Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

School board votes to explore transfer of Julianne’s Playground to Village of Pelham for ‘consideration’

Trustees say they want to help with flooding problem but easement is off table
Trustee Jackie De Angelis, far right, talks about Julianne’s Park during the school board meeting.

The Pelham Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize the district “to explore a transfer” of Julianne’s Playground to the Village of Pelham “for consideration,” after several board members told the meeting they wanted to help find a solution to storm flooding but reiterated that granting an easement to the village to build reservoirs under the park remains off the table.

It was the first time the board has publicly voted on the village’s request to install storm-water tanks under the blacktop and tennis courts at the park as well as aboveground pumps.

On Feb. 12, all of the trustees stated their opposition to granting an easement. In October, the village requested legal access for the Julianne’s Playground project, which is part of a $39 million proposed overhaul of the municipality’s storm sewers designed to reduce flooding in the north Pelham and the Highbrook Avenue areas. Any transfer—presumably some form of sale—that is negotiated would have to be approved in a referendum of school district voters, as do all real estate transactions.

“What I want to say is that—and I’m going to speak for myself—I am in favor of us as a board and a school district supporting a solution to the flooding in Pelham,” said Trustee Annemarie Garcia. “For me, what that is, is not an easement. I think that may upset some people to hear that, but I want to explain that I’m not saying no to fixing the problem, but that an easement is not the right solution for the district. The solution that I feel makes the most sense is a transfer of property. As I thought about this, it doesn’t have to be an ‘us, them’ because I really don’t like the way this has kind of transpired, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Trustee Jackie De Angelis, who introduced the resolution authorizing the negotiations on a transfer, said, “Annemarie I agree with you. I am in full support of the storm water-project. The other thing I wanted to mention is that—I’ll speak for myself—we want to preserve Julianne’s Playground in whatever project is considered at Julianne’s. And like you, while I’m not for the easement for all the reasons you just stated, I do think a transfer or a sale of a property makes sense for this.”

I do think a transfer or a sale of a property makes sense for this.

— Trustee Jackie De Angelis,

Trustee Will Treves said he wanted to make it clear that transferring the property would not be in the form of a gift to the village. “I think the way I certainly see it—and that my colleagues see it the same way—is that we are willing to explore a transfer of property in some kind of transaction that would leave the district no worse off. It wouldn’t just be a gift. It would be a transfer for some kind of consideration which has not been designed yet.”

And Trustee Natalie Marrero highlighted the importance of the public vote: “As a member of this board, I think the way forward is if there is a proposal, or anything we put forward, it has to go to a vote, and I do believe this community would stick together and do what it needs to do. But whatever happens in that vote, we have to then abide by that vote.”

Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen has previously said the village needs access to the park in the form of an easement because a public vote on purchasing the land would delay grant applications and the project itself, assuming the referendum is approved at all. He has said the village would begin considering using its eminent domain powers to gain the easement for the portion of the park covered by the blacktop and tennis courts.

“The thing about an easement is that if it’s granted, what that allows is the village to then put all this equipment underneath the ground and on top of the ground, but the school district still retains ownership,” said School Board Vice President Ian Rowe during the meeting. “That’s the fundamental point. That the school district would then own the piece of property. Yes, we could make lots of attempts to indemnify the school district against future issues, of which there almost certainly will be, but that’s just not a burden that makes sense for the district to own that property.”

In fact, municipal sewer infrastructure is already buried under school district property. According to the Village of Pelham Manor’s separate storm-sewer report, one of that village’s sanitary sewer lines passes through a storm conduit under Glover Field, causing an obstruction that backs water up and floods the Wolfs Lane area during big storms. In August, Pelham Manor said in a press release the school district made it possible to take up a section of the athletic field turf to gain access to the system, though no corrective work was reported at the time. The Pelham Manor study recommended removing the sanitary sewer pipe from the stormwater manhole under Glover, but did not assign a cost or timeline for such a construction project at the district’s primary athletic field.

Executive Session

Wednesday’s board of education meeting was originally scheduled as only a work session on the proposed 2024-2025 budget, but the board later added the business session at which it voted and an executive session to discuss “the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property.” According to the New York State Open Meetings Law, trustees can discuss real estate transactions behind closed doors “only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.”

If the executive session was about Julianne’s Playground, it’s difficult to see how the board could legally discuss strategy on the park in private given the law’s requirement that public discussion have a substantial impact on valuation. The board had already held several public meetings on the village’s request, the village is the only entity seeking access to the land and the trustees made their statements and approved the resolution immediately after finishing the executive session.

During public comment, Pelham Manor resident Steven Shekane asked the board, “An easement is off the table 100%, is that correct?”

School Board President Dr. Michael Owen-Michael said, “We’ve been clear on that, yes.”

Shekane quoted a statement he said Mullen made on the 914 Wired podcast: “‘I have spoken to one board of education member recently today, and I am optimistic we might be able to start thinking about designs first rather than the legalities, which I think may help bring down the temperature a little bit. So I am more optimistic than I have been in the last couple of weeks.'” Shekane then asked the board, “Why is one individual on the board having discussions with the mayor? Has this been authorized? I would just like to know what’s going on.”

Owen-Michaane said, “I think multiple board members have spoken to village trustees and to the mayor not as negotiators or on behalf of the board, but we have tried to have an open dialogue.”


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About the Contributor
Annika Halvorson, Staff Reporter
Annika is a junior at Pelham Memorial High School. She is a senator in the student association and a volleyball player. She is the president of the PMHS Chemistry Club, and is interested in coding and computer science. She enjoyed writing for a journalism fellowship at the start of highschool and looks forward to writing with the Pelham Examiner!

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