From The Department Of Parks & Recreation
In recent weeks, several erroneous rumors and allegations have circulated concerning Ward Acres and the City’s ongoing planning process for the park. In order to ensure that discussions about Ward Acres are guided by accurate information, the Department of Parks and Recreation offers the following fact sheet.
If you have questions about the issues below, please feel free to contact Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Bill Zimmermann by phone at 654-2092 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Park Planning Goals
The City Council and Administration believe that Ward Acres is a uniquely valuable public asset deserving of protection and appropriate care. Although the City has devoted resources over the years to general maintenance of the park, clearance of trails, and erection of signs, these efforts have been insufficient to preserve the park’s ecological health.
Today, the park suffers from an array of negative and worsening conditions, including invasive species, eroded trails, poor way-finding, and seasonal flooding. In addition, the park contains several publicly-owned buildings, all of which are in poor condition. While it might be possible to address these conditions in a piecemeal fashion, it was the judgment of the City Council and Administration that a comprehensive, open, and inclusive examination of the park’s present and future would best serve the public interest.
The City Council and Administration do not intend to sell any portion of the park, construct new housing on the site, create new athletic fields, or alter Ward Acres’ essential character as a place for the enjoyment of nature.
Selection of and Payment to Park Consultants
In August 2005, the City selected Vollmer Associates to help develop plans for Ward Acres and facilitate public discussion about the park’s present and future. Vollmer was one of four consulting groups that responded to an open and public Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the City. Vollmer was selected from these submissions based on the quality and depth of their relevant experience. City staff made this selection without influence by or participation from any member of the City Council.
Vollmer’s fee of $75,000 is consistent with the scope of their responsibilities and the challenges associated with intelligent planning of a park as large and sensitive as Ward Acres. The fee is NOT paid for out of tax revenue or the City’s general fund. Instead, it is paid through the proceeds of a “Recreation Impact Fee” charged to the builders of new housing within New Rochelle. These fees are deposited into a trust fund that is reserved exclusively for recreation purposes.
Proposals vs. Possibilities
In making its presentation to the public, Vollmer has outlined many ideas for park usage and investment. These should not yet be regarded as “proposals” or “plans,” but rather as possibilities intended to stimulate thought and discussion. Vollmer will not make any formal proposals until the end of the planning process, after two additional public meetings and extensive public input and review, including direct participation from a committee of community stakeholders. It is likely that many of the ideas presented initially for discussion will ultimately be rejected as impractical, lacking public support, or incompatible with higher priorities. It is also possible that Vollmer will suggest a phased approach to park improvement, with short term, medium term, and long term goals. No member of the City Council or Administration has prejudged the outcome of this planning process.
Historic Value of the Barn
The Ward Acres barn has been identified by local historians as a noteworthy architectural asset and an important physical link to New Rochelle’s rural past. One goal of the planning process is to assess the practicality, cost-effectiveness, and potential benefits of preserving and/or reconstructing the barn. To achieve this goal, it will be important to determine whether there are potential uses of the barn that complement the desired character of the park as a whole. Here again, no member of the City Council or Administration has prejudged the outcome of the planning process.
Tenancy in the House at 764 Pinebrook Boulevard
For several years, it has been City policy to discontinue residential rentals in public property. The City is not well equipped to be a landlord and has often encountered legal and other problems in its landlord-tenant relations. By the time it was vacated in May of 2005, this house was the only remaining residentially-occupied property owned by the City.
Although the rental agreement with the house’s last tenants permitted cancellation with only a thirty day termination notice, the City, nonetheless, extended the agreement and provided the tenants with a five month period in which to secure alternate housing. This followed a request for a yearly lease extension by the tenant that totaled three years from 2001-2004. These discussions were conducted in a sensitive fashion, respectful of the tenants’ interests and wishes.
At the same time, the City Council and Administration made a policy determination that the Ward Acres house at 764 Pinebrook Boulevard might be utilized for a park-related purpose, if consistent and compatible with the future use of the park. The City considered retaining a conservation and trails specialist who could occupy the house and serve as a park care-taker, but ultimately opted to defer any decisions about specific usage of the house until the conclusion of the Ward Acres planning process.
While the house is in obvious need of repair and has been secured and boarded for several months, no cost estimate has yet been made for rehabilitation, re-use, or re-occupation. This item will be addressed within Vollmer’s final analysis report.