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Point/Counterpoint – Matthiessen Park

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November 7, 2019

 

Make Irvington Parks Friendly to All

by Thom Thacker and Lisa Genn – 

We are Irvington residents who are proud to live in a welcoming and friendly community and believe it is time for the policies governing our parks to reflect these fundamental Village values. We believe that the existing resident-only restriction sends an unwelcoming message to our neighbors, one that hurts the reputation of our Village. Furthermore, we believe that the status quo, in which the resident-only rule is enforced inconsistently, creates needless confusion about the actual policy and results in a waste of resources devoted to issuing park passes and occasionally posting staff at the Matthiessen Park gate. Finally, and most importantly, we believe that opening up our parks is most consistent with our Village values of fairness, openness, and inclusion. It is quite simply the right thing to do.

There is no legal impediment that prevents Irvington from allowing non-residents to enjoy its parks. Contrary to widely held belief, there is no restriction in the original deed conveying the vast majority of Matthiessen Park to the Village that requires the park to be restricted to Irvington residents only. Instead, restricting access to Matthiessen Park and our other parks is a choice the community has made. It is time for our community to make a better choice.

None of the objections that some residents have voiced to opening Irvington parks—in particular, Matthiessen Park—to non-residents is compelling. One of the principal objections is that only Irvington residents pay taxes to maintain our parks. Yet most, if not all, Irvington residents enjoy the use of parks in other communities where they do not pay taxes, be it in other rivertowns, New York City or elsewhere. Another set of objections revolves around non-residents creating parking problems for residents and generating garbage. It is difficult to imagine that, given all the parks that dot the riverfront up and down the Hudson, non-residents will suddenly decide to descend on Matthiessen Park and put undue pressure on the park and its surroundings. Indeed, lack of consistent enforcement of the resident-only rule at Matthiessen Park has not resulted in an overwhelming influx of visitors, despite the fact that families from neighboring towns already occasionally come to the park. We are confident that a relatively small shift from sporadic and inconsistent enforcement to removal of the resident-only rule altogether would not bring an unmanageable number of out-of-town visitors to what is now an underutilized park. And even when the park is open to all, the Village will retain the ability to require permits for large groups. Lastly, some have suggested that the park may be overrun with “outsiders” who take the train and then come to nearby Matthiessen Park, intent on dealing drugs or carrying out criminal activity. The suggestion that Matthiessen Park will become a magnet for this kind of activity stretches the limits of credulity.

We know that many long-time Irvington residents feel an attachment to tradition and the way things have always been. Yet one of the greatest powers we hold as individuals and as a community is the power to reassess the way things have been and to redefine what will be our traditions in light of our best understanding of what is fair and right. 

We believe that our parks, like our streets, our restaurants, our shops, and the parks of all of our neighboring villages, should be welcoming and open to all. As such, we believe that the Irvington Board of Trustees should eliminate the resident-only provision in the Village code and change any park signage that reflects it.


Matthiessen Park Should Remain a Residents Only Facility

by Lauri B. Regan – 

Those arguing in favor of opening Matthiessen Park to non-residents have provided no compelling reason for doing so. The only basis on which they rely is “fairness.”  

As an Irvington taxpayer of 30 years, I can provide a litany of reasons not to do so, but I’ll address their arguments first. Irvington is extremely diverse – residents are rich, poor, blue-collar, white-collar, African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish. We don’t need to open Matthiessen to make activists feel less guilty about their “privilege” for living here. Given that towns across the country maintain residents-only amenities, Irvington is certainly not discriminating against anyone by providing facilities to taxpayers. Policy decisions that impact taxpayers and their safety should be based upon common sense, good judgment, and a cost-benefit analysis of overall impact on the community – not guilt.

Scenic Hudson Park is open to non-residents who can share river views, recreational facilities, and Irvington charm – why is that not enough? Furthermore, from NYC’s lower west side to Croton-Harmon, numerous waterfront parks exist including in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow where construction is exploding. There is simply no reason to alter the decades-long policy of maintaining Matthiessen as a residents- only facility thereby risking the reality of the many reasons not to.

Because Matthiessen is a taxpayer-funded facility, residents would bear the costs of such a change, and our taxes are high enough. General maintenance of the property from wear and tear, garbage clean-up/DPW expenses, and additional police presence would all be required; our police department has better things to do than enforce rules in our parks when non-residents ignore them. Just as train-riders put their feet on seats, drop garbage on the floor and ignore rules and decorum they would presumably keep in their own homes, non-residents have no skin in the game. Dobbs Ferry is currently confronting these same issues since making this bad decision, and Tarrytown parks face similar issues. 

Safety concerns are quite real. Studies indicate that crime rates increase in public parks. Whether drug sales where our young people may find easy access, or strangers stalking children or stealing personal items briefly left unattended, no one can guarantee such incidents will not increase, nor can they be prevented without additional police presence and perhaps surveillance cameras. In fact, I understand that over the past five years, there have been arrests in Scenic Hudson of non-residents on drug charges with no similar incidents in Matthiessen. 

Concerns of over-crowding cannot be ignored. Notwithstanding its current level of use, residents should never have to fight with non-residents for tables and barbecues–an inevitable result, since “if you build it, they will come.” Parking is also problematic. Once the additional proposed changes are implemented, including allowing dogs and bicycles, one can imagine a crowded venue much different than the serene and family-friendly park to which we’ve grown accustomed. 

Separately, why haven’t Irvington’s activists argued that the entire train station parking lot be opened to non-residents; how about our schools? Will they next sue every nearby town that has a residents-only pool or park? Where will this nonsense end?

Finally, I find it reprehensible to read comments accusing those of us concerned about this of racism. While it’s not uncommon when the far left, lacking substantive arguments, reverts to ad hominem accusations of malign intent, it is no less offensive. Irvington activists should stick to substance, honesty, and civility in the face of ideas with which they disagree. 

In making a determination that entails upending decades-old policy impacting taxes and safety, Irvington’s administration must (a) consider all possible consequences in an open forum, (b) investigate and disclose crimes in Scenic Hudson vs. Matthiessen, (c) if it proceeds, charge a fee for non-residents, and (d) hold a referendum for everyone’s voices to be heard.

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