Rye talks with legislators, awaits DEC ruling

On Tuesday, Rye City officials met with members of a Westchester County Board of Legislators subcommittee to discuss their concerns surrounding the proposed Playland revitalization project.

The meeting was part of an ongoing review process undertaken by the legislators aimed at vetting Sustainable Playland, Inc.’s vision to redevelop the Rye-based amusement park into a year-round attraction.

As the host community, considered ground zero to any potential adverse impacts that may come as a result of alterations to the park, Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, along with Republican councilwomen Laura Brett, Julie Killian and Kirstin Bucci, and Councilman Richard Slack, unaffiliated, sat down for more than an hour with the legislators’ Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee to discuss the city’s concerns.

City officials have recently become more vocal in their attempt to engage the administration of Republican County Executive Rob Astorino in order to play a role in any environmental review process.

The main concern for officials in Rye is the impacts that could be felt, primarily by the Ryan Park neighborhood that abuts the county-owned amusement park. The biggest bone of contention for residents has been the 82,500-square-foot field house that would be built in Playland’s parking lot, a designated flood zone, yards away from the neighborhood.

Sack said the amusement park’s neighbors are facing quality of life impacts, such as overflow traffic in front of their homes and possible flood waters rising onto their streets.

Mack Cunningham, a former Rye City councilman who has been critical of the plan since the field house component became public knowledge last October, told county legislators on Tuesday SPI’s plan lacks any consideration for the abutting neighbors; from lights, to noise, to flooding.

“The field zone sits in a flood zone. If something happens, water will be diverted and will go almost a block up the street. The neighborhood is ground zero as far as a category storm is concerned,” Cunningham said. “More than 40 percent of the 5.2 square miles of Rye sits in a flood plain, so we’re very sensitive to any development that goes on.”

Cunningham referenced the effects of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which flooded the Playland parking lot—the exact location where the field house is slated to be constructed—and destroyed portions of the amusement park, including the boardwalk.

County Legislator Mary Jane Shimksy, a Hartsdale Democrat and member of the parks committee tasked with vetting SPI’s improvement plan, sympathized with the neighbors’ unrest.

“If I lived in this neighborhood I’d be hopping mad too,” she said.

The committee has tentatively scheduled a vote for early July to decide the fate of the SPI plan. If the Democrat-led committee were to vote down the proposal, the SPI vision would die in committee.

Although Rye officials have not commented as to whether they support or oppose the plan, some have voiced their concerns with the process thus far.

To that end, the city-hired attorney Michael Gerrard, of the law firm Arnold and Porter, LLP, appealed to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC, on May 16 requesting the city be designated lead agency in any environmental review for the Playland revitalization project rather than the county, which claims it has jurisdiction because it owns the park.

Sack reiterated the city’s stance for those in White Plains.

“Under the rules of the state, it’s clear the City of Rye should be lead agent because we bear the brunt of the impacts,” Sack said. “We’re not going to hold things up unnecessarily, but we want and deserve a real say in this.”

A designation as lead agency would allow Rye to have authority when it comes to project approval and would require the project to go through Rye’s land use boards before being approved.

DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens has until June 6 to decide whether the city or county will be designated as lead agency.

In the meantime, Rye officials said, regardless of who is selected, a full Environmental Impact Statement‑a detailed document describing a proposed action’s potential environmental impacts‑should be conducted on the project.

“The [Playland Improvement Plan] is proposed to go forward in an environmentally sensitive area on a historically sensitive site in a wetland in a flood zone bordering a residential neighborhood,” Brett said. “It needs a careful, detailed analysis of the improvements and impacts.”

Currently, the Astorino administration has only required an Environmental Assessment Form for Sustainable Playland, Inc.’s plan for the park, which is shorter and less stringent.

County Legislator Peter Harckham, a Bedford Democrat and chairman of the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing committee, told Rye officials his committee has the authority to order a full Environmental Impact Statement if it deems necessary.

Rye officials cited the uniqueness of Playland makes the jurisdictional situation equally unique.

“We think that, not only is there precedent for us, but if you’re looking to distinguish this example from any other park, it’s a safe bet you can,” Sack said. “It’s the only municipally-owned amusement park in the country, and the only 82,500-square-foot building going up in any park in Westchester. We’re talking about building a monstrous structure feet away from where citizens of Rye live and own homes.”