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Westchester County attorney says legislators have say over Rye Playland

The amusement park at Rye's Playland is closed

The amusement park at Rye's Playland is closed for the season, as seen here, but some events take place throughout the year at the Westchester County-owned park. (Oct. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascareñas

Westchester County Democrats can now have a field day with Rye Playland.

County Attorney Robert Meehan has issued a legal opinion that states the Board of Legislators -- controlled by Democrats -- can reject portions of the agreement that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is now negotiating with a local nonprofit organization to manage the county-owned amusement park.

"That proposed agreement must include a provision which will condition any plan for material improvements at Playland Park to be subject to approval by ... the Board of Legislators," wrote Meehan in the opinion issued Friday.

Astorino plans to sign an agreement with Rye-based Sustainable Playland next month. Chosen in October, after a lengthy competitive bidding process, the nonprofit has pledged to assemble a handful of subcontractors -- including ride operators, restaurant owners and others -- who would invest $34 million in the park in return for a slice of the profits from the refurbished facility.

Astorino has claimed he can sign the agreement with Sustainable Playland under the same authority he would use to grant a concession to a vendor who would operate a county golf course or similar property.

Meehan found that Astorino can go ahead and sign an agreement with Sustainable Playland but can exclude the county Legislature only as long as the agreement does not allow Sustainable Playland to move rides, alter parking lots, build ballfields or make other major changes to the property.

The president of Sustainable Playland, Kim Morque, said the opinion could potentially change the details of the nonprofit's proposal for the park, though he emphasized that the group would remain on course with its plans.

"It is different," Morque said. "I wouldn't call it a subtle difference. It's more of a substantial difference than where we started."

Astorino's communications director, Ned McCormack, said he wasn't surprised by the opinion. The county executive always expected that legislators would have a say in developing plans for the park, McCormack said.

"There could be situations where there would be a material change," said McCormack, paraphrasing Meehan's opinion. "They're going to put a water slide where no water slide was before. They are going to put a great lawn where there was no great lawn before. We aren't kidding ourselves."

Board of Legislators chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) said the opinion showed that Astorino had overreached in bypassing lawmakers to develop his plans for the amusement park.

"We have the vindication of what we said all along," Jenkins said. "The board is not an innocent bystander. The board has input. The board has the opportunity to make changes."

Morque said he was particularly concerned that legislators would approve some parts of Sustainable Playland's plan for the park but not others, potentially breaking up a vision that has been pieced together during the course of the year.

"I think the piecemeal approach is very problematic for us," he said. "We're focused on our plan and moving that forward."

Jenkins insisted that, in view of the opinion from Meehan, the board clearly has the right to assess individual portions of the group's plan.

"It's their right to say they need a complete proposal," Jenkins said. "But we might need to comment on that proposal. We might not like the idea of changing a parking lot. We might not like the idea of closing a county-owned ride that is a revenue generator."

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