Veterans Blast Hamill Rink User Committee: “There Will Be Hell to Pay”

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | June 24, 2021

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At the June 23 Hamill Rink User Committee meeting, chair Bill Drake summarized five reasons not to build a new Hamill Rink in the existing location: Possible loss of 2 seasons of skating, Loss of $1.2 million (2 years) revenue from not having a rink for two seasons, expense of purchasing ice time elsewhere, $1m+ cost to build a temporary rink, and more challenging fundraising for the project.

Previously, at the May 5 meeting, in a discussion about adding a two lane access road into the park via Western Jr Hwy, Al Monelli said the project was definitely a two year project, not one.

Brent Brower from the Greenwich Skating Club said his organization was the largest purchaser of ice at Hamill Rink. They also purchase ice time from Chelsea Piers CT, Hommocks in Westchester, SONO in Norwalk, and both STR and Terry Connors in Stamford. He said the group also planned to purchase time at a facility in Brewster, NY.

“Even if we wanted to replace the ice, if Hamill were to close, we wouldn’t be able to. It is not available,” he said.

View of Strazza field with rink in background.
Hamill Rink.
A good turnout at Eugene Morlot Park’s memorial grove for Byram School alumni who lost their lives serving their country. May 2021 Photo: Alex Popp
In the memorial grove 13 markers by 13 trees are each dedicated to a service person who list his life for this country. May 27, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

Brower and Nancy Leamy, who runs the rink skating school, both said they’d support an effort to develop a “support group,” whether it be via email or Facebook.

“To get more people interested in the development of the rink, perhaps it might be good to invite some of these people in person,” Leamy suggested.

Mr. Drake suggested scheduling face-to-face meetings with the BNA and BVA to discuss the project in the week of July 12, though there were veterans on the Zoom meeting, and there was a representative from the BNA on the committee, Liz Eckert.

Ms Eckert, noted that though she happened to be an RTM member for District 4, she was on the committee to represent the Byram Neighborhood Association. She said while the rink committee was assembled to design a new rink, its mission had changed.

“Now it has morphed into designing an entire park, with several user groups, homeowners, and taxpayers affected,” she said.

“We need to have more representation from these user groups on this committee so they have a voice in deciding what’s going to happen with our park. This is not just a rink,” she added.

Mr. Drake disagreed. “I think we have a very broad representation. We have baseball fans, people from the Planning & Zoning committee, and we have you,” he said, though neither Nick Macri from P&Z, nor Mike Bocchino who has spoken in support of Strazza field users was able to attend the meeting.

The committee does not have representation from the Byram Veterans. Nor does it have anyone from the RTM districts in the area of the rink.

In addition to Ms Eckert, Mr. Drake, Mr. Macri, Mr. Bocchino, and Mr Brower of Greenwich Skating Club, the committee also includes Ric Loh of the Parks & rec board, and three town employees: Sue Snyder (Parks & Rec Superintendent of Recreation), Rink Manager Rich Ernye, and head of the skating school, Ms Leamy.

During public comments, Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy suggested looking at the project from a land use perspective.

She said it would be helpful if renderings showed exactly where and how many trees were to be removed depending on where a possible access road might be located.

Possible route of access road to rink via Western Jr Hwy
Possible route of access road to rink via Western Jr Hwy.

There was talk about the expense of running utilities from Western Junior Highway to the rink. Mr. Monelli said there would be five separate trenches for utilities.

“You can’t mix water and sewer. You can’t mix water and electric,” he said. “There will be five different excavations.”

He said it would cost about $2,000 per lineal foot for trenching for all five utilities (including piping, conduit and/or cast iron and labor) and that the shortest run was to option A or B, for about a 50 ft run for $110,000.

He said the difference in running utilities to A or B to putting the building on the parking lot was almost 500 ft for a total of $1.2 million.

The difference in approximate cost to run utilities to option A or B and C, D or E is $1.1 million.

Ms Alvarez noted that utility trenches are notorious for damaging tree roots.

“Trenches go in and two, three or four years later a tree dies,” she said. “I’d like to know when they’re put in those utility trenches, where they’ll go and how you can limit tree damage in the process.”

Alvarez said there has been talk in the RTM about the Housing Authority’s interest in developing affordable housing in the area of McKinney Terrace, which abuts the park to the north and might potentially share the access road. McKinney Terrace is housing for elderly and disabled and is run by the Housing Authority.

“Is that driveway going to provide access if it were to move forward putting in housing in the area?” she asked.

Mr. Drake said the questions deserved a “careful review” and said he proposed to respond in writing rather than “on the fly.”

Mr. Drake said he had looked at the Parks & Rec website which lists the town’s parks.

“There are 62 items that come up on the list. There is no Morlot Park listed.”

Mr. Drake said Eugene Morlot Park had no official designation in the Town of Greenwich, though he said the committee intended respect the memorial grove of trees in the northwest corner of the park.

“We’ll probably enhance it if we can with assistance, opinions and feedback from the vets and the entire community,” he said. “As part of this process, we should indeed, for the first time, we should formally recognize and establish a Morlot Park with these trees and flagpole.”

After the meeting, Byram Veterans said they were surprised at the claim that the park didn’t exist.

The Byram Veterans Association provided Town documents and clippings referring to Eugene Morlot Memorial Park dating back decades.

A clipping from Greenwich News from December 5, 1991 reported that a gift for $10,000 to $12,000 from Greenwich Junior Babe Ruth League to improve the hardball field at the former Byram School, “now the Eugene Morlot memorial Park” was approved in a unanimous vote by the Greenwich Board of Selectmen.

RTM notes, 1992, Last resolution is to authorize the Director of Parks & Rec to accept a gift of $12,000 for improvements to the ballfield at the “Eugene Morlot Memorial Park.”
News clipping 1989 says, that on Veterans Day “A ballfield that once belonged to the former Byram School was renamed Eugene Morlot Memorial Park in tribute to a man who was a friend to generations of veterans.”

During public comment, Don Sylvester from the Byram Veterans Association challenged Mr. Drake’s claim that the park did not officially exist.

He said it was his job as commander of the veterans group to preserve the park, but that he and fellow veterans had been excluded from the committee.

“For anyone to say that Eugene Morlot Park does not exist is a disservice to the veterans of this town,” he said to Mr. Drake, adding that it was “wrong” to chop up the park.

Mr. Sylvester said the entire park was dedicated as a memorial park, including the parking lot, skating rink, Strazza field and the memorial grove of trees.

“Until all the questions are answered, there’s going to be hell to pay before one shovel full of dirt comes off of that property….This is a disservice to veterans all over the US to do anything to that memorial park. It’s no different than Washington, DC. What do you think people would say if they were going to put a Walmart size building in the middle of the Mall where the reflecting pond is? It would be unheard of.”

Don Sylvester, Commander of the Byram Veterans Association and Officer with CT Veterans of Foreign Wars

“Parks are open space…What you’re doing here is dividing up this property, chopping it up,” Sylvester said, arguing that the existing location should be maintained. “Keep the open space as what it is.”

Mr. Sylvester said he did not want a Walmart size building placed in the middle of the park’s open space, and preferred a new one be built on the existing rink location.

“I don’t understand why everyone is so hell bent on putting this building in the middle of a park,” he continued, before going on to question the need for the access road, which will stretch the project to two years and add significant expense according to Mr. Monelli.

He noted that the representative from SLAM, the design firm hired by Parks & Rec, had said large pieces of equipment and sections of steel and concrete would have to be brought into the park and it would be a challenge to come in via Sherman Ave and Sue Merz Way.

“What happened when they did the original building? I think they had to bring large pieces of steel in for that one,” he said.

View of flagpole and in the wooded area in background, roughly in the area where an access road is proposed.

Also during public comment Ros Nicastro from Byram said she thought the new rink should be built on its existing location.

She complained the committee lacked RTM representation from District 3 and that a third of the D3 RTM members lived in the apartments across the street from the park, where a new access road is being planned and trees will be removed.

“Instead of a quiet bucolic park across the street, we’re going to have a Sears, Roebuck & Company size building and an access road across the street,” she said.

Nicastro said she agreed with Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy that when tree roots would be destroyed by trenching, and that she was concerned trees would die that currently protect people in apartments in her complex.

Ms Nicastro was joined by Molly Saleeby in agreeing that the committee did not have broad enough representation.

“This is not the Balkans where we need a delegate from Herzegovina,” Mr. Drake said.

David Wold, a member of the Byram Veterans Association, lamented that the two-way access road would “cut the park in two.”

He asked how many trees would be eliminated, where the ADA parking and existing playground would be relocated. Mr. Drake said answers were yet to be determined.

The committee members did not vote on a preferred option, but those in attendance agreed they leaned toward option A or B in which the rink would be positioned in the northeast corner of Eugene Morlot Park, just below a possible access road via Western Junior Highway.

They agreed that options C, D and E would have setback issues with respect to the memorial grove.

By the end of the meeting, only Bill Drake and Liz Eckert were in attendance to vote on the previous meeting’s minutes.