, a 30-year Rye resident, said she first started attending classes at the Clay Art Center in 1983 and eventually joined the board of directors in 1987 with the goal of strengthening the center’s relationship with the community.

“I thought, ‘What is the center doing for the community and what is the community doing for the center?’ There was no synergy at all, and that had to change,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be Port Chester’s best-kept secret.”

Kashyap, who served as the Clay Art Center’s board of directors’ president from 1997 to 2012 and is now the board’s treasurer, began instituting educational and scholarship programs, brought clay art programs into local public schools and began the “clay as therapy” initiative, which partners the Clay Art Center with local nursing homes, homeless shelters and healthcare centers.

Volunteering at the Clay Art Center is a natural thing, Kashyap said, noting that her family has always held the philosophy that the more you have, the more you should give back.

“We’ve been able to create something that identifies so much joy, creates a place of pride in [the] community and helps others do something that makes them feel good,” Kashyap said. “I’ve never shied from helping others and it gives me great joy.”

Contact: katie@hometwn.com

 
In order to stay within the state-mandated tax cap, the Mamaroneck Union Free School District budget proposes staffing and programming cuts for 2014-2015. File photo

School staff cuts proposed

By KATIE HOOS

The Mamaroneck Union Free School District released its preliminary budget for the 2014-2015 school year, proposing a 2.77 percent reduction in taxes and the elimination of more than 20 full-time staff positions. 

In order to stay within the state-mandated tax cap, the Mamaroneck Union Free School District budget proposes staffing and programming cuts for 2014-2015. File photo

In order to stay within the state-mandated tax cap, the Mamaroneck Union Free School District budget proposes staffing and programming cuts for 2014-2015. File photo

On March 18, Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps presented his recommended budget of $131.7 million, a 2.71 percent spending increase over the current year’s 2013-2014 budget.

The preliminary budget stays within the state-mandated tax cap with an increase in the tax levy of 1.80 percent, just under a 1.81 percent allowable increase, and proposes a 2.77 percent tax rate decrease, or the ratio at which a person or business can be taxed. The tax rate increased by 2.62 percent in the 2012-2013 budget, and another 3.42 percent in the 2013-2014 budget, according to district officials.

The reduction, despite the year-over-year spending increase, is a result of a 2013 revaluation—a reassessment of the dollar value of each property in the community determined by the town assessor—in the Town of Mamaroneck, the first reassessment in 45 years. Since the town’s assessed valuation increased from $139 million to over $8 billion after the reevaluation, the tax rate was reduced by 2.77 percent per $1,000 assessed valuation over the current year’s budget.

“Last year and in prior years we used to say the average assessed home was valued at $20,000 and I would tell [people] that that was a very small fraction of what [their] home was worth…now [the houses] are at full value and the town has told us that the average home that used to be $20,000 is now $1.1 million,” Assistant Superintendent of Business Administration
Meryl Rubinstein said.

While taxpayers may be paying less in property taxes, the district had to make some hard decisions to create a proposed budget under the tax cap, according to Shaps.

“Difficult decisions were made to eliminate some programs and change the way we deliver some services,” Shaps said.  “It really has been five years of very tough choices considering how to maintain a vibrant school district while trying to contain the cost drivers that contribute to annual budget growth.”

Trying to balance the allowable tax levy growth with mandated salary increases and increases in employee health benefits and retirement contributions, the district had to make drastic expenditure reductions in order to come in under the cap.

Despite a marginal increase in student enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year—41 students more than the current year’s enrollment—the proposed budget includes a reduction of 21.35 full-time equivalent positions, including pre-kindergarten tea-chers, teaching assistants, tea-cher aides, custodians and clerical positions. Over the past six years, 96 positions, or 10 percent of the total district staff, have been cut.

The staff reductions save the district a total of $824,760 out of the $68.4 million budgeted for salaries and $36.7 million budgeted for benefits in the 2014-2015 document. Salaries and benefits are the district’s largest expenditure, accounting for a combined 80 percent of preliminary budget expenses.

“The administration took all measures to preserve the regular classroom experience when considering the need to reduce program, staffing and services,” Shaps said.

The reductions are somewhat lessened by the addition of two elementary school teachers.

In addition to the staff cuts, the proposed budget recommends program reductions including reducing funding for transportation services for approximately 100 middle and high school students currently enrolled in private or parochial schools, saving the district $144,000. The students at nine private and parochial schools are currently being bused by the district, but under the recommended plan, would be given vouchers for public transportation.

This proposal sparked criti-cism from parents in the community, who rallied at the March 4 Board of Education meeting to say the savings would come at the cost of child safety and could add a significant amount of commute time.

The proposed budget also includes the elimination of the high school summer school programs, saving $35,000, and the outsourcing of the pre-kindergarten programs, saving the district $173,454.

To counter balance the anti-cipated expenditures, the district looks to receive revenue through other sources than property taxes, including an estimated $6.5 million in state aid, a $43,276 increase from last year.

The district has also budgeted for the use of $920,000 in fund balance—an accumulated excess of revenue over expenses—for repairing the Murray Avenue School auditorium stairs and technology
infrastructure upgrades like wireless and hardware network improvements. The move leaves the district with $3 million in its fund balance.

Despite the proposed cuts to staffing and school programs, Superintendent Shaps remains optimistic that they reflect the needs of the district.

“This is a wonderful public school system and we’ve been able to not only maintain, but improve our school system over the last several years by making prudent reductions in expenditures and looking for efficiencies,” he said.

The Board of Education will adopt its 2014-2015 budget on April 22 and the public will vote on the budget on May 20.

Contact: katie@hometwn.com

The status of Playland’s future remains in limbo as Westchester County elected officials analyze a proposal to transform the park into a year-round facility. The City of Rye is now challenging the county’s authority to lead any oversight of the project. File photo

City preps for Playland fight

By CHRIS EBERHART

Frustration over Sustainable Playland, Inc.’s plans to redevelop the Rye Playland amusement park boiled over this week with Westchester County legislators ripping into the group’s parking analysis and lack of an overflow parking plan. 

The status of Playland’s future remains in limbo as Westchester County elected officials analyze a proposal to transform the park into a year-round facility. The City of Rye is now challenging the county’s authority to lead any oversight of the project. File photo

The status of Playland’s future remains in limbo as Westchester County elected officials analyze a proposal to transform the park into a year-round facility. The City of Rye is now challenging the county’s authority to lead any oversight of the project. File photo

Meanwhile, Rye City began ramping up its legal defense against the county administration on the basis of jurisdiction.

The redevelopment plan brought forth by SPI, a Rye-based not-for-profit, which was selected by Republican County Executive Rob Astorino in 2012, has been under attack from critics since the release of a Playland Improvement Plan, PIP, that went public in October 2013 detailing more specifically what the vision of the SPI plan would entail.

It was only then that the general public and homeowners neighboring the park became aware of a 95,000-square-foot field house proposal to be constructed in the Playland parking lot, yards away from their homes.

Since then, the size of the field house has been reduced to 82,500 square-feet, but the proposal remains controversial with opposition seeming to grow as more information on the plan gets filtered out.

The City of Rye, has finally decided to dig its heels in the ground, citing what it believes to be case law confirming its legal authority as lead agency over the proposal, which would
allow the city to make a final determination on it.

Attorney Michael Gerrard, of the law firm Arnold and Porter, LLP, who was recently hired by the city for a starting salary of $10,000 to ensure Rye’s interests are heard as it relates to Playland, said any ill effects such as potential floodwater displacement into Rye’s streets and increases to traffic in the neighborhood will be felt by residents of Rye. That gives the city the right to be named lead agency, he said.

In a March 20 letter from the law firm to County Attorney Robert Meehan, Gerrard states, “The [Rye] City Council currently intends to designate itself as the lead agency in view of the fact that PIP [Playland Improvement Plan] falls entirely within the city’s borders and its impacts are primarily of local significance.”

Gerrard goes on to say, “If the county declares itself lead agency, as we understand to be its plan, the city reserves its right to invoke the dispute resolution procedures under SEQRA, for when a lead agency cannot be agreed upon. At that time, the City Council would ask the state commissioner of the Environmental Conservation to designate it as the lead agency.”

Rye Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said the letter is designed to ensure Rye has a seat at the table and voice in the outcome of Playland but said the City Council hopes to avoid taking the matter to court.

“It’s not the desire for the City Council to commence litigation,” Sack said. “It’s the desire for the City Council to ensure the views of all Rye citizens are heard and acted upon. The letter was a means to reiterate what we believe the city’s rights and options may be.”

But it is quite possible that the two sides could end up locked in a legal battle if the county continues to leave city officials out of the process.

The Astorino administration has maintained its authority over the project and the amusement park, which is owned and operated by Westchester government. The administration previously sent a letter to Mayor Sack stating that the city would not be designated as an interested party in the review process.

As the city and county administration play tug of war over authority, SPI is also facing pressure from the Westchester County Board of Legislators, which continues to probe the plan.

County legislators questioned SPI during a March 25 meeting of the board’s subcommittee, the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee, over its parking analysis and criticized the group for its lack of a concrete parking overflow plan.

Chairman of the Board of Legislators and member of the parks committee, Mike Kaplowitz, a Somers Democrat, went as far as telling SPI that it does not have a majority vote among the full 17-member legislative board, which is required for any physical alterations to be made to the park.

“Time is getting short,” Kaplowitz said. “You’re not going to get nine votes out of this board…if you don’t put in a parking plan either on-site or go off-site and get shuttle buses.”

As part of SPI’s parking analysis, John Meyer Consulting provided projected attendance data based off of 2010 to 2013 attendance numbers at the amusement park.

Richard Pearson, of John Meyer Consulting, said the consulting firm increased attendance by 50 and 75 percent from the averages of the years mentioned and concluded there will be three and four days, respectively, when the parking lot will be filled to capacity because of scheduled events like fireworks and concerts. Those projections do not include the Fourth of July.

But that assessment is now being called into questioned.

According to the updated PIP, SPI’s designated amusement park operator for Playland, Central Amusements, Inc.,—the company that runs the rides at Coney Island—projected an 84 percent increase above the 2013 attendance number by the final year of SPI’s six-year renovation project. According to SPI’s plan, that equates to nine days where the parking lot is filled to capacity.

Pearson said, during known busy days, the field house will close up shop and free up parking to amusement park patrons. This would conceivably reduce the number of days the parking lot is filled to capacity.

“There are peak parking days like the Fourth of July,” said SPI president Kim Morque. “But how many peak days do we really have to contend with? Historically, it has been half a dozen, maybe. Going back, maybe it was 12.”

Legislators also point out the 2010 to 2013 Playland attendance numbers, which were used as a baseline for the SPI consultant’s projections, were during the economic recession years when the park was struggling.

Legislator Peter Harckham, a Katonah Democrat and chairman of the parks committee, said the attendance numbers from 2010 to 2013 are “the lowest attendance records we have.”

Kaplowitz is worried about the ramifications of park patrons who are turned away from the park by a sign on I-95 saying there’s no more parking at Playland.

“If you see a sign board on I-95 saying Playland lot filled, those people are never coming back, and I can ensure you they’re telling 10 people they know never to go to Playland,” Kapolowitz said.

Morque said SPI is looking into off-site parking within a mile or two of Playland to make up for the lost spaces, which he said has always been part of the plan. He said they would include shuttle buses and look into increased bus services with the county.

“There are thousands of parking spaces that sit idle on weekends after 5 p.m.,” Morque said. “We are exploring those. There [are] two train stations nearby that are historically for off-site parking, particularly the Rye Metro-North station. And there are office parks and other parking resources. And that’s part of the plan moving forward.”

With parking still a major cause for concern for committee members, a second meeting pertaining to parking and traffic is scheduled for April 16.

The parks committee is scheduled to vote on the SPI plan during one of its May meetings.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Ned McCormack, communications director for the county executive, declined comment.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com

 
Mayor Noam Bramson, left, delivered his State of the City address at the Davenport Club on March 20, highlighting the city’s plan for master development. Bramson is pictured with Eli Gordon, New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce executive director. Photo courtesy City of New Rochelle

Bramson touts master plan

By KATIE HOOS

Major development is on the horizon for the Queen City of the Sound.

That was the theme echoed during Mayor Noam Bramson’s 5,000 word State of the City address on March 20 at the Davenport Club in New Rochelle.

Mayor Noam Bramson, left, delivered his State of the City address at the Davenport Club on March 20, highlighting the city’s plan for master development. Bramson is pictured with Eli Gordon, New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce executive director. Photo courtesy City of New Rochelle

Mayor Noam Bramson, left, delivered his State of the City address at the Davenport Club on March 20, highlighting the city’s plan for master development. Bramson is pictured with Eli Gordon, New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce executive director. Photo courtesy City of New Rochelle

Bramson, a Democrat, focused his remarks on outlining plans to seek a master developer to create a comprehensive plan for downtown New Rochelle in an attempt to move forward on a vision that has been continually stalled in the past due to multiple failed independent development projects.

A master development plan, the mayor said, encompasses a larger range of locations, offers more flexibility in the planning stages and provides a “bigger picture view,” compared to the traditional process of reviewing several smaller, independent development projects.

In total, 1.5 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail space and 2,000 new apartments could potentially be constructed when a master development deal is completed.

“This is no timid, incremental step,” Bramson said. “This is a bold stroke from an ambitious city that is determined to take charge of its own future.”

The targeted master development areas include 10 city-owned parcels, as well as several privately-owned properties in two major clusters surrounding the New Rochelle Metro-North train station and the Main Street corridor.

The City Council unanimously supported going forward with the master development plan after a presentation by Commission of Development Luiz Aragon on March 11, which was a culmination of several traffic and transit-related studies the city has conducted in the past year.

The City Council is planning to issue a request for qualifications for a master developer by May and will select one or two development teams—one master developer for each cluster—by the end of the summer, Bramson said.

Additionally, Bramson addressed the city’s approach toward developing its waterfront, which includes reviewing new proposals from five competitors—the four finalists from last year’s Armory design competition, which looked to redesign the former Naval Militia building on the waterfront, as well as the runner-up from the city’s 2006 request for proposals for development along the waterfront—who will have 60 days to submit their plans for the former Echo Bay project site.

Depending on the results of the competition, the City Council could choose to enter into an agreement with a new developer or begin a new solicitation for proposals process open to everyone as early as June.

Bramson, who admits this method is not the route he would have chosen if he had the final say, said he does stand behind the decision of the majority of the City Council.

“I am confident that, together, we will reclaim the shore for every one of us to enjoy,” Bramson said. “New Rochelle is called the Queen City of the Sound, but I am tired of that phrase being a wistful description of our past or a vague hope for our future. I want it to ring true for this generation of residents.”

Bramson said additional waterfront work turning David’s Island, a city-owned island that was once a military command post, into parkland will begin next year. A branding campaign by North Star Destination Strategies will also be launched within the coming months to try and help boost New Rochelle’s economy and effectively market the unique character of the city.

While extensive development may indicate a step in the right direction for the waterfront and downtown, Republican Councilman Al Tarantino, District 2, is concerned with the sizes of office, retail, and residential spaces Bramson mentioned in his address.

“I think these numbers were only if you took every single location in the [transit-oriented development] site, and were to build out every single one of those locations,” Tarantino, who was on-hand for Bramson’s State of the City speech, said. “I’d probably be 150 years old before I’d see that amount.”

Tarantino also said his biggest criticism of the mayor’s address was that he was expecting to hear about what’s going to happen in New Rochelle over the next 12 months, rather than primarily long-term goals, such as a master development plan.

“This is definitely a long range plan,” Tarantino said this week.

On March 20, Bramson concluded his remarks to attendees referring to the status of the City of New Rochelle and  acknowledged his colleagues on the City Council and their steadfast dedication to the constituents they
serve.

“The state of our city is strong,” he said. “It is our duty and our privilege, together, to make it even stronger.”

Contact: katie@hometown.com

 
On March 11, the Eastchester school district presented its $76.9 million budget, which does not override the state-mandated tax cap levy, but includes staffing cuts. File photo

State aid impacts Eastchester

By CHRIS EBERHART

With falling revenues and shrinking state aid anchoring one side of Eastchester’s school budget and rising costs pulling on the other, the Eastchester School district’s budget is a rubber band about to snap.

On March 11, the Eastchester school district presented its $76.9 million budget, which does not override the state-mandated tax cap levy, but includes staffing cuts. File photo

On March 11, the Eastchester school district presented its $76.9 million budget, which does not override the state-mandated tax cap levy, but includes staffing cuts. File photo

“This is a budget that reflects the urgency of the difficult times where funding is limited and declining, where expenditures are rising and continued deep cuts in staffing are required to balance the budget,” Walter Moran, superintendent of the Eastchester school district, said.

The proposed $76.9 million school budget for the 2014-2015 school year, which is a $1.92 million increase from the current year’s budget, is in line with  the state-mandated 3.21 percent tax levy limit for the district. Moran presented the district’s preliminary budget to the public at the March 11 Board of Education meeting.

In order to stay within the cap, Moran said the school district had to cut $1.35 million, which resulted in staffing cuts equal to seven full-time equivalent teachers, three teaching assistants and 5.2 full-time equivalent support staff positions.

“The reductions in this budget are real. They’re deep. And they’re impactful,” Moran said.

During the Feb. 25 Eastchester Board of Education meeting, Moran identified a key number that illustrates why the district is being stretched so thin: $715,360.

That number is the projected gap elimination adjustment, or the money the district will not receive in 2014-2105 for state aid that it was supposed to.

In other words, it’s the projected state aid minus the actual state aid.

Picture 4The logic behind the gap elimination adjustment is to fill the state budget deficit, but, according to Moran, the state is not currently in a deficit: it is in a surplus.

“So I’m not even sure why the state is taking out this money,” Moran said.

Since the 2010-2011 school year, the gap elimination has increased from $562,837 to the projected $715,360 for the 2014-2015 school year; it peaked at $878,133 during the 2011-2012 school year.

In total, over the past five years, the state has withheld $3.76 million from the Eastchester school district, which has translated to cutbacks and  layoffs.

“That number is single-handedly responsible for all the school’s layoffs over the past few years,” Moran said, which includes 60 staff positions and services including teachers, assistants, librarians, a guidance counselor, a custodian, two after-school buses and a social worker.

Moran said lack of state aid, coupled with rising state mandates and declining revenue, is creating a problem for this year’s budget.

The superintendent said mandated contributions to the New York State retirement system and healthcare insurance are up 1.25 percent and 4.74 percent, respectively, which equate to a $402,817 and $403,000 increase, respectively.

Moran said Social Security contributions are up $71,328 from last year along with workers’ compensation, which increased by $35,198.

As mandated expenditures are on the rise, revenues are in a free fall. That creates budgetary issues in an age of a tax cap.

Moran said the district is estimated to receive $500,000 less in tuition and have $500,000 less remaining in its fund balance. He said there are also no projected increases in state aid or county sales tax to offset some of the lack of funding.

“That one-two punch has been detrimental,” Vita Catania, an Eastchester school board member, said in reference to the rising mandates and shrinking revenues. “Especially with the increasing gap elimination…It makes my stomach turn.”

Recently, the school district sent a letter to district parents urging them to lobby their state legislators to fight for the state aid that has been pulled out from under the district.

“It’s time to contact our legislators and tell them that the state needs to restore financial aid that has been taken from school districts every year since the 2009-2010 school year,” the district letter states. “The state should not continue to pass along its revenue ‘shortfalls’ to local school districts since there is now a surplus.”

To date, more than 800 letters have been sent out to the state legislators Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat, and George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, according to the school district.

The Board of Education will vote to adopt the budget on April 22. The adopted budget will then go before the public for a vote on May 20.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com