The nascent dispute between the Westchester Board of Legislators and County Executive Rob Astorino over the approvals needed to implement the recently announced plan to revitalize Playland could hinge on the definition of the word lease.
The Board of Legislators must approve long-term leases of county property. But Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino, said the agreement between the county and Sustainable Playland, the Rye based group that has been chosen to redevelop and run the park, will be an asset management agreement, not a lease.
At 10 years, the agreement will be long enough to make investments in the property worth it for the operators that Sustainable Playland plans to bring in but it will easier for the county to get out of than a lease, McCormack said. Sustainable Playland has agreed to a clause in the contract allowing the revocation of the contract for cause with six months notice.
With a lease, he said, Sustainable Playland would have a legal interest in the property different from that in an asset management agreement. The county has a similar agreement at Hudson Hills Golf Course, he said.
The management agreement will only require the approval of the Board of Acquisition and Contract, McCormack said. That board is made up of Astorino, Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins and Public Works Commissioner Jay Pisco, essentially giving Astorino two votes. The Board of Legislators has been invited to do its own due diligence but will not be asked to approve the agreement.
At the announcement of the plans for Playland last week, Astorino made a preemptive strike against the board’s efforts to exercise oversight of the deal, saying: “We do not want this to be bogged down in bureaucracy, in red tape, in politics.”
Asked if not submitting it to the board would result in more red tape, considering that the board has been known to sue to protect its perceived prerogatives, McCormack said the county and the vendor had to strike a deal that would work for both.
“How the board wants to react to it is their call,” he said.
Tom Staudter, a spokesman for the board, said legislators are not opposed to the deal but it’s the board’s role to vet the deal through a transparent process and make sure it protects the county.
“This is a huge, huge project and it demands board oversight,” he said.
The board’s leadership rejects the idea that it’s not a lease.
“Based on the plan that the County Executive has unveiled, he is proposing a ten-year lease between the County and Sustainable Playland, regardless of what the Administration calls it,” said Vice-Chairman Lyndon Williams, D-Mount Vernon, in a statement. “The fact that the Administration may write ‘Management Agreement’ on the face of it, makes it no less a lease. A lease is a term of years for the use of property. The lessee pays compensation to the lessor for the use and occupancy of the property. There is general exclusivity of possession by the lessee. The lessee pays the expenses and operating cost of the property. The lessor has the right to recover possession after the term of years ends. That’s a lease, and that’s what is being proposed to re-invent Playland.”
Photo: County Executive Rob Astorino and Dhruv Narain, President of Sustainable Playland Inc., shake hands after signing a letter of intent on the future of Playland, Oct. 11, 2012 at Playland in Rye. Sustainable Playland is a local non-profit manager that would that would oversee the 100-acre park with fewer rides but with a new water park and other amenities signed a letter of intent to make $34 million in capitol improvements. ( Tania Savayan / The Journal News )