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Playland meeting doesn’t settle turf dispute

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County leaders met with Rye’s mayor Thursday to discuss the future of Playland but couldn’t settle a turf dispute that has threatened to derail a proposed redevelopment of the park.

Westchester owns Playland, but it sits within Rye’s borders. The city believes it should have approval authority over any proposed construction at the park, but the county believes allowing Rye to take the reins would set a precedent for all county-owned properties.

County Executive Rob Astorino, Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz and city Mayor Joe Sack met to try to clear up the uncertainty over a deal to turn over management of Playland to a nonprofit. Sack said the meeting hadn’t changed the equation.

“We’re at a bit of a stalemate,” he said, noting both Rye and the county seem unwilling to shift their stances on approval authority. A future meeting was not scheduled, but Sack said he and the county would communicate within a week to try to find some common ground.

“I’m not entirely sanguine we’ll be able to do it,” he said. “We’re open to creative solutions, but really we feel it’s up to the county to come up with suggestions.”

Sustainable Playland Inc., the Rye-based nonprofit chosen by the county to take over operation of the park, suspended its involvement in county’s review of its management plan until legal uncertainties could be resolved. County lawmakers responded by indefinitely suspending their review of SPI’s plan, which drew opposition for aspects such as the size of a proposed 82,500-square-foot field house.

Critics also expressed concern about the nonprofit’s ability to effectively manage the park, having no experience in amusement park management and a limited financial track record. The group, which said it spent $600,000 on planning to date, formed specifically to bid on management of the park.

Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat, said he felt the meeting was constructive despite it lacking a “Camp David moment.” Kaplowitz said he believed the board was in the middle of the disagreement over who had authority, but that he was optimistic a compromise could be reached and that SPI would come back to the table.

“If and when they renew their interest, we’ll pick back up again our review process,” he said.

Catherine Parker, a Democrat, was a member of Rye City Council until January when she was sworn in as county legislator. She said a letter from Rye asserting its authority may have been “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for Sustainable. “Honestly, I wonder if this doesn’t spell the end of SPI,” she said.

Sack responded by saying the city’s actions were not an attempt to derail an improvement plan for Playland. “I think we’re trying to make it better and stronger,” he said. “If she thinks that, then she’s a lot farther from the Rye City Council than three months.”

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