Commentary: Guest Columns for 2005

Larchmont Lady Behind Front Lines in WWII by Jan Northrup

FrankenZoning by Jim Fleming

PACE as Peace Program by Marianne Perez

County Purchase of Davids Island Imperative as Clean-up Begins by Marlene Kolbert

Kayaking in Larchmont: A Modest Proposal by David Hellerstein

Affordable Housing: Who Can Afford It? by Meagan Shannon Vlkovicwha

Shopping by Scooter in Larchmont: Dread & Joy by Suri Nisker

Columns from 2004

Columns from 2003 and 2002


Profiles in Courage: Anne Kathleen Cullen

The Larchmont Lady Who Volunteered For A Dangerous Assignment Behind the Front Lines In World War II

by Jan Northrup

(November 2, 2005) One does not have to wait for the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month--the Day of Armistice marking the end of bloodshed of the Great War--to pay respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting to preserve the freedoms and values of America.

Kay CullenOn any day, one can visit the quiet sanctuary that is the Kemper Memorial Park. It's a good way to reflect on the sacrifices that 99 heroic Mamaroneck and Larchmont residents made during WW II. This is not merely a list of names, but rather, a special group of real people who, like Anne Kathleen Cullen, gave "their last full measure of devotion to our country for the freedom we cherish," to quote General Colin Powell.

Anne Kathleen Cullen was the first Red Cross woman and the only female Larchmont resident killed in action in World War II.

Her death, attended with full American military honors, inspired coverage in the New York newspapers, a poem dedicated to her by H. I. Phillips and even the Anne Kathleen Cullen trophy, awarded during Race Week at the Larchmont Yacht Club.

Ms. Cullen is also a member of the Mamaroneck 99, the heroic residents of the Mamaroneck School District who died in service to their country in World War II. This brave, patriotic woman who volunteered to help American soldiers behind the front lines is honored at the stone monument that serves as the centerpiece for the Kemper Memorial Park on the Boston Post Road, where the names of Ms. Cullen and the 98 local men who gave their lives fighting for freedom are inscribed.

While today many of us prefer safe and comfortable choices in life, it may be difficult to relate to the dangers posed more than 60 years ago by fascist dictators seeking to conquer the world and snuff out the freedoms taken for granted by Americans. In the world where Anne Kathleen Cullen grew up, this threat was as clear and present as terrorism is today in the 21st century.

Anne Kathleen Cullen, who grew up at 11 Woodbine Avenue in Larchmont, was born in 1918, while her father was on a shell-torn battlefield in France serving his country during World War I. An active member of the Larchmont community, Ms. Cullen sang in the St. Augustine's Church choir and sailed at the Larchmont Yacht Club. She graduated from the Ursuline School in New Rochelle, and attended Georgian Court College in New Jersey, the Arts Students League and the Traphagen School in New York.

Following the devastating attack on America at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ms. Cullen and her Larchmont Yacht Club friend, Jane Bevier Trenholm, joined with two other close friends from the area, Gloria Hatrick (who later married movie star Jimmy Stewart) and Pricilla Sheppard, to help the war effort. At the time, the role of women in the Armed Forces was somewhat limited. They joined the Ambulance Ferry Command of the British American Motor Corps, where they drove American-made ambulances to ports, so they could be shipped abroad.

But “Kay” Cullen and Pricilla Sheppard were disappointed when they learned that their BAMC unit was not going to be sent overseas, as they had expected. So they joined a Red Cross unit that worked behind the front lines of the battlefield to organize social activities for soldiers who were on rest and recuperation.

During her 20 months with the Red Cross, Ms. Cullen survived two extremely close brushes with death. In England, she was nearly killed by a robot bomb, and later, her convoy near the frontlines was in a shell attack. Her work with the Red Cross took her to Belgium, near the heart of the European battleground. It was there, while working near a railhead used to evacuate wounded soldiers to Antwerp, that she died at age 26.

As she rested in her bedroom in a six-story convent used as a residence for the Red Cross nurses and workers, a rocket bomb blasted the building. According to the account of her death in the New York Sun, a leading daily newspaper then, "The concussion following the shell's explosion blew her down the hall, causing internal injuries of which she died two hours later. She was the only person injured by the blast. Everything humanly and medically possible was done for her….She was buried on December 21 (1944) with full military honors in the American Military Cemetery at Henri Chapelle. Her coffin was draped in the American flag."

Ms. Cullen's work touched so many lives that it would seem little surprise that her parents received 400 letters from all over the world, including this one signed by the officers and men of the 188th Medical Battalion: "We pay humble tribute to one who was held in very high regard by all and whose pleasing personality and outstanding character was impressed indelibly upon us."

Jan Northrup is president of the Kemper Memorial Park Preservation Fund created to preserve the park in its present location. Tax deductible donations (make checks payable to “KMPP”) may be sent to Mark Schumer, 3 Highland Road, Larchmont, New York, 10538.

 

FrankenZoning

by Jim Fleming

Frankenstein

(October 26, 2005) It’s almost Halloween, and the times get scarier and scarier. And what is scariest of all is the zoning changes made in the Village of Larchmont over the past 3 years.

Frankenstein’s monster was a sewn together amalgamation of stolen body parts pieced together to make a person. The good Dr. Frankenstein passed electrical power through his creation, and it came “ALIVE!”

Such is the ever changing zoning ordinance of the Village of Larchmont.

What was once intended to be a peaceful, fruitful change to the betterment of all residents, is slowly becoming a Frankenstein’s monster of eclectic passages, sawed-off reasoning, and transplanted parts of strange inapplicable dimensional parameters used in other codes for other reasons.

It seems each problem creates another and another; a resident complains about something new “next door” and a new rule is made up for that one problem. So it seems. Only, now that the new rule is in effect, it causes more problems elsewhere.

One need only look at the “Corner Lot“ exercise of late. One corner guy’s blessing under the new rules (to build where he wasn’t permitted before) was another corner guy’s burden ( confining his expansion project).

Also, zoning shouldn’t be a matter of “old villager” versus” new villager.” Tightening up yard dimensions sends more applications to the Zoning Board of Appeals than before, and now, neighborhood tension gets heated very quickly, as the opportunity occurs to object to ever smaller building projects. Reasonability and civility goes out the window.

Frankenstein’s monster was a good guy at first, as was the zoning code. Meeting innocent people and getting frightened by innocent things they did turned the monster into a tortured, scared fugitive.

He then roamed the countryside, terrorizing innocents.

Larchmont homeowners may be innocents, and in this writer’s opinion, may not know what 8-foot tall, zoning monster is lurking around out there waiting for them and their property when they want to make a change.

In the 1931 movie, “Frankenstein,” the villagers get together and, torches alit, pitch forks held high, march to the “Berg Halle,” or Village Hall, demanding something be done.

While the good people of Larchmont need not show up enmasse at Village Hall armed with golf clubs, lacrosse sticks and Mag-Lites, it is still possible to affect the process the Village is going through, to your benefit.

Make the zoning code do what you wish, what the people of the Village want.

YoungFrankenstein
"Young Frankenstein": Dr. Frankenstein introduces his new creation, the "Sophisticated Man-About-Town."

Jim Fleming is an architect and long-term resident of Larchmont.

 

PACE as Peace Education

by Marianne Perez

(June 9, 2005) Seven years after leaving Mamaroneck High School and the PACE program, I’m thousands of miles away in Stadtschlaining, Austria enrolled in a graduate program in Peace Studies. So why am I still thinking of PACE, the Performing Arts Curriculum Experience, begun at MHS over 25 years ago?

Marianne and Lila
Marianne Perez (r) and Lila Rose Kaplan, both PACE graduates of 1998, met up recently in Paris and practiced their PACE chipmunk and bear face exercises.

Peace studies is an academic field that was founded in the 1970s by Johan Galtung as an alternative to programs in security and international relations that already existed. He noted that war, violence and conflict were all studied in depth by historians, sociologists, and psychologists, but no one was focusing on peace. Today, peace education encompasses a range of activities from how to teach peace and cooperation, to how to teach all subjects in a peaceful, respectful way. Peace educator Betty Reardon wrote, “Education is the process by which we glimpse what we might be and what we ourselves can become.”

So why am I thinking about PACE instead of peace? Ever since graduating from PACE, I have been continuously amazed at how much I learned and retained, not only about performing and technical skills, but about working collaboratively. Peace education values fostering ties between ourselves and the whole world, being a part of the human family before our own group and connecting with other people as the means to fulfill our own potential. These are all integral parts of the PACE curriculum.

Students who have gone through PACE have a strong sense of community. Often they are identified or identify themselves as Pacies. This identity is strengthened over the four years of the program through ties to the physical space of the PACE theater and by continued alumni involvement. An important value that is emphasized throughout the PACE curriculum is teamwork. Students sharpen their listening, cooperation and leadership skills.

peace students
Ying Emasiree (Thailand), Angela Maria Castro (Columbia), Marianne Perez (USA), & Hanayo Ozaki (Japan), all studying peace, perform an Indian dance for "Cultural Night."

While it is important to be able to collaborate with others, peace education emphasizes that the individual should not be neglected. PACE helps students build their self-esteem, specifically by improving communication skills, identifying limits, and instilling a strong work ethic. Rather than using an incentive system, or praise and flattery, realistic expectations are set up which give students a sense of accomplishment when they are achieved.

Way over here in Europe, I keep in touch with fellow Pacies, through the miracles of inexpensive email and Internet telephony. From our conversation, I can attest to the fact that PACE has made a “peaceful” and lasting impact on me and on my classmates.

Marianne Perez is a 1998 graduate from Mamaroneck High School. She went on to do a Bachelors of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and is now a Masters candidate at the European University Center for Peace Studies. (www.aspr.ac.at)

 

County Purchase of Davids Island Imperative as Cleanup Begins

by Marlene Kolbert

(May 12, 2005) If you stand at the western end of Manor Park and look out toward the Throgs Neck Bridge, you will see a large water tower – it’s been a sailing “landmark” for over 100 years and marks the edge of Davids Island. In 1992, Westchester County Executive Andrew O’Rourke offered to create a park on Davids Island. In 2001, County Executive Andrew Spano and New Rochelle Mayor Tim Idoni announced a plan for Westchester to purchase Davids Island for park purposes for $6.5 million.

What happened to the park idea?

Brief History: Fort Slocum to Xanadu

Formerly known as Fort Slocum, Davids Island housed an army base in use since the Civil War until it was deactivated in the 1960’s and sold to New Rochelle.

By the late 1960’s, Con Edison owned the island and wanted to build a nuclear power there. After a long battle, Con Ed sold the island back to New Rochelle for $1.00. In the 1980’s, New Rochelle designated the area as an urban redevelopment site, which attracted the Xanadu Corporation to propose building 2000 condominiums in 55-story towers, a heliport and a 550 boat marina, all attached to the land by a bridge longer than the Brooklyn Bridge with footings in Glen Island Park. Public outcries by the citizens of the south end of New Rochelle and neighbors along the Sound in Westchester, Long Island and lower Connecticut ultimately helped defeat these plans. Gail Shafer, the Secretary of State, ruled no bridge could be built, invoking provisions of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan of New York State, and the New Rochelle City Council voted not to renew its development agreement with Xanadu. Later, in 1996, Donald Trump proposed but later abandoned similar plans to build on the island using ferry service.

Public Access Still the Issue

Osprey's Nest on Davids Island

The park plan that is now a possibility excites so many people because so much waterfront property is privately owned. During the 50 years that the future of Davids Island has been debated, one of the major concerns of the environmental community has been public access to the island. People see Davids Island as one of the last potential sites for public access to Long Island Sound.

In order to turn Davids Island into a park, many of the now crumbling buildings erected by the Army have to be demolished and their asbestos removed. With the help of Congresswoman Nita Lowey and a $4.5 million grant, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has done a survey of the island and will begin the demolition process this summer. However, there must be a purchase agreement between New Rochelle and Westchester County to insure that the cleanup results in a park and not a site for sale to a private developer. Currently, New Rochelle and the county are working on a memorandum of understanding that would move the process along, and they may be applying jointly for state funding to support the island's cleanup, according to recent announcements and news reports.

Long Island Sound is a treasure. On the local level, Larchmont Village is about to embark on a plan to build a waterfront environmental area at Flint Park, which sits on Little Harbor Sound. Grants totaling $235,000 have been awarded by NY State and the federal government to make this plan a reality. The Town of Mamaroneck has also received a grant to build a viewing platform in the Hommocks conservation area and ultimately the town and village areas will be connected so that one could walk along the water from the western end of Flint Park to Hommocks Road.

Davids Island

The dream of creating public access to Davids Island is coming closer. So many people have worked so very hard to Save Davids Island for the Citizens (also the name of the group formed to stop Xanadu). I recently had the opportunity to visit Davids Island with the ACOE. As the photos show, the buildings and the water tower continue to deteriorate. Meanwhile, the future of the island and the water tower have yet to be concluded.

Marlene Kolbert is a member of the Village of Larchmont Board of Trustees

 

Kayaking in Larchmont Harbor: A Modest Proposal

by David Hellerstein

(May 5, 2005) I know a place where you can glide past white egrets standing in shallow waters, where you can spy swans nesting in reeds, and cormorants diving after fish, where you may come across an old wooden shipwreck half-buried in mud, where you can explore beautiful inlets and channels for hours, and hardly encounter a soul.

No, I’m not describing some remote bay in the Caribbean—I am talking about Larchmont Harbor. I have kayaked and canoed in Canada and Maine, in Minnesota and Baja Mexico. Our home waters of Long Island Sound are among the most beautiful I have ever encountered—yet among the most deserted.

Why is this? Why are our spectacular local waters nearly always empty?

kayaking

There are two reasons: first, because most Larchmonters have no idea of what they are missing. And second, because it is so difficult to get onto the water. For most villagers, except those fortunate enough to own waterfront property or to belong to exclusive clubs, we might as well be living in the middle of South Dakota.

Last summer, after buying a kayak, I began seriously exploring the options of places to “put in” around our village. I Googled “water access,” I studied local maps, and I poked around when biking or jogging through the Manor.

“Put in at Dog Beach,” people told me, and so I did. This requires lugging one’s kayak off the roof rack and dragging it down to the water, parking the car many blocks away, then running back to the kayak, and reversing the whole routine afterward.

What I realized from my research is that there are a number of options for local kayakers. All are less than optimal. For one, you can join a club. Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club, for instance, requires payment of a $1,500 initiation fee plus yearly charges of $500 for kayakers. Two, you can drop your kayak at the boat ramp at Harbor Island Park, over in Mamaroneck. But forget about storing your kayak on their docks: they have a grand total of 12 spots on their kayak rack, and Mamaroneck Village residents get first dibs on vacant spots (you’ll have to get behind me. I have been first on the waiting list since 2001).

Third, you can tie your boat atop your car and drive to one of the half-dozen or so Larchmont-owned road-ends that abut the water. But except for Dog Beach, with its own parking problems, these are not officially sanctioned and present major challenges, such as lifting a kayak over a stone retaining wall or traversing low-tide mud flats to reach the water.

So, what could be done to make the water more accessible?

A modest proposal

Wouldn’t it be great if our local governments would actually promote kayaking, and put some resources into this sport, the way that they do with everything from tennis to ice skating to swimming to soccer to baseball, and even platform tennis (does anyone know a platform tennis player?). Hundreds of thousands of dollars of our tax moneys go to promote these sports, and barely a dime goes to provide water access for kayakers and canoers. By local governments I mean the Villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck and the Town of Mamaroneck who could work together to actually help our residents get their small paddled boats into the water.

Does this seem radical? Well, look at the postcards of Larchmont Harbor and Horseshoe Harbor from 100 years ago. You will see the waters are filled with canoes, rowboats, racing shells, and other small craft. Clearly there was a very active culture of paddling and rowing in Larchmont’s early days as a summer resort.



Postcard of Horseshoe Harbor circa 1900

This is a culture ready for revival. Some specific suggestions:

  • make water access easier for the casual kayaker by marking legal access points, adding steps or ramps (like those at Dog Beach) in more locations. :
  • provide more kayak storage by the water for serious kayakers by adding racks or sheds at Harbor Island and at Manor Park. Reasonable fees for storing kayaks could add to Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club’s bottom line, and might even serve to spark kayakers’ interest in becoming full-fledged members.
  • think regionally. The issue of water access to the Sound should involve collaboration between all shorefront municipalities. How about support from Westchester County?
  • finally, get organized. I am thinking about starting a kayak-interest-group for local kayakers. Contact me if you are interested: email djhell@aol.com .

See you on the water!

David Hellerstein is a psychiatrist and writer who lives in Larchmont. His earlier column on this topic appeared in the Westchester section of the New York Times.

 

Affordable Housing: Who Can Afford It?

by Meagan Shannon Vlkovicwha

(March 10, 2005) The Washingtonville Housing Alliance (WHA), a non-profit housing provider, has been around since 1980, and is still trying to help develop new affordable units for local residents.  Affordable? Here in Larchmont and Mamaroneck affordable housing is getting increasingly hard to find and to develop - and more local residents are finding it harder and harder to keep living here.

Anna Reinki , a waitress at the Nautilus Diner for 13 years, thought she’d won the jackpot -receiving a $25,000 home purchase grant helping her to buy a home for herself and her college-aged daughter. But there are no homes anywhere in Larchmont or Mamaroneck in her price range, which is $250,000.

Millie Brissolese-Kellog , a 30-year resident of Mamaroneck’s Washingtonville neighborhood, says her generation is being pushed out of the area. “Our parents own homes here, but we can’t afford to live here.   I’ve had to move to Newfield, CT to afford my own home. I think what I’m most sad about is that one day when I have children, they won’t be able to enjoy this great community as I did.”

It’s not only Anna and Millie who can’t afford to live in the area - many current residents, with their current incomes, would not be able to buy the houses they are living in, if they were forced to pay 2005 prices. At the December League of Women Voters Breakfast Forum, where I spoke about affordable housing, most of the participants were astounded to learn that the median price of a Westchester house is now $686,000. The median sale price in Larchmont last year was $937,500. (See: Realty Times Market Conditions.) For families who have lived here a few decades, that means your children, like Millie, will not be able to live here unless they enter very high paying professions.

Even so-called “affordable” housing, if it were available, is not cheap. Housing is considered affordable when it is within reach of a household earning 80% of the region’s median income, which in Westchester is $74,700 for a family of four, or about what we pay a new assistant principal in the Mamaroneck School district.

When our school administrators and teachers can’t find homes in our community, they aren’t the only ones with a problem.

This year Washingtonville Housing Alliance celebrates 25 years of accomplishments in rental and homeownership development, eviction prevention services and other housing assistance efforts.  WHA has replaced and renovated buildings in distress and vacant abandoned lots with 104 affordable rental apartments and 14 town homes for first time homebuyers.   All of the improvements conducted through the WHA have: raised the value of real estate in the Washingtonville neighborhood; created a domino effect on other development; allowed families the first basic need of shelter to move on to higher ambitions; contributed to the local workforce; and brought families into the neighborhood who are using the local banks and vendors.

But the needs continue to be great.  Since 1990, according to County records, the Village of Mamaroneck has developed 197 units of affordable housing, including 75 units of senior housing and the 10-unit new construction project to be completed by Washingtonville Housing.  The Town of Mamaroneck has developed 54 units of affordable housing and the Village of Larchmont has developed 0 units of affordable housing. The County’s new housing action plan calls for an additional 10,000 units needed by the year 2015.

So what’s to be done? At a minimum Larchmont and Mamaroneck residents should call for their representatives in Albany to restore funds for housing programs. Recent budget cuts have reduced our budget, and those of over 200 housing organizations in NYS by $32,500 for the next 6 years.   These cuts will eliminate housing services everywhere as the need continues to grow.

And get behind local efforts to add affordable housing units in your neighborhoods.  Nothing is more discouraging than community residents advocating for affordable housing – just somewhere else.

If we don’t step up to the plate to help our own neighbors, friends and family, who will?

Meagan Shannon Vlkovicwha is the executive director of the Washingtonville Housing Alliance. For more information, see the WHA website.

Clarifying Hispanic Resource Center Position on Day Labor

from the Board of the Hispanic Resource Center

(February 9, 2005) The mission of the Hispanic Resource Center is to address the needs of Latino immigrants. There are many issues of concern to Hispanics in our villages today: housing, education, equal access to recreational facilities. We wish to clarify our position on one particular issue, which has been in the public spotlight over the last six months: the need for an adequate, officially designated day laborer site serving our communities.

For many years immigrants to Mamaroneck have gathered in the heart of the Village to seek temporary work. Day laborers are an important economic resource who contribute to the prosperity and quality of our lives. They paint our homes and maintain our gardens, they are the backbone of many of the small contracting businesses in our villages, and they are consumers who shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants on Mamaroneck Avenue, not the malls in White Plains. We benefit from their presence in multiple ways.

The number of workers at the Columbus Park site varies according to the season, from a low of 20 to 30 to a high of around 120. We estimate that during March and April when workers are seeking longer-term jobs that will last through the summer, between 80 and 120 workers use the site, during the summer that number drops as many of the workers now have found employment. The number rises again in the fall, when leaf-collecting season is getting underway, and then drops dramatically during the winter.

Contractors pick up the workers over three hours between 7:00 to 10:00 AM. There is some hustle and bustle as workers compete to be hired, but there are no traffic jams, the process is quick and systematic.

Historically the Mamaroneck day laborer site has been driven by the market place, not village policy. Workers tell us the current police presence at Columbus Park is intimidating and that it has impacted heavily on their ability to earn a living. The HRC believes the historic pattern is manageable and workers’ numbers need not be artificially reduced.

An orderly site is in everyone’s interest. The workers are not the only people who use the park. They, like commuters and everyone else, want an area that is safe and orderly. Since last November, with the support of grants from the Elias Foundation and State Senator Suzy Oppenhemier, the HRC has provided a site coordinator whose daily presence has contributed to maintaining a safe, orderly and efficient hiring area.

The Board of the Hispanic Resource Center is committed to working closely, transparently, and constructively with the Trustees of the Village of Mamaroneck as well as with those of the Town of Mamaroneck and the Village of Larchmont. We also wish to work with all interested residents to create a mutually acceptable site, which will address the needs and safety of everyone. With good will and dialogue we can find solutions. It is time to return to the drawing board. The Spring hiring season is nearly upon us.

 

 

Shopping by Scooter in Larchmont: Dread & Joy

by Suri Nisker

(January 17, 2005) This past Tuesday, I was challenged with dreaded last minute shopping: my six-year-old son needed outfitting for a family bat mitzvah. My poor husband lay flat on his back on our bedroom floor with a slipped disk, so this chore was up to me. At three o’clock I picked up Jace, my first grader, and told him of our pending excursion. His response was as expected, “No Mommy, I don’t want to go and it’s raining.”

Larchmont doesn’t seem to be as “little boy merchandise friendly” as it is for little girls, but I remembered the store across from the school, which I originally had thought was a grocery store – D’Agostino’s.

Driving a motorized scooter on his handicapped mom’s lap can be a drag for a kid watching everyone else hopping into a heated SUV. My side of Larchmont Avenue has been amazingly well groomed for handicap travel since previous deficiencies were brought to the attention of Village officials. However, I’ve veered away from traveling on the D’agostino side, which was not repaired.

I warned Jace that we’d have to take the scooter on the road a touch, expecting the sidewalks to be inaccessible. Jace understandably feels nervous when I don’t drive on the sidewalk. He stood on the back of my scooter and informed me he would “not be trying on any clothing.”

Suddenly, I noticed the curbs had been smoothed out. With the rain falling on my “non-windshielded” glasses, I thought I must be seeing things….but no, the curb of the sidewalk had been transformed. Not only was the first curb accessible, but the next three were as well.

We whizzed into the store, found the perfect pants, shirts and tie. Deferring to Tony, Jace agreed to try them on.

When my first grader emerged from the dressing room, his two dimples beaming, I knew the journey had been worth every “step” of the way. By 3:35 we were back at home.

Gotta love our little village. The small things that sometimes get missed by able-bodied well-intended people, this village always sees. According to the NY Times this past Sunday, our homes are expensive … but some things money cannot buy. The Larchmont caring compassionate community is one of them.

And to think we left the city kicking and screaming seven years ago only to end up in the real life Pleasantville.

Suri Nisker and her family have lived in Larchmont for the past seven years.

 

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