Bronxville Field Club stormwater causing Mount Vernon floods
Mount Vernon residents say flooding has increased in recent years from the development of Bronxville Field Club Nov. 6, 2023.
Fed up with flooding that routinely inundates his Mount Vernon backyard, photographer Gabriel Thompson began investigating the source of the flow earlier this year. He was joined by his neighbor, retired professional engineer Joe Pisano, who has lived for 50 years on Raynor Avenue by the city’s northern border with Bronxville.
What Thompson found through Freedom of Information requests indicated that the Bronxville Field Club, one of the region’s premier private racquet clubs, had made connections to Mount Vernon’s stormwater system decades ago.
Record searches found that the connections were never authorized under city regulations. Meanwhile, new drainage installed at the club for its expanded facilities drain into the now-undersized stormwater system, Thompson maintains.
As the club pushes forward with a proposal to build a new paddle ball court and warming house, Thompson has appealed to the city of Mount Vernon Planning Board to reject the project. He has called on city officials to crack down on what he alleges is the club’s illicit connection.
He said the flooding situation has become so bad that he’s had between 1 and 4 feet of water in his backyard a dozen times in 2023.
“The Bronxville club is using Mount Vernon as a dumping ground,” said Thompson. “The city’s job is to protect the health and safety of the public. It has failed to do so, and it’s time for the city to reverse the errors of the past.”
Pisano said that the addition of more courts and expanded parking over the years had resulted in more non-absorbent surface on the eight-acre Bronxville Field Club property — and more runoff into their backyards. He said it has worsened over the past 15 years.
“They make more and more impervious surfaces, and the rain has no where to go,” he said. “They’ve tied into the existing storm sewer, which was never supposed to take that amount of water.”
Club says it’s not responsible for flooding
The club’s legal counsel, meanwhile, insists that whatever connections were made occurred back in the 1920s and 1930s before permits were required. Attorney Katherine Zalantis said the club was not responsible for flooding on Raynor Avenue and its environs.
“Any claim that the club is the cause of flooding is untrue,” she said. “We have engineering studies that will support that position. We look forward to discussing it at the next hearing on our proposal.”
The club’s consulting engineer, Robert de Bruin, said the the club suffers from flooding as well.
“The club is as much a victim of big storms as anybody in the neibhborhood,” he said.
The matter is on the Mount Vernon Planning Board agenda for Dec. 6.
Drone video of Bronxville Field Club
Bronxville Field Club
Opposition to the Bronxville Field Club’s proposal is the latest skirmish in a longstanding battle between the club and its Mount Vernon neighbors in the residential neighbrhood. The conflict has raised issues of class and race between the club, whose membership comes mostly from elite white Bronxville, one of Westchester’s wealthiest villages, and Mount Vernon, the state of New York’s blackest city, with 58% of its inhabitants African American.
This land-use dispute recalls concerns raised over a deal struck by Westchester County in the 2010s to allow Bronxville sports boosters to fund creation of a top-level baseball facility for the Bronxville High School baseball team on the county’s Scout Field, which is located in Mount Vernon.
Thompson said the old-timers in the neighborhood have witnessed the rising waters.
“Some of the flooded residents enjoyed more than 40 years of their property with no flooding issues,” he said. “Over the last decade, with each subsequent development activity, and alteration to the neighborhood’s stormwater drainage and the water table by the BFC, this issue has gotten worse.”
More: A feud rages at Scout Field: County park in Yonkers and Mount Vernon run by Eastchester
The McEnroes are members
Bronxville Field Club’s 2019-20 club directory showed 10 levels of membership and a roster of about 2,000 individuals. It also listed 357 family units, with its 2023 application for the new paddle ball facillities noting there were 34 Mount Vernon families who were members.
The 2019-20 club directory showed members included ESPN tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe and wife, Broadway actress Melissa Errico, and their daughter, Victoria, the 2022 state high school tennis champion; former ABC News President David Westin; financier Bill Mulrow, former secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin; and attorney John Murtagh, the former Yonkers City Councilman who has a “house” membership.
On the club’s website and IRS filings, its address is listed as 40 Locust Lane, Bronxville, 10708. That ZIP code, however, does not include this section of Locust Lane. The website alerts visitors to employ the Mount Vernon ZIP code, 10552, when using GPS.
Mount Vernon has larger sewer system problems
The discussion over neighborhood flooding comes as the city of Mount Vernon addresses the requirements of a federal consent decree, entered on Sept. 19. The decree was struck between the city, state and federal government to resolve litigation regarding the city’s noncompliance with the U.S. Clean Water Act, dating back to 2012. The case centered on the city’s storm sewer system, which has discharged pollutants into the Bronx River.
Mount Vernon, which was fined $100,000 in the case, has said improvements to the storm water system will cost more than $100 million. The fines were levied after the city failed to meet deadlines and reporting requirements ordered by the court in 2020.
The club is located on a hillside parcel where maps from the 1930s show a waterbody called Bronxville Field Club Lake on the southern edge of the property, near Raynor Avenue, where cars are parked on busy days. The lake is no longer there. A 1982 document discusses how a creek that ran through the club’s property was funneled into a pipe that was connected to the storm sewer.
A 1992 map showed a “seasonal stream” that no longer exists, said Thompson.
“Now the lake is in our backyards when it rains,” he said.
White tennis attire required
Bronxville Field Club was founded in 1925 on eight acres in Mount Vernon by members of the Bronxville Athletic Association, whose members at the time played at the village’s Garden Street courts. What began with seven tennis courts has grown over the past 98 years into a club with 12 clay tennis courts, two hard courts covered by a bubble for fall and winter play and three paddle ball courts. There’s also four squash courts, a swimming pool, and clubhouse for club events and private functions.
Those functions include an annual benefit dinner for the non-profit, Destination College, which provides tutoring and college-readiness assistance to Mount Vernon High School athletes looking to succeed on the college level.
To join the Bronxville Field Club, you need five letters of recommendation, with initiation fees ranging from $5,000 to $37,000, depending you one’s membership level. Its strict dress code requires white tennis attire on the courts, including only white hats, though colored sneakers are allowed. Cellphone calls can only be made in the locker room, rest room or parking area, according to the 2023-24 bylaws and rules.
The club, a not-for-profit entity that pays property taxes, in 2023 won a reduction in its property assessment over a six-year period, reducing the taxable value of the club to $11 million, and bringing a refund estimated at $1 million from he city of Mount Vernon, the Mount Vernon schools and Westchester County.
The club’s most recent 990 tax return shows annual revenues of $9.7 million in 2021, with $5.8 million in the bank at year’s end. Its highest paid employees were tennis pro Nathan Lefevere, at $528,000, and squash pro Supreet Singh, who earned $291,000 that year.
Mount Vernon vs. the club
Litigation between the club and its Mount Vernon neighbors is legendary, with the latest case involving a proposal by the club to erect a second tennis bubble. That case is pending before the state Supreme Court’s appellate division in Brooklyn. The city has appealed a State Supreme court ruling that ordered the project to move forward, nullifying its denial by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Mount Vernon Mayor Shawn Patterson-Howard said there’s nothing the city can do about the unauthorized sewer connections because the club’s 1932 connection to the stormwater system came before the city enacted strict stormwater regulations in 2009. That came six years after the state regulations were issued for municipalities to implement.
“Before 2009 they weren’t required to get permission,” said Patterson-Howard. “I’m not aware of any additional tie-ins. We have nothing on record.”
A recent inspection of the storm water collection system near the club found otherwise.
Recent study: Nowhere for run-off to go
It was conducted by Arcadis, a state approved engineering firm hired by Mount Vernon to help bring the city into compliance with the consent order. According to a Sept. 26 memo to Public Works Commissioner Damiani Bush, the inspector said the field team “discovered a large stormwater structure,” with pipes entering from the Field Club, and following into the storm sewer.
The report said that Bronxville Field Club staff indicated there were several similar structures on the property that drain to this connection.
In its application, the club stated that its proposed drainage system will capture all the run-off from the proposed construction. It’s using a system for stormwater collection that’s similar to a septic field for sanitary sewage, with the water seeping into the earth.
“This new cul-tec system in the overflow parking lot prevents prolonged water accumulation and allows year-round use of the overflow parking area,” the application said.
The Arcadis report, however, cast doubt on whether such systems will work on the Bronxville Field Club property. The recent study found that the high water table on the site means the runoff has little soil into which it can infiltrate.
The engineering firm’s recommendations include enlarging the nearby stormwater pipe to allow more capacity or pumping the club’s run-off to a bigger pipe blocks away.
“Infiltration does not seem to be an option due to high ground water,” the report stated.
The Field Club, however, maintains its proposed new system wil retain all the run-off, and let it drain into the soil.
“The proposed drainage system will capture all net runoff from the proposed new improvements,” said Zalantis, the club’s attorney, in its application. “The new cul-tec system in the overflow parking lot prevents prolonged water accumulation and allows year-round use of the overflow parking area.”
On May 3, she told the Planning Board that killing the project won’t help the neighborhood flooding.
“If the project is cancelled you don’t get any stormwater infrastructure,” she said. “That’s the disconnect here. Everything stays the same. Only through this project is there going to be a way to address this existing condition.”
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David McKay Wilson writes about tax issues and government accountability. Follow him on Twitter @davidmckay415 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.