By CHRIS EBERHART
The Playland jurisdiction debate is boiling down to a who-blinks-first battle of wills between the Westchester County administration and the City of Rye.
Both Rye Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, and County Executive Rob Astorino, also a Republican, have dug their heels into the ground of Playland’s parking lot and neither side appears to be budging from its stance.
The city and the county are both claiming authority over the amusement park—Rye because it’s the park’s host city and the county because it owns the property.
Sack told the Review the tug of war remains at a standstill after an April 3 face-to-face meeting with Astorino. County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat and chairman of the Board of Legislators, also joined the meeting toward its conclusion.
“We appear to be at a stalemate…Our positions are pretty well defined,” Sack said. “There was no progress made today, but we’re talking.”
Sack, who took office as mayor this January, said he is open to further dialogue, but remains pessimistic that a deal can be worked out.
The issue at hand revolves around Sustainable Playland, Inc, the not-for-profit brought in by Astorino to run and renovate Rye Playland, and its proposal to rip-up a large chunk of Playland’s parking lot and replace it with an 82,500-square-foot field house, which would be built just yards away from a local Rye neighborhood.
Residents in the neighborhood have been protesting the Home Depot-sized field house since last October, concerns about traffic conjestion and overflow parking spilling into the residential neighborhood have been at the forefront of the neighbors’ opposition. Residents in the area have also raised concerns about flooding since the proposed building would sit in a FEMA designated flood zone.
Because of the immediate and physical effects the field house would have on Rye residents, the city feels it should have a voice in the final decision on whether or not to build it, and SPI’s proposal should be subject to Rye’s land use boards.
“We want a seat at the table,” Sack said. “And this construction project should be vetted by our land use boards and zoning boards like any other Rye [construction] project.”
The battle over jurisdiction has been an ongoing bone of contention between Rye and the Astorino administration that has heated up in recent weeks.
On March 20, Michael Garrard, an attorney from Arnold and Porter, LLC, the firm representing Rye’s interest in the Playland dispute, sent a letter to the county saying the county must receive zoning and environmental approvals from the city. Rye declared itself as the lead agency in the letter.
But Astorino, who is currently in the midst of a gubernatorial run, holds steadfast in his opinion the county has the final say in the matter and doesn’t want to set a precedent by allowing Rye authority over the project.
Ned McCormack is a spokesperson for Astorino.
“It’s a question of law. The county owns the property and has control over its property,” McCormack said. “It’s our jurisdiction. We want Rye’s input and feedback, but approval remains with the county.”
Chairman Kaplowitz called the meeting “productive and constructive” and said the Board of Legislators want to include Rye in the discussions.
“The [SPI] plan has merit, but there are a lot of unanswered concerns like parking, traffic, financials and environment,” Kaplowitz said.
Meanwhile, as Rye and the county administration compete with each other over jurisdiction, SPI has suspended its involvement in the Board of Legislators Planning, Parks, Housing and Development subcommittee’s vetting process until the issue of jurisdiction is resolved.
SPI president Kim Morque wrote a letter to the county.
“Unfortunately, the current process for moving forward does not reflect a public-private partnership either in spirit or actuality,” Morque wrote.