By CHRIS EBERHART, LIZ BUTTON and PHIL NOBLE
The City of Rye is not backing down from its demand to be the lead agency in the environmental review of Sustainable Playland, Inc.’s renovation plan for the iconic amusement park.
On May 16, Michael Gerrard of the law firm Arnold and Porter, LLP, which is representing the city in the ongoing Playland dispute, filed a formal request to be named lead agency with the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the DEC.
The environmental review status the city is challenging falls under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, SEQR, which would give the city, not Westchester County, final say over the project.
The amusement park sits within the city’s boundaries.
DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens has until June 6 to decide which party, the City of Rye or Westchester County, he will designate as lead agency.
Westchester, under the administration of Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, has maintained its stance it should be lead agency because it owns the property on which the amusement park sits. Astorino has adamantly backed the SPI plan to redevelop the park into a year-round destination with multiple attractions beyond the amusement park’s rides.
“Our position is that the county is the lead agency,” Ned McCormack, Astorino’s spokesperson, said. “This is a county park. Just as a state government would have an interest in a state park, we have an interest in a county-owned park on county land.”
Rye argues city residents—especially those who live in the Ryan Park neighborhood that abuts Playland—will feel the effects of SPI’s project most, particularly those of an 82,500-square-foot field house that would be built in Playland’s parking lot, in a flood zone, just 30 yards from some homes.
Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, spoke with the Review about the latest developments.
“We think it’s pretty straightforward. Because the environmental impacts will be shouldered 100 percent on the City of Rye, we should be lead agency,” Sack said.
Sack contrasted Astorino’s insistence on being lead agency to the county executive’s stance on the affordable housing settlement in which Westchester is involved with the federal government.
“With the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] settlement, the county executive says the federal government shouldn’t be coming in and saying what the local governments should do,” Sack said, “So it’s ironic the county executive is coming into Rye and telling a local government what to do. It’s a bit of a head scratcher.”
According to the letter submitted to Martens, the main criteria in making lead agency determinations is “whether the anticipated impacts of the action being considered are primarily of statewide, regional or local significance.”
“The Playland Improvement Plan seeks to significantly increase patronage at Rye Playland, which will attract considerably more vehicular…traffic while it would also considerably reduce the number of parking spaces. This raises concerns that spillover parking and traffic would occur on the local streets,” Gerrard wrote. “The PIP may also cause more local flooding; it may generate considerable noise—potentially at early and late hours of the day—and the lighting may spill over into the adjacent residential neighborhoods.”
Being named lead agency would subject SPI’s improvement plan to Rye’s land use boards; the planning commission and zoning board.
According to City Attorney Kristen Wilson, it would then be upon Rye’s shoulders to follow steps set forth by the SEQR process and decide if SPI’s plan would have any negative effects on the environment.
“If the city is granted status, then it’s their responsibility to follow the procedure. The City Council would then have to decide to give the issue a positive or negative declaration,” she said.
The field house proposal remains the biggest point of contention and areas of concern amongst some city residents and local officials.
According to the city’s letter, the field house does not comply with the city’s zoning code “as it does not fall within the list of permitted uses” and would require approval from the Rye City Council or a use variance from its Zoning Board of Appeals.
Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat and chairman of the Board of Legislators, said Rye’s appeal for lead agency has no impact on the legislators’ review of SPI’s Playland Improvement Plan.
SPI spokesperson Geoff Thompson said SPI is just a bystander in this back-and-forth between Rye and the county, but he hopes the lead agency issue is finalized sooner rather later.
“Decisions pertaining to the roles the various levels of government have in the environmental review process are between the county and the city. SPI has no role in making those determinations,” Thompson said. “We do, however, need to have clarity on this key underlying issue and the sooner the better for the overall planning for the future of Playland.”
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