By LIZ BUTTON
Proponents of green space in the city are protesting the graveling-over of a quarter-acre piece of land at the corner of Central Avenue and Boston Post Road, which has been utilized as a small-scale park since 1967.
A choice by the city after the Central Avenue Bridge reconstruction was completed in August has riled some residents, who speculate the city might have put gravel down without going through proper protocols. Some have also expressed the fear that the lot will eventually be used as a parking lot for the new mixed-use facility being built on the former Black Bass Grille property across Central Avenue, which the Planning Commission approved in 2012, allowing for it to be accompanied by four parking spaces.
City Manager Scott Pickup said the graveling-over of the lot on the southwest corner of the intersection is merely a temporary set-up since the area’s grass and fences were ravaged by construction equipment and vehicles when it was being used as a staging area during bridge work.
The new building under construction adjacent to the bridge at 2 Central Ave. will feature two stores and two apartments. The Black Bass Grille, which used to stand there, went out of business in the early 2000s and the boarded-up building became an eyesore for residents and passersby.
In recent months, some concerned citizens, like former Rye Mayor John Carey and Central Avenue resident Anne McCarthy, expressed trepidation that the now graveled-over land might be used again as a staging area for the construction of the mixed-use facility.
Pickup said the city had mainly laid the gravel in anticipation that developer JCS Construction Group might possibly decide to work out a temporary agreement with the city to use the space for equipment and vehicles for the 2 Central Ave. project, which began this summer.
The developer ultimately deemed this option, and therefore the graveling-over of the parcel, unnecessary.
That these citizens are already considering the recovery of the former green space is premature, Pickup said, because the city’s Transportation and Pedestrian Safety Committee, headed by Brian Dempsey, is still looking at general pedestrian safety concerns, like unsafe sightline, traffic and parking issues in the area of the Central Avenue and Boston Post Road intersection that may be exacerbated once the Black Bass site reopens.
According to a committee memo, an idea was floated that the city could use the former park as a lot to catch six to eight spots of overflow parking. The idea to possibly use the former green space as overflow parking, the memo stressed, “was not brought to us by the city manager, as some have insinuated.”
Pickup said re-seeding to turn the land back into a green space would likely take place in the spring unless parking overflow must be put in that area to accommodate new traffic circumstances, as the committee suggested.
Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said the council, which was led by Republican Mayor Douglas French at the time, was not made aware that the park had been graveled over either before or after the fact last summer.
“There is no compelling reason why it should remain paved-over,” Sack said. “What I have heard leads me to believe it should be restored to a green park as before. Hopefully it’s going to be an easy fix.”
Whether the plot is designated as a park is the key issue when it comes to whether the plot will revert to green space, according to the committee’s report, but the committee indicated that it relinquishes any say on that matter.
Resident and history teacher Doug Carey, who served as a recreation commissioner for 15 years and was a member of the Trailways Committee, said he researched the history of the park, which had been used for passive recreation and lunch breaks for almost 50 years. The property was originally established as a park in 1967 to be a link to the established trailway along the Blind Brook from Central Avenue to the Rye Nature Center, he said.
“The formation of this passive park was deliberate and supported by multiple city non-profits in conjunction with the City of Rye,” Carey, who has spoken on the issue at multiple City Council meetings beginning last year, said.
While the city contends there is nothing in the charter, or in any other agreement, about that piece of land indicating it has to be officially dedicated as parkland, Carey said this is not the issue at all.
“I’m not getting into a discussion of whether this is a dedicated parkland. It has been a park that was designated by intent and in writing by the city. If you are looking for a declaration by the City Council of this being dedicated parkland, I’m not sure there is one. But no one can deny this has been a park since 1967,” Carey said.
City Planner Christian Miller could not be reached for comment as of press time.