School Community Shows Up for Hampshire Meeting
By Cindy Goldstein -
Approximately 60 people showed up for a meeting with the Mamaroneck School Board (BOE) to discuss a hot topic – a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU - See HERE) with the developers who own the Hampshire country club.
The two-hour meeting gave the public an opportunity to ask questions and get information as the BOE explores options for a contingent gift of golf club land to the district. Superintendent Robert Shaps made an opening statement saying it was the responsibility of the board to evaluate any proposals with the best interest of the district as a central focus and view toward its future needs.
Approximately 23 people spoke – mostly against the MOU. The meeting was civil but got heated at several points which demonstrated the potential divisiveness the agreement could spark. Most speakers thanked the BOE for their tireless volunteer efforts on behalf of the students and for meeting with them.
In summary, the gift of land would only occur if the Village of Mamaroneck changed the zoning so Hampshire could build more than 120 condominiums on the site. Mayor Murphy addressed that issue by stating that a previous Board of Trustees declined to re-zone and then won the lawsuit when the Hampshire developers sued. He stated there was no interest on the Village Board of Trustees to change the zoning as it would impact other Marine zones village-wide. He added that he would be happy to speak with the BOE and school administration over the summer to provide them with additional information.
One of the first speakers, Celia Felsher, gave a detailed analysis of the pitfalls the draft MOU presented. Felsher, an attorney, former school board president, president of the Mamaroneck Coastal Environment Commission and neighbor of Hampshire, pointed out a serious concern that the agreement wasn’t legal under NYS lobbying law because of the various responsibilities the board would have to undertake. She described the district as a lobbyist for the developer in exchange for the contingent gift of land. Felsher stated that although everyone in the room wanted the same thing – more space for classrooms and fields – this agreement wouldn’t achieve these goals. If Hampshire wanted to make a gift, they should just make a gift, Felsher stated, rather than pursuing the MOU which was a “quid pro quo,” suggesting that the gift should be without strings attached.
Approximately 6 residents (mostly from outside the Village of Mamaroneck) spoke either in favor of the MOU or for continuing to explore the possibility of the gift. Andrew Kirwin, Orienta Point Board member spoke on that group’s behalf to make the following points: 1) the gift was too speculative, and the community had no warning the issue was pending; 2) the BOE should wait for an unconditional gift of land; 3) a feasibility study must be prepared to see if the land is usable for the district’s needs and 4) the BOE should not interfere in municipal decision-making.
Dr. Shaps and BOE attorney, Mr. Thomas Scapoli, appeared defensive when fielding questions from attendees about the amount of time and resources the district had committed to drawing up, evaluating and negotiating the MOU. Speakers urged the district to do their due diligence especially since the land has toxins, heavy metals and pesticides that could require significant expense to remediate. Scapoli defended the requirements that the school district provide factual information about the development/gift to the public as well as provide written notice to Hampshire of any meetings or communications with governmental regulatory agencies with jurisdiction over the development so Hampshire could attend or participate in the meetings/communications.
Everyone acknowledged that because of the time frame to actually effectuate the land transfer and development, any “gift” would not benefit the children of anyone currently on the school board or in the audience.
Editor’s Note: Author Cindy Goldstein was a member of the Village of Mamaroneck Planning Board that evaluated the Hampshire site plan and unanimously rejected the application for various reasons including the threat to human life and property from flooding. The matter continues in the courts.