Column: Which is worse, Bay Bridge or field house?

careyIn the 1960s or early 1970s, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller decided on an enormous project. Or maybe it was Robert Moses who came up with the scheme to allow cars and trucks to stream day and night through Rye and over a new, three-mile bridge to Oyster Bay on the Long Island side of the Sound.

Even though I was on the City Council at the time, it was never clear to me just where in Rye the bridge would have its landfall. The most likely route seemed to be an extension of Route 287 eastward, cutting a swath through residential neighborhoods between Playland and Port Chester harbor. Owners of homes in that area were understandingly alarmed.

We had, at the time, a courageous and resourceful mayor, Ed Grainger. He was well connected in the New York City legal community and knew his way around the courts. Ed teamed up with his counterpart on Long Island’s north shore and, together, they launched a full-scale legal offensive against the hated bridge. The costs were substantial and, even after I became mayor in January 1974, a large bill was presented to the city.

Eventually, Rockefeller lost interest, as opportunity for bigger things in Washington beckoned. Without that, the legal battle would have gone on and on, with the outcome quite uncertain. Anyone who was following our local problems at that time will tell you that the future of our town as a quiet place was on the line.

Now we face a similar threat, from a proposed field house in the Playland parking lot.

First of all, to get an impression of what a field house can be, just drive up 95 to Exit 9 in Stamford, Conn., follow the signs to Chelsey Piers on Blachley Road, and have a look at what we could be getting in Rye if we don’t mobilize a concerted and potent opposition.

We have been to Chelsey Piers for grandchildren’s functions. There is no kind of child’s birthday celebration that you can imagine that cannot be accommodated there. Or if you want to swim, or play ice hockey, or tennis, or squash, or do gymnastics; all indoors, that’s your place of choice.

You should especially take notice of the parking lots at Chelsea Piers in Stamford. They are enormous, with room for hundreds of cars. Even so, there will be times when you will be driving around looking for a spot.

So now picture something like Chelsea Piers in Playland. The present parking area would be insufficient even if left alone, but with a large part of it being gobbled up for the field house, even less parking space would remain for a lot more cars to park. And just imagine the chaos on any nice day, especially weekends in the summer, as thousands of cars come and go, inching their way, when they can move at all, trying to get into or out of Playland. Just imagine how much worse it would be if shuttle buses were bringing people to Playland from remote parking areas like the Rye, Harrison, Mamaroneck and Port Chester train stations.

So what will our present City Council do now, wage all-out war as was done in the 1970s, or shuffle papers and look sheepish, expressing regrets that political leaders more powerful than themselves have made the decisions? That is not what the City Council opposing Rockefeller did.

Stand up and be counted, council members, especially you lawyers, who should review the February decision of the New York Court of Appeals in Union Square Park Community Coalition, Inc. v. New York City Dept. of Parks & Recreation, 2014 NY Slip Op 01207 which said, “Under the public trust doctrine, dedicated parkland cannot be converted to a non-park purpose for an extended period of time absent the approval of the State Legislature.”

It’s now or never, to win an honored place in local history.