Category Archives: News

The village’s flood mitigation project will include installing a new synthetic turf sports field at Hayes Field on the campus of the Bronxville School. The school district hired KG&D Architects to install the new field in coordination with new piping and a pumping station. Courtesy KG&D Architects

Timeline set for flood mitigation plan

By LIZ BUTTON

Construction on the joint flood mitigation project between the school district and the Village of Bronxville will begin in mid-October, according to the village’s engineering firm J. Robert Folchetti & Associates. 

The village’s flood mitigation project will include installing a new synthetic turf sports field at Hayes Field on the campus of the Bronxville School. The school district hired KG&D Architects to install the new field in coordination with new piping and a pumping station. Courtesy KG&D Architects

The village’s flood mitigation project will include installing a new synthetic turf sports field at Hayes Field on the campus of the Bronxville School. The school district hired KG&D Architects to install the new field in coordination with new piping and a pumping station. Courtesy KG&D Architects

The project design will install a series of pipes under the school’s playing fields to catch floodwater so that it does not back up onto the school’s campus, the firm told the Board of Education members at its March 20 meeting. Folchetti & Associates estimate the project is scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

The mitigation plan, which began in the aftermath of the April 2007 Nor’easter that caused $20 million worth of flood damage to the school when it took on four to six feet of water, will also establish a stormwater pumping station on the building’s Midland Avenue side to pump water into the Bronx River during flood events.

In coordination with these flood mitigation measures Fol-chetti has developed, the school’s arc-itects will also redesign the school’s field layout to maximize student athletes’ game and practice space, taking advantage of the time the field will be out of commission due to construction work.

The timetable calls  to start digging up the field right after [the 2014] fall sports season. Students would not be able to use Hayes Field again until the 2015 spring sports season begins.

The field project also entails installing a new multi-purpose synthetic turf field. The redesign will cost $1.2 to $1.5 million, which does not include the underground drainage system to be paid for with $6.8 million in flood mitigation project funding secured through FEMA by the village in cooperation with the school district. The FEMA grant has been in the works since 2007. The federal agency will pay 75 percent of the cost of the project, or $5.1 million, and the village will cover the remaining 25 percent, which comes to $1.7 million.

Installing the new field and reconfiguring the sports fields’ design involves rearranging parking. Representatives from KG&D Architects explained that the plan involves creating an additional lot on Meadow Road, which will create more parking spaces once the project is done. Board of Education members noted the field plan would increase sports team scheduling flexibility, but board president David Brashear noted that the architectural firm should adapt the plan to increase the number of parking spaces from the preliminary number presented that night.

The preliminary plan should be finished in April and will be presented to the school and village boards for review. After the firm receives feedback, it will finalize the construction plan over the months of April to August.

The permitting and environmental impact review process should begin  in April.

Folchetti & Associates has been developing plans to mitigate flooding in the area since April 2007, in the aftermath of the floods that devastated the Sound Shore region and closed the Bronxville School for several weeks due to high water encroaching on the campus’ buildings. In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused an additional $8 million in damage to the school, further enforcing the need to protect the campus from the perils of flooding.

The field redesign project will be done in two parts: first, the flood mitigation measures will be put in place to prevent water from flooding the fields, and then the new synthetic turf field will be installed at Hayes Field.

“Federal priorities have really shifted since Super Storm Sandy, and the grant of $6.8 million that we got for this purpose would probably not be funded again today. So this is a window of opportunity for the district to make significant inroads on our flood mitigation efforts at minimal cost to the district,” said Brashear.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
Improvements to Harrison’s Ma Riis Park are expected to commence within the year. A black rail fence will surround the park’s perimeter in conjunction with other aesthetic improvements, such as opening up the corner of Harrison Avenue and Heineman Place where the town’s World War I monument sits. Photo/Phil Nobile

Ma Riis Park improvements on the way

By PHIL NOBILE

Aesthetic improvements to Harrison’s Ma Riis Park are expected later this year after designs by an engineering company hired in December 2013 near completion. 

Improvements to Harrison’s Ma Riis Park are expected to commence within the year. A black rail fence will surround the park’s perimeter in conjunction with other aesthetic improvements, such as opening up the corner of Harrison Avenue and Heineman Place where the town’s World War I monument sits. Photo/Phil Nobile

Improvements to Harrison’s Ma Riis Park are expected to commence within the year. A black rail fence will surround the park’s perimeter in conjunction with other aesthetic improvements, such as opening up the corner of Harrison Avenue and Heineman Place where the town’s World War I monument sits. Photo/Phil Nobile

The park, located off Heineman Place between the town’s municipal building and the public library, serves as the focal point for Harrison’s public buildings.

According to Republican Mayor Ron Belmont, the overall process of updating and improving the park will be taken slow. “This is just the first step for Ma Riis Park,” Belmont said. “We have more things planned, and we want to go slow and spend cautiously.”

At the March 20 Town Council meeting, Town Engineer Michael Amodeo presented designs for the park project and asked for approval for the town’s Purchasing Department to go out to bid for the improvements, which were estimated to cost $100,000. The town plans to go out to bid once the designs are completed within a few months, according to Amodeo.

The improvements, designed by New Jersey firm Langan Engineering, call for four-foot rail fencing to encase the park on the Heineman Place and Harrison Avenue sides, along with brick piers to “make a visual impact,” according to Amodeo. The fencing will extend 300-feet along Heineman Place and 170-feet along Harrison Avenue.

Upgrades to sidewalks, landscaping, shrubbery and park benches are also part of the plan.

The plan also calls for aesthetic improvements to the town’s World War I monument for Harrison soldiers who served in the war, located on the corner where the two streets connect.

“We want to open it up visually to have people be able to walk up to the monument and better appreciate what’s there,” Amodeo said.

Ma Riis Park’s improvement plan calls for the corner of Halstead Avenue and Heineman Place to be “opened-up” for a more direct view by removing some shrubbery. Rendering courtesy Town of Harrison

Ma Riis Park’s improvement plan calls for the corner of Halstead Avenue and Heineman Place to be “opened-up” for a more direct view by removing some shrubbery. Rendering courtesy Town of Harrison

According to the town engineer, the funding for the improvements will come from fees accrued from developers who subdivide their properties in the town. Subdivision fees collected by the town are used exclusively for parks and recreation purposes.

“This is a valid use of those funds,” Amodeo said. “This park gets a lot of use for different events, and I think the updates will provide a good aesthetic impact to the park.”

The plan did, however, raise some concerns from the Town Council.

Councilman Stephen Malfitano, a Republican and former mayor, was skeptical of the design’s entryways into the park but eventually came around, stating that the improvements would coincide well with the anticipated library renovations later this year.

“The park, as you can see with your own eyes, is pretty tired looking,” Malfitano said. “This is a focal point for the town and is used by so many residents. The improvements, as small as they may be, have a tremendous amount of benefit.”

Resident Robert Porto commended the plan for removing the current chain link fencing that surrounds the park in favor of something more aesthetically appealing. Porto, however; added that money should be spent on less abrasive lighting in the park, and urged the Town Council to “spend money on the little guys.”

“You spend money on yourselves and the town’s functioning often, but I want you guys to spend money on the people,” Porto said. “Do it right and make it look good, because [the project] isn’t for a year; it’s for the next 30 years.”

Malfitano, who said the improvements would take a few months to complete, said that it didn’t appear that the park required new lighting. But the former mayor did say that lighting improvements and other elements that could be improved upon would be taken into
consideration.

“One step at a time is the prudent approach,” he said. “Lighting can get expensive, and we’re being very cautious and careful because we’re not interested in spending a lot of money.”

According to Amodeo, new lighting was ruled out of the upgrades at this time due to it surpassing the budget for the project. Mayor Belmont reiterated that more aspects for updating the park would be implemented in the future, and that the current improvements before the board are the “first step.”

The total amount generated through Subdivision fees and the cost for hiring Langan Engineering could not be provided by Town Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie as of press time.

Contact: phil@hometwn.com

 
The Westchester Emerald Society at the St. Patrick’s parade in Mamaroneck on March 23. Photos/Bobby Begun

Mamaroneck lights up Sound Shore with parade

The Westchester Emerald Society at the St. Patrick’s parade in Mamaroneck on March 23. Photos/Bobby Begun

The Westchester Emerald Society at the St. Patrick’s parade in Mamaroneck on March 23. Photos/Bobby Begun

The Sound Shore community celebrated its third annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Village of Mamaroneck on Sunday, March 23. With the weather uncooperative, the parade still managed to light up the Sound Shore with thousands attending the now annual event.

The parade marched down Mamaroneck Avenue last Sunday to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The event, which included Irish step dancers, nine marching bands and roughly 40 organizations, kicked off near the Metro-North train station and ultimately concluded at Harbor Island Park.

Before speaking on April 4 at the League of Women Voters’ Annual Luncheon in Larchmont, Phil Reisman details his start in journalism and the 37-year journey toward his tenured role as columnist at the Journal News.

The long, winding road to Phil Reisman

By KATIE HOOS

Driving across the country in a beat-up 1973 Mustang, feeding his insatiable post-college wanderlust, a then 22-year-old Phil Reisman had a striking thought.

Before speaking on April 4 at the League of Women Voters’ Annual Luncheon in Larchmont, Phil Reisman details his start in journalism and the 37-year journey toward his tenured role as columnist at the Journal News.

Before speaking on April 4 at the League of Women Voters’ Annual Luncheon in Larchmont, Phil Reisman details his start in journalism and the 37-year journey toward his tenured role as columnist at the Journal News.

“Maybe I’ll apply to journalism school,” he thought as he made his way back east toward his native Westchester.

Not yet realizing the monumental impact of this idea—which ultimately never came to fruition—Reisman began his 37-year-long, seemingly haphazard, journey to become one of the county’s most notable and respected career journalists.

If you don’t know Reisman’s work, chances are you know his name.

As a columnist for the Journal News—a newspaper that covers Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties and is owned by the Gannett Company, Inc.—Reisman has made a name for himself as a political pundit and veteran journalist in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Interviewing everyone from elected officials to area residents for his weekly web broadcast and delving into his personal life for his tri-weekly column, Reisman’s work is rife with sharp-tongued repartee and skillful interpretation of local current events that intrigues and educates.

In essence, he has achieved the long sought-after dream of many young journalists looking for the creative freedom and stability that comes with writing a column, and he knows it.

“Unless lighting strikes and I get a columnist job at some other newspaper, this is what I want to do,” he said, noting that his 15 seasoned years as a columnist have been a privilege.

Currently living in Yonkers, Reisman, 56, the son of Anna and Philip Reisman, Sr.—a famed screenwriter and television writer best-known for his work on “All the Way Home,” a film adaptation of James Agee’s novel, “A Death in the Family’’—grew up in the Town of Mamaroneck. Pursuing a liberal arts education at Lafayette College, a small school in Easton, Penn., Reisman admitted he wasn’t thinking about his career at the time.

“I went to college with a mindset that most people don’t have, even back then, which was, I was just trying to get an education and broaden my horizons, which I know is considered insane now,” Reisman said.

He took a sampling of classes, ranging from English to chemistry to government.

“By the time I was a junior, there were three department heads that thought I was
majoring in their areas,” he said.

Reisman’s exploratory educational pursuits were mirrored in his cross-country hitchhiking adventure during the summer between his junior and senior years of college, as well as his solo road trip “bumming around the country” after graduation in 1976.

“When I got out, I didn’t have a job and there were no prospects of getting one,” he said.

Picture 1When he returned home to Westchester in spring of 1977 from sufficient soul searching on the open American plains, Reisman, in between odd jobs as a cab driver in Mamaroneck and as a janitor at the now defunct B. Altman’s department store in White Plains, decided he would, in fact, pursue a career in journalism.

“I always thought writing was something I’d end up doing somehow, if I was lucky,” he said.

He applied to several graduate schools, including the University of Missouri, Columbia University and the University of California Berkeley, but, upon his acceptance to Missouri, he shied away, realizing he could not afford tuition.

Reisman got word of a new newspaper starting up in New York City and jumped at the opportunity.

The Trib, a daily paper with a conservative backing, hired Reisman as a copy boy—a “glorified gofer” as he described it, fetching sandwiches for John Denson, an editor for some of the nation’s leading publications, including Newsweek and the New York Herald Tribune—for $200 a week.

The paper tanked after just four months.

“The start-up period to actually get it going lasted longer than it was in publication,” Reisman said. “It was like the Titanic; it launched with a lot of fanfare and it went right down the drain.”

After the Trib’s descent into extinction, Reisman landed a job as a reporter for the Forum, a bi-weekly newspaper in Hackettstown, N.J., where he covered Sussex County. Describing the job as “boring” and having a “revolving door of reporters,” Reisman lasted only six brief months there.

He ended up drifting back to his hometown, where he was hired as a reporter for the Daily Times of Mamaroneck, a Gannett paper that, in October 1998, merged with other local dailies, like the Daily Item of Port Chester, the Herald Statesman of Yonkers and the Standard Star of New Rochelle, to become the Journal News.

First focusing on local stories and eventually working his way up to the metro bureau covering county-wide news, Reisman was a reporter for eight years, writing stories now embedded in Westchester history like the 1983 riot at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, in which more than 600 inmates held 17 correction officers hostage for two days.

He was promoted to metro editor, overseeing the production of stories throughout major communities in the Hudson Valley, and held the job for four years.

“It really is a job you shouldn’t have for more than two years,” Reisman said.

He settled into his less stressful current role as metro columnist, which he says he much enjoys over reporting and editing.

“When you’re writing a column, you have to have a little more spirit in it,” he said. “You want to own it a little more and to do that, you have to feel right about it. I found that it was fun.”

Not only has Reisman been able to report important stories across the decades, he’s lived through the technological transformation the industry has endured, from writing on typewriters to streaming web broadcasts. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Reisman was starting out, reporters and editors relied on the archaic system of cutting edits and pasting them onto the actual stories.

“We wrote on typewriters with copy paper and the editor would take scissors, cut out edits and paste in a sentence or two. My editor literally had a jar of paste on his desk,” Reisman said.

He described the newsroom of that period as a noisy, smoke-filled, open-floor plan resembling that of a government office.

“At one point, the guy who sat in front of me smoked cigars, which really offended some people,” he said.

When personal computers were becoming commonplace in office environments and newsrooms in the late 1980s, Reisman said the addition, although tremendously useful, was still problematic.

“The first computers we had were so primitive,” he said. “You were writing on one of these things and someone with a sweater would go by and the static electricity would blow up your story. It would just disappear. That’s how bad the system was.”

Reisman recounted a journalism of a different time—one he does not view as better or worse than the present—but a distant era when reporters went to libraries to conduct research for their stories, editors frequently screamed at their staff, telephones had to be answered due to the lack of voicemail convenience and marriages often failed from the late hours and salaciousness of the business.

“I’ve gone through just about every generation of computer and now we’re in a digital world with tweeting, Facebook, videos,” he said. “It’s really changed and I’ve seen it all.”

Accompanying the vastly changing newsroom atmosphere, Reisman said the energy at the Journal News has changed over the years.

The newspaper’s in-house printing press—which closed in 2010, eliminating 160 positions resulting in the outsourcing of the paper’s printing—added a now missing element to the journalistic method.

“I felt that I was in a real process,” he said. “I had sort of a white-collar job that was part of the blue-collar operation. You have real hard-working guys in the press room running the machinery, and that’s all changed.”

Rounds of layoffs have also plagued the editorial side of Westchester’s lone daily paper, most recently in August 2013, when 26 staffers—17 from the newsroom—were let go as part of a series of personnel cuts at Gannett. The cuts reduced the total staff count from 232 employees to 206, an 11 percent loss.

In 2011, the company laid-off 47 staffers, seven of whom were in the newsroom.

Of the cuts, Reisman said it’s been tough and no one loves them, but the role of the dogged reporter lends itself to easily roll with the punches the industry throws.

“They’re survivors, but they’re survivors for a reason because they’re good at it,” he said, noting his admiration for the role of a reporter, a task he admits he was never quite good at.

For now, Reisman said he plans on staying put; he’ll be working on his column and his webcast and is looking forward to covering the latest news on Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s bid for governor, an event Reisman calls “a gift for all of us,” providing months of good stories ahead.

He is also contemplating writing a book, but has yet to find the time to do so or even think of a worthy topic to explore.

When asked to dish out advice for young journalists who are hitting the pavement day-after-day, sitting through countless hours of City Council meetings and feeling the pressure of writing on deadline, Reisman said to keep moving.

“Work on your writing skills for certain, but also, don’t do what I did,” he said. “I think it’s good to move around, take a lot of jobs; don’t stay in one place too long and get out of the town you grew up in.”

Reisman advises young journalists to travel; explore the country and meet new people, maybe even take a road trip like he did.

After all, that’s what got him where he is in the first place.

Home.

CONTACT: katie@hometwn.com

 
The Sheldrake Community Vegetable Garden seeks volunteers to help grow, maintain and distribute vegetables at the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Emergency Food Pantry. Photos courtesy Janet Beal

Local green-thumbs wanted in Larchmont

By ANNAROSE RUSSO

Hidden in plain sight, the Larchmont Reservoir-James G. Johnson, Jr. Conservancy spreads its 60 acres across the boundaries of Mamaroneck and New Rochelle.

The Sheldrake Community Vegetable Garden seeks volunteers to help grow, maintain and distribute vegetables at the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Emergency Food Pantry. Photos courtesy Janet Beal

The Sheldrake Community Vegetable Garden seeks volunteers to help grow, maintain and distribute vegetables at the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Emergency Food Pantry. Photos courtesy Janet Beal

In addition to numerous trails, an observation deck, Goodliffe Pond and Sheldrake lake—once the water supply for the Village of Larchmont—the Sheldrake Environmental Center and Sheldrake Community Vegetable Garden have helped to create a learning annex for children and adults alike.

The community garden is now asking local gardeners for help.

The Sheldrake Community Vegetable Garden was established in 1987 by the Westchester Men’s Garden Club who responded to a national initiative to help the homeless and hungry. By growing vegetables for food pantries today, Sheldrake still honors this original initiative.

The community garden is currently seeking volunteers to assist in the growing and distributing of vegetables which begins on April 5 and continues through the growing season, which ends in September. Volunteers work as a group on the weekends and on their own during the week.

Volunteers of all ages and gardening skill-level are welcome to work at the garden.

“Experienced gardeners are welcome to work on their own schedules. Those who need supervision or instruction should work with the group. Both levels of gardeners weed, water, fertilize, plant, harvest and deliver,” Janet Beal, a volunteer coordinator at the Sheldrake Environmental Center since 1988, said.

Vegetables freshly picked from Larchmont’s community garden.

Vegetables freshly picked from Larchmont’s community garden.

Beal also advises that while children are welcome, parent supervision is required.

The maintaining of the garden requires attention from Sheldrake staff and volunteers. Each season, Beal said, approximately 8 to 12 volunteers spend time at the garden during the growing season. These volunteers have helped “several thousand [people] over 27 years.”

According to Beal, “the mission of the garden is to bring fresh produce grown by neighbors to residents with limited access to fresh seasonal foods.”

And over the last 35 summers, the garden has done just that, growing between 250 and 350 pounds of vegetables annually.

The vegetables and herbs in the garden are grown for distribution to the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Emergency Food Pantry as well as some community residences.

The center is located at 687 Weaver St. in Larchmont. If interested in volunteering at the Community Vegetable Garden, contact the Sheldrake Environmental Center at 914-834-1443.

CONTACT: annarose@hometwn.com

 
RYE-GOLF-CLUB

Grand jury to hear Yandrasevich case in April

The Westchester District Attorney’s office will present former Rye Golf Club Manager Scott Yandrasevich’s second-degree larceny case to the grand jury on April 15 at county court in White Plains. File photo

The Westchester District Attorney’s office will present former Rye Golf Club Manager Scott Yandrasevich’s second-degree larceny case to the grand jury on April 15 at county court in White Plains. File photo

By LIZ BUTTON
The Westchester District Attorney’s office has chosen April 15 to present former Rye Golf Club Manager Scott Yandrasevich’s second-degree grand larceny case to the grand jury.

Rye City Court Judge Joseph Latwin announced the case’s transfer to county court at Yandrasevich’s March 18 appearance in Rye.

The former golf club manager was arrested on Nov. 19, 2013, and arraigned in Rye City court. He pled not guilty.

As currently charged, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in state prison for alleged theft of member dues at the city-owned club beginning as early as 2007.

Yandrasevich will have the option to testify before the grand jury, although he is not necessarily required to physically attend the presentation of charges if he chooses not to give testimony. District Attorney’s office spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said if Yandrasevich is indicted, he will be re-arraigned in county court under the indictment and the case will be put on a track for a trial date, although Yandrasevich still has the right to plead guilty to the charges at any time.

“One would assume he is going to get indicted,” Chalfen said.

Yandrasevich, 49, may also be charged with further crimes or a higher-level offense depending on what the DA’s investigation uncovers in the interim between when initial charges were brought and a trial, Chalfen said.

According to the C felony charges filed by the DA, Yandrasevich, who resigned from the city-run golf club in January 2013, allegedly stole $271,120 in member dues from the Rye Golf Club over a period of four-and-a-half years, which he accomplished by submitting fraudulent purchase orders to the city through the shell company he created, RM Staffing.

Following his arrest in November 2013, Yandrasevich rejected the district attorney’s offer in December to negotiate a plea deal related to the charges. The district attorney’s office did not announce its intention to present the case before the grand jury until January. Yandrasevich’s attorney, Kerry Lawrence of the White Plains-based firm Calhoun & Lawrence, said he and his client are pleased to be moving forward at last.

“If he is indicted, we’ll defend our case when it gets transferred to county court,” Lawrence said. “We’re looking forward to trying to get his name cleared.”

The allegations of financial fraud against Yandrasevich surfaced in October 2012, when club members began to suspect a connection between Yandrasevich’s accounting practices and the club’s significant financial losses over the years. The city hired Brune and Richard, a New York City-based law firm, to go through the club’s finances and payroll records and compile an investigative report. Brune and Richard published its report on Feb. 27, 2013—which the City Council forwarded to the DA’s office—that stated the former club manager allegedly stole “many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The city filed an insurance claim for $2.1 million for club members’ lost funds in August of that year, a much higher number than the $271,120 the district attorney’s office has calculated so far.

The investigation by the district attorney’s office continues, and the amount deemed stolen could increase. Chalfen said what can be proved criminally is set at a much higher bar than what one would sue for in civil court.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
Harbor-Island-1

Committee: LWRP process flawed

Two members of the steering committee tasked with making changes to the Village of Mamaroneck’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program have written letters to the Board of Trustees criticizing the process. File photo

Two members of the steering committee tasked with making changes to the Village of Mamaroneck’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program have written letters to the Board of Trustees criticizing the process. File photo

By PHIL NOBILE
Criticism of changes to the Village of Mamaroneck’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, the village’s encompassing waterfront planning and protection document, is nothing new. But now the voices raising concerns include members of the steering committee tasked with changing the LWRP in the first place, and their suggestions range from going through more in-depth reviews to more public hearings. 

George Shieferdecker and Philip Horner, two members of the committee, submitted letters at the end of February to Mayor Norman Rosenblum and the Board of Trustees stating skepticism and worries about how the process has gone so far.

“The original LWRP was produced by village residents, and some of those village residents are among the most vocal critics of the current draft,” Shieferdecker said. “This is a very important document and it is clear that quite a few people think the current draft could be improved upon.”

A Feb. 28 deadline for public comment drove the two members of the steering committee to formally voice their concerns. Since that deadline, the trustees have been in the process of compiling public comment, and will participate in a March 31 work session dedicated to the LWRP update.

In the letters, obtained by the Mamaroneck Review, Shie-ferdecker and Horner list concerns about the update process with Horner suggesting the steering committee, “was not organized the way that I and many of the public assumed that it would be.”

Horner, the treasurer of the steering committee and a member of the village’s Committee for the Environment, criticized the committee for infrequent meetings and few public meetings. He said there was virtually no revision or work on the update from June 2012 to January 2014, when the update was distributed publicly, to the committee’s knowledge.

“The steering committee was disbanded without us ever seeing how [BFJ Planning] incorporated many points and suggestions that had been raised for the last year and a half,” Horner said.

Rosenblum, a Republican, refuted Horner’s use of the word “disbanded” in regard to the committee, saying the committee “ran its course” after the update was submitted to the Board of Trustees in January 2014 for approval.

After claiming village officials failed to acknowledge “repeated requests…over the last six months to clarify the process,” Horner ended his letter to the trustees by describing the update as “inadequate,” and suggesting a new citizens group be formed to “give a focused charge” to “salvage what we have.”

Rosenblum defended the process of the committee, which he personally created and appointed its members to in 2010 due to a lack of progress on the long-desired update. Describing the LWRP updating process as “in limbo” back in 2010, the mayor said there were time commitments to keep in submitting the update to the Department of State in order to receive a  $50,000 grant from the state for the project.

According to Village Manager Richard Slingerland, the initial grant contract was set to terminate on Dec. 31, 2013, and the village was granted a final, one-year extension by the state to “go through the remaining process” and have a revised LWRP vetted and adopted by the end of 2014.

The mayor said the criticisms from the committee members are “interpretations” of the process as a whole.

“The last steering committee meeting had a vote by the full committee to accept the LWRP update and move it to the trustees in January,” Rosenblum said. “Like anything else, when you have a group of different people, you’re going to have a difference in opinion and conclusions.”

In his letter, Shieferdecker, a Flood Mitigation Advisory Committee member and former Planning Board member in the village, said the need for an update to the LWRP “is clear,” but the update as it currently exists lacks the clarity and succinctness of the original document and is more generic to the Long Island Sound than specific to the village.

“Our village coastline has a much greater preponderance of working or developed coast [compared to other coastal communities], and the document needs to address that more forthrightly,” the committee member said.

Shieferdecker finished his letter by suggesting an entirely new committee to take over the work of the steering committee.

Calling for a “Writing Committee” to take up where the steering committee left off, Shieferdecker said major revisions to the policies section of the LWRP update need to be done and the reworking cannot be done by the Board of Trustees alone.

“I would caution the trustees that they cannot, themselves, provide sufficient corrective measures by their diligent review over a short period of time,” he said.

Rosenblum said he doesn’t see the purpose of creating a new committee or extending the LWRP revision process further.

“It was done by the process that was intended,” the mayor said. “It is now like any act of legislature and is before the Board of Trustees, and they should not abdicate their responsibilities. Anyone else’s idea is not more or less important in that process, and [Horner and Shieferdecker] are not elected officials.”

The March 31 work session focused on the LWRP update will be open to the public, but no public comment will be allowed. According to Rosenblum, the updated LWRP will then be sent to the Department of State for review, and, after it returns to the trustees, public meetings would be open for comment “like any proposed legislation.”

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com

 
Heaslip-23

Board chair to develop site

According to Hair Creations owner Brenda Maeda, she has yet to be officially notified of proposed redevelopment plans that could leave her business and the other two active businesses on this Halstead Avenue property by the wayside. Photo/Phil Nobile

According to Hair Creations owner Brenda Maeda, she has yet to be officially notified of proposed redevelopment plans that could leave her business and the other two active businesses on this Halstead Avenue property by the wayside. Photo/Phil Nobile

By PHIL NOBILE
Continuing the town’s quest for downtown revitalization with new buildings and sleeker storefronts, a new plan by a local real estate group that includes Harrison Planning Board members is before town officials.

Planning Board Chairman Thomas Heaslip and board member Chuck Spano, partners in the Harrison Real Estate Group LLC, have purchased 241 to 247 Halstead Ave. intending to turn the current storefronts into a new mixed-use facility with a set of stores and apartments above. The real estate group submitted its initial filings with the New York Department of State in September 2013.

According to Harrison Town Code, any town official “who has a direct or indirect financial or other private interest in any matter before the [Town Council]…shall publicly disclose on the official record of the [council] the nature and extent of such interest.”

Those concerns were addressed in a March 4 letter by the group’s attorney, which was attached to the submitted plan for approval. The letter states that Heaslip and Spano have a “pecuniary interest in the proposed project” and says that the two Planning Board members will recuse themselves from all future actions to be made on the property.

The application, requiring site plan and environmental review and special use permit, is scheduled to come before the Planning Board after press time on March 25.

Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said Heaslip and Spano would remove themselves from the project, saying they “know [they] have to do that: it’s a no brainer.”

“It will be treated fairly,” Belmont said. “[Planning Board members are] held to a higher standard as a result; more than anyone else.”

The attorney for the project is Frank McCullough from the White Plains firm McCullough, Goldberger and Staudt. McCullough, who represents PepsiCo and other projects that go before the Harrison Town Council and town land use boards, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Although the board members have submitted their plan to the town, the new property owners have yet to notify the current tenants of their intentions, according to one of them.

Brenda Maeda, owner of Hair Creations, said the Harrison Real Estate Group has yet to introduce itself and its plans for the building, leaving the future of her salon and the other businesses in limbo. Maeda has a lease for her salon space for more than two additional years.

“I have not met the new building owner and do not even know his name,” Maeda, owner of the salon for more than five years, said. “I should have, because I assume a sale of this nature would take up to a year.”

With regard to the lack of communication from the Planning Board members, Belmont said it was something that should have occurred. According to Belmont, Heaslip and Spano will offer “first dibs on the new storefronts that come in” to the current tenants.

“It’s unfortunate they were not notified earlier; that’s all on [Heaslip and Spano’s] shoulders,” Belmont said. “Hopefully we can move forward and get some kind of resolve.”

Councilwoman Marlane Amelio, a Republican, echoed the mayor’s sentiments. She said the failure to notify current tenants at the 241 to 247 Halstead Ave. property was “not how business should be conducted in Harrison.”

“I believe there is responsibility involving new ownership,” Amelio said. “In the future, I would like to see that when a building is sold, the new owners make it known immediately to those operating a business within the building as to what the intent of their ownership entails.”

As for Maeda, who recently closed her Rye location in favor of focusing exclusively on her Harrison shop, she said she would have never left her Rye business behind if she knew of the redevelopment plans in Harrison and she worries for her business and employees.

“I have 14 families of employees who depend on this business and a large community of people who come from all over to invest money into this town,” she said. “This is my livelihood and my heart.”

A request for the property to be referred to the Planning Board for a recommendation and to declare the Planning Board as lead agency was on the March 20 Town Council meeting agenda, after press time.

Multiple calls to the Harrison Real Estate Group LLC and Heaslip were not returned as of press time.

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com

 
HEADS

Quigley, Alfaso win Tuckahoe election

Democratic incumbent Stephen Quigley, right, and Republican Steven Alfasi won Tuckahoe’s March 18 elections with 356 and 351 votes, respectively. Contributed photos

Democratic incumbent Stephen Quigley, right, and Republican Steven Alfasi won Tuckahoe’s March 18 elections with 356 and 351 votes, respectively. Contributed photos

By CHRIS EBERHART
After the March 18 Tuckahoe election, the village Board of Trustees remains a 4-1 Republican majority with incumbent Democrat Stephen Quigley winning re-election and Republican Steven Alfasi taking the other open seat vacated by the outgoing Trustee Janette Hayes. 

Hayes, a Republican, chose not to seek re-election.

Quigley, 61, beat out Alfasi, 48, by five votes—356 to 351—for top vote getter of the four candidates on the ballot. Coming in third and fourth, respectively, were Republican Melba Caliano, 60, an attorney with the New York State Education Department and Democrat Chris DiGiorgio, 47, an eye doctor and the chairman of the village’s Democratic Party, with 324 votes and 287 votes, respectively.

Quigley and Alfasi will begin their two-year terms on April 1.

Alfasi, a private attorney with an office in Village Hall and a member of Tuckahoe’s Zoning Board of Appeals for the past two years, said after his victory the win hasn’t sunk in yet, but he’s ready to get to work.

“The first thing is voting on the budget, which I’m confident the trustees will keep under the state-mandated tax cap,” Alfasi said.

Although Alfasi has not been part of the budget discussions, he will vote on the final budget, which has to be completed by the end of May.

After the adoption of the budget, Alfasi said, “It’s about taxes, but it’s not all about taxes. Taxes is a pot of money, and it’s about managing that pot of money with efficient spending. It encompasses
everything.”

Quigley, an intellectual property attorney at a Manhattan-based law firm, will be
returning for his third two-year term as village trustee next month. He said this election “re-energized” him.

“This win was a nice reaffirmation that a majority of the voters think I’m doing a good job,” Quigley said. “It re-energized me to push more initiatives, especially in the environmental area and real estate development in the business district. I want to revisit making Tuckahoe a climate-smart community [which would make the village eligible for grant money].”

Environmental initiatives were a hot topic during the candidates’ March 9 debate.

Essentially, the Democrats—Quigley and DiGiorgio—said the village needs to do more for the environment while the Republicans—Alfasi and Caliano—said Tuckahoe was already environmentally conscious.

During the debate, Caliano took a shot at her Democratic opponents’ environmental push saying, “There should be less concern for small issues like plastic bags,” in reference to Quigley’s proposed plastic bag ban in Tuckahoe retail stores in March 2013. “We’re already environmentally conscious. And I’ve never seen my opponents at a Planning Board meeting asking for a second environmental test. I’ve always asked for that second test.”

Quigley’s bag ban proposal was defeated by a 2013 party line vote.

The Republicans will keep their supermajority on the Tuckahoe Board of Trustees, which means Quigley will have an uphill challenge in trying to convince the board to go along with future environmental initiatives.

VOTESVillage trustees serve two-year terms with annual compensation of $5,000.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com

 
The Rye City School District is considering implementing a utility tax to collect revenue to help balance a projected $3.8 million budgetary shortfall. Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez proposed the district institute the tax as one of the possible ways to cut costs in next year’s budget. File photo

School board considers utility tax

The Rye City School District is considering implementing a utility tax to collect revenue to help balance a projected $3.8 million budgetary shortfall. Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez proposed the district institute the tax as one of the possible ways to cut costs in next year’s budget. File photo

The Rye City School District is considering implementing a utility tax to collect revenue to help balance a projected $3.8 million budgetary shortfall. Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez proposed the district institute the tax as one of the possible ways to cut costs in next year’s budget. File photo

By LIZ BUTTON
The Rye City School District may take a tip from the city next year and impose a utility tax on district residents to help make up for a $3.8 million shortfall projected for its 2014-2015 budget.

The utility tax can apply to such things as gas and electric services, water, refrigeration and heat. State law allows municipalities and school districts to also collect on communication services like land line telephones and cell phones, but not cell phones that have pre-paid plans.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Gabby O’Connor estimates instituting the state’s maximum allowable utility tax of 3 percent could net the district $1.2 million in annual revenue, with a prorated value for the first year of implementation of $990,700.

O’Connor’s calculations were based on information provided to her by the city, which has a 1 percent tax on utilities and collects $400,000 annually.

Bob Zahm, a former school board member who served from 2004 to 2010, called the utility tax “a bad tax” that is inefficient and non-transparent and would hurt taxpayers more than increased property taxes would.

Most people are not aware of the tax since they only see a higher number in their phone or water bill’s tax column that is not broken down into the different types of tax.

Zahm said in a community like Rye with many individual property owners and a large tax base, a utility tax is less efficient and may make more sense in a community in which there are more businesses and renters than individuals, which would serve to theoretically “spread the burden.”

Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez explained the necessity of at least considering a utility tax as one option among many in the financially strained environs of the state’s three-year-old tax cap.

The district and the board are currently examining strategies that might help prevent the shortfall in the district’s proposed $79.4 million budget for 2014-2015 from impacting educational programs.

“If we really want to keep what we have, we really have to think of some creative ways to do this. I know the idea of the utility tax has not been popular in the past. I think in a tax cap environment we have to rethink some of these [ideas],” Alvarez said.

According to interim City Comptroller Joe Fazzino, the city bills utility companies like Con Edison and United Water, and phone companies such as Verizon for land lines. The city does not tax cell phones, Fazzino said; however, taxing cell phones is an option the school district is considering.

To actually collect the tax, the district or municipality would bill the utility or service provider, which would then be required to collect those charges on the taxing entity’s behalf. The collected fees would then be given back to the district or municipality.

Projected revenue was based on the maximum allowable utility tax of 3 percent, but whatever percentage the Board of Education decides on is up to them, O’Connor said.

The lowest possible utility tax rate in New York State is 0.5 percent.

The utility tax figures into one of two possible budget scenarios the district presented at the March 11 Board of Education meeting.

The first option is a tax cap compliant budget which would use the utility tax to garner $990,000 along with $2.5 to $2.8 million in reserves to close the shortfall.

The second is a budget that is not tax cap compliant and makes use of a tax cap override, which requires a 60 percent approval rate in the May 20 public vote. This budget would carry with it a tax levy increase of 3.88 percent, an override of the 1.64 percent limit, as well as the use of reserves of around $2.3 million.

In 2011, the City Council considered increasing the city’s 1 percent utility tax rate after the state raised its limit to a maximum of 3 percent, but it ultimately declined to do so. At the time, Zahm and fellow Rye resident Charmian Neary, a Democratic strategist, lobbied the council for an altogether repeal of the tax, which the city originally implemented in 1944.

Former school board president Jim Culyer said previous boards also looked at the utility services tax in the mid-2000s.

Given the current tax cap scenario, Culyer said he thinks Rye must look at all possible revenue-generating measures so the school’s educational programs are not impacted.

Board member Karen Belanger contested Zahm’s point of view that the tax is non-transparent.

“This is the kind of thing that, frankly, we could do by board resolution at any time of the year. The fact that we are bringing it up now, and it was very clear that this is one among several of our options, is our attempt to make this sort of a program as transparent as we possibly can,” she said.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com