Column: Environmental protection needed in Rye

careyRye has allowed its small park at the corner of the Post Road and Central Avenue to be graveled-over for a parking lot. A story in this newspaper’s March 7 issue gives the impression that this is the doing of one person, the city manager.

“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.” No mention of studying environmental impacts.

But where was the city’s policy-making body, the City Council? The article explained.

“Mayor Joe Sack…said the council…was not made aware that the park had been graveled-over either before or after the fact last summer.” And the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act were evidently disregarded.

And entirely apart from the environmental impact issues, there is the question whether a parking lot is a permissible “park purpose.” The highest court in New York State has just made it abundantly clear the need for a “park purpose” in order to locate a business operation in a park. The New York Times, on Feb. 27, referred to “a battle lasting years to place a high-priced restaurant inside Union Square Park.”

The Times writer waxed poetic.

“A beautiful children’s playground sits at the foot of the pavilion [where the restaurant is to sit]. There is not another playground to be found for many blocks, and during the summer it is packed, which offers the appetizing possibility that a diner, well sated, might splash a Sancerre on a tyke’s head.”

The Times makes clear that then Mayor Bloomberg lent his weight to the organizers of the “high-priced restaurant.” But, “when Bill de Blasio was the public advocate, he spoke against the restaurant. Now, as mayor, he inherits his Law Department’s victory in favor of it.”

The clincher in the Court of Appeals’ Union Square Park decision is this.

“While we leave open the possibility that a particular restaurant might not serve a park purpose in a future case, we conclude that the restaurant here does not run afoul of the public trust doctrine for lack of a park purpose.”

This statement, insufficiently supported by factual analysis, is not as persuasive, in my opinion, as the earlier, contrary decision by a single New York County Supreme Court Justice.

Rye is subject to New York State’s General City Law. Section 20(2) says, “…the rights of a city in and to its…parks, and all other public places, are hereby declared to be inalienable, except in the cases provided for by subdivision seven of this section.”

Subdivision seven allows cities “…to lay out…parks…and upon discontinuance thereof to sell and convey the same…”

Rye is not selling the park but, instead, is thinking of turning it over to a private party for use as a parking lot.

The question for Rye is whether making the little park into a private parking place could possibly be called a “park purpose.” I think not. In order for a parking place to serve a “park purpose,” it would have to accommodate users of a larger recreational area. The nearest recreational area is the nature center, which has its own parking on-site.

Then we should also consider whether the 95,000-square-foot field house proposed for Playland could serve a “park purpose.” I wonder if it would resemble Stamford’s even larger Chelsea Piers, a giant multi-sport facility. Just think of the traffic jams inching their way through Rye to get to the field house or leave it. Imagine the biggest mid-summer traffic jam on Playland Parkway happening year around.

Apparently, the City Council is sitting tight waiting for the county to do an environmental impact study on the field house with the possible result of a “negative declaration” denying any possibility of adverse impact. If we sit back and wait for that to happen, we are not on the job.

The City Council should initiate its own analysis of the impact of a 95,000-square-foot structure eating up existing parking space adjoining an important residential area.