By CHRIS EBERHART
A polarizing issue in county politics this year that may be tied to the outcomes on Nov. 5 is the state of Westchester’s Rye Playland.
The famed amusement park, which is owned and operated by Westchester government, has been in the proverbial crosshairs ever since a decision was made in 2010 to entertain the idea of revamping the park and allow for an outside contractor to manage it.
But this is not the first time the county has attempted to move away from managing the park. Back in the early 1980s, then-County Executive Alfred DelBello, a Democrat, reached an agreement to privatize the park, bringing in the Marriot Corporation to come in and run the venue. The experiment, failed and the plugg was pulled after just two years.
Earlier this year, County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, signed a 10-year management agreement with Sustainable Playland Inc., a Rye-based non-profit group formed for the sole purpose of redeveloping the park, this past summer to modernize the Playland, but no physical changes or capital work can be made until they’re approved by the county Board of Legislators—which currently rests in Democratic hands by a 10-7 majority—according to an opinion drafted by County Attorney Robert Meehan. Therefore, the legislators have the final say over the direction Playland heads in. the likelihood is the county administration would challenge such a decision counter to SPI in court, if need be.
The election will determine control of the Board of Legislators. Control of the county board could determine the direction of the historic park and whether the SPI plan moves forward. If Republicans, who have echoed Astorino’s praise for Sustainable Playland, win tightly-contested legislator races in districts five and nine next week and assume majority control, the proposal, which has been the subject of recent protest by Rye residents neighboring Playland, will likely be approved by the Board of Legislators.
Astorino’s opponent, Democra-tic mayor of New Rochelle Noam Bramson, said he agrees with the plan to modernize Playland, but said the process is flawed, a stance that has been reiterated by Democratic candidates throughout Westchester during the campaign season.
Geoff Thompson, a spokesman for Sustainable Playland Inc., said he’s confident in either party to review Sustainable Playland’s proposal.
“Obviously, we know Rob Astorino’s stance. Bramson has taken a position that he needs to know a more about the plan, but we’re confident that whoever is elected will give Sustainable Playland’s plan the proper consideration it deserves.”
In the meantime, the Board of Legislators continues to conduct its own review of the proposals submitted to the county in 2011. A review that Democrats claim was obstructed by the Astorino administration’s refusal to hand over analysis of the proposals and amusement park.
Legislator Judy Myers, a Mamaroneck Democrat whose district encompasses Playland, doesn’t think the plan will be done anytime soon.
“The [Playland] Improvement Plan just came to the Board of Legislators and we’ve been tasked with going through each and every item and dissecting them,” Myers said. “I do wish the plan was brought to us sooner. We will get the county budget on Nov. 15, and then all our attention turns to the budget. We aren’t going to see a lot of progress on Playland until the end of the year.”
The administration sent out a request for proposals back in 2010, soon after Astorino took county office. In return, he received 12 submissions to recreate the park. The pack was whittled down to three finalists before the county executive ultimately selected SPI as the victor.
Since that time, there has been some ongoing concern with the SPI plan within the group’s own backyard.
While the issue has been discussed and debated at the highest level of county politics, a grassroots uprising has begun to form in Rye over a proposed 95,000-square-foot fieldhouse as part of the SPI plan. The issue has brought forth lively debate from both supporters and opponents of the idea.
Mack Cunningham, a former Rye City councilman, said a petition with more than 200 signatures will be hand delivered to Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat and chairman of the county Board of Legislators; Myers county Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat who chairs the legislators’ Government Operations Committee, and Rye City Clerk Dawn Nodarse on Wednesday, after press time.
“The petition shows there are concerns from bordering neighbors around Playland over this proposal,” Cunningham said.
But Myers said she’s conceptually in favor of the plan and believes Sustainable Playland is what’s best for her constituents.
Cunningham is not so sure.
“Judy Myers has not done her homework,” he said.
On Oct. 27, Rye deputy mayor and independent mayoral candidate Pete Jovanovich met with some of Playland’s protesting neighbors and said he was against a proposal by SPI to construct a fieldhouse in the Playland parking lot which abuts residential properties.
His opponent, Republican mayoral candidate and incumbent Councilman Joe Sack has refused to take a stance on the issue, citing the need for more information and a process to review both sides in the matter.