Byram Residents Seek I95 Sound Barriers, Protection for Veterans Memorials Near New Hamill Rink Site

The Byram Neighborhood Association met Monday night via Zoom to discuss plans for a new Hamill Rink, concerns about noise from the CT Dept of Transportation’s $205 million I-95 improvement project, and a raft of concerns about beautification, blight, parking and traffic in the neighborhood on the west side of town.

The Byram Neighborhood Association met on Monday Feb 1 via Zoom included chair Joseph Kantorski, vice chair Liz Eckert, treasurer Scott Anderson, and Secretary Lucy von Brachel, Matt Popp, Brian O’Connor (parking and traffic committee) and Kory Wollins (business development committee), Wendy Figueroa (community outreach committee), Al Shehadi, (land use/blight committee). Guests included First Selectman Fred Camillo and State Rep Steve Meskers, (D-150).

The meeting was attended by First Selectman Fred Camillo and State Rep Steve Meskers, (D-150).

Residents at the BNA meeting said the scope of the I-95 improvement project fell short of meeting Byram’s needs. In addition to lack of sound barriers, the project includes tree clearing, which residents said would have severe noise and environmental pollution consequences.

Camillo addressed Greenwich residents desire for sound barriers along I-95, especially given there will be more tree clearing.

He said the State had not erected any since installing them in Darien several years ago.

“It really took on a different light when they clear cut the trees between exit 4 and 3,” he said. “Those Weeping willows we grew up with are gone. They were beautiful and they’re gone forever.”

Meskers, who serves on the Transportation committee, pointed out that the DOT project is funded 90% by the federal government.

“The State couldn’t be happier to engage in a $200 million project with $10 million of state contribution,” he said.

Referring to the Jan 21 presentation by the project managers and consultants, Meskers said, “When I listened to the project I heard a bunch of engineers thrilled about engineering.”

(DOT Hearing on 6.6 Miles of I-95 Improvements: Yes to Tree Clearing, No to Sound Barriers, No to Noise and Air Quality Analyses, 3-4 Years to Complete Jan 24, 2021)

Meskers said it was important for residents to advocate for sound barriers and trees, thought it remained to be seen whether that funding might come from state or federal dollars.

During the Q&A session following the Jan 21 session, residents had asked whether the DOT would entertain private funding for sound barriers. The reply was that it might be possible, but not until after the project was completed.

Camillo said he had made contact with CT Dept of Transportation liaisons Pam Sucato and Patty Stewart to talk about sound barriers, and they were interested in having a conversation.

“If we don’t take a shot now, with the Governor residing in Greenwich, then we never will,” Camillo said. “I definitely think there’s a way.”

The $205 million project is due to start in the fall of 2022 and take 3-4 years to complete.

The project focuses on road resurfacing, bridge rehabilitation, and safety improvements from the New York border (Exit 2) all the way through Exit 6 in Stamford – and includes an extension of the off ramp at exit 3, to address traffic back ups, which frequently extend into the active lane of traffic.

The project is open for public comment through Monday, February 22, 2021. Residents can email the CTDOT or call at (860) 944-1111. Reference Project No. 56-316 in your voicemail.

Michael Simko noted that I-95 was originally designed for 50,000 cars, but today handles about 145,000 per day. He suggested the project be designed to accommodate 175,000 or 200,000 cars in the future.

“We’re going to live with this project starting in 2022 and it’s gong to be like hell for us. It’s going to take a lot of traffic and put it onto the Post Road, and at the end of it – in 3-4 years, we’re still going to live with an insufficient highway.”

Michael Simko

Mr. Camillo said I-95 had been developed primarily for military transport in the 1950s, not for the current levels of traffic.

“I have to assume they are taking into consideration the volume of traffic there today,” he said.

“We’re going to put $200 million into a project when it should really be designed for 175,000 cars per day?” Simko asked. “We’re going to go through all this headache, to live with this construction project for so many years, and then come out of it right where we stand today.”

John Macri Jr had a different angle. He said he supported sound barriers, but was concerned that the project might be stalled by the DOT if residents made demands.

“If we ask for sound barriers, what is that going to do to the plan?” he asked. “And is that going to annoy people up at the State and they put things aside and the improvements as a whole won’t get done?”

“There are a number of people in the legislature in Hartford that don’t want to spend any more money (than they have to) for Greenwich,” Macri said.

Sate Rep Meskers noted there was also a town project in the works for Frontage Road at the end of the Exit 2 southbound off ramp. That town project is to be funded with State dollars.

In an update on Saturday from State Senator Alex Kasser, (D-36), she said she too had spoken with DOT about the issue and urged them to limit tree clearing and erect sound barriers to protect the community and the environment.

Hamill Rink in Byram.

Hamill Rink

Mr. Camillo said he had met with Don Sylvester and David Wold, veterans who live in the Byram area, to discuss how a new Hamill Rink might impact the adjacent Eugene Morlot Park where there are about 15 trees with monuments below are dedicated to Byram and Pemberwick service men who lost their lives serving their country.

Over the decades, local veterans and family of fallen servicemen have been a voice for the park, which was named after Eugene Morlot, a custodian at the former Byram School who wanted to honor former students who died in service.

Back in 1986, the town removed the monuments and proposed returning them all on a single marble plaque. Local activist Anne M Kristoff led a successful charge to have the markers returned to their spots under the majestic Sycamores.

In 2019, veterans objected when a new swing set and rubber mat underneath it were installed just a step from a memorial monument. Dr. Kramer, the town tree warden, said his research indicated there had previously been a swing set in the same location and that it had wood chips underneath it.

On a separate occasion in 2019, relatives of for Donald Repaci, who gave his life in Vietnam at the age of 20, were shocked to see the mature Oak tree at his memorial had been cut down by the Town. In that event, the tree had been badly damaged in a storm and the tree warden apologized for not informing the family in advance.

A memorial marker for an alumni of Byram School who gave his life in service for his country is inches away from the rubber mat underneath a new swing set. Oct 28, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager
A new swing set and rubber mat were installed inches from a memorial plaque honoring a Byram School alumni who gave his life in the service of his country. October 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

In addition to Town employees including rink supervisor Rich Ernye, the skating rink committee is mainly comprised of skating enthusiasts, including Rick Loh (Parks & Rec board), Lorin Pratley (Greenwich Skating Club), Keith Orrico (Greenwich Blues), Gus Lindine (GHS Athletic Director), Bill Drake (BET) and Nancy Leamy (Greenwich Skating School).

“I think it’s always better to have the community on board rather than coming to them at the end,” Camillo said adding, “Right now (the rink) is slated to go in the Dorothy Hamill parking lot. The veterans group was concerned it would overshadow the park.”

Camillo said Alan Monelli, who is Greenwich’s Superintendent of Building Construction & Maintenance, was aware of concerns about encroaching on the Eugene Morlot Park and the memorials.

“He realized that, so they’re trying to get (the rink) as far away as possible, including maybe moving the playground, which is right up against the memorial, and that would create some space,” Camillo said.

Camillo added that the rink is in the budget for next year and that he would seek to raise money privately to help fund the project.

Lastly, Camillo said he was also interested in creating signage that would direct visitors to the Strazza baseball field, the rink, the playground and to the Eugene Morlot Park. All are accessed via Sue Merz Way.

John Macri Jr said his father John Macri Sr is a veteran and that he too was concerned about the positioning of the new rink.

“The skating rink, as it is proposed now, encroaches up against that park,” Macri said. “I’m glad that people have looked at that including Byram Veterans and Ninth District veterans. That concerns me because my father is an active member in the Byram Vets and has been doing a lot with the memorial park.”

Vice Chair Liz Eckert, whose brother in law Donald Repaci was honored in the park with a memorial, said she planned to join the veterans in attending the rink meetings and report back to the BNA.

A new vintage store, The Marketplace by Fofie & Mia’s is located at 248 Mill Street. Photo: Leslie Yager

Business Resurgence in Byram

Kory Wollins, who owns the popular eatery Burgers, Shakes & Fries at 302 Delavan Ave in Byram, and heads the BNA’s business development committee, talked about creating a more vibrant shopping district.

He noted that prior to 2008, Byram was experiencing a resurgence, but the recession had taken a toll.

He said many of the BNA’s efforts would contribute to a vibrant, healthy, safe, walkable downtown, including the addition of trees, improving the streetscape and addressing parking and traffic issues.

Wollins said it was important to have a healthy mix of businesses.

“If you are a landlord, or a land owner, or someone who is friends with a landlord or landowner, you should be reaching out to these people and telling them, ‘Hey we don’t need another barber shop. We don’t need another Lotto shop. We don’t need another vape shop.’ If you want a healthy downtown community full of great retail uses, you should be encouraging (them) to put in things that benefit the community.”

On a positive note, Wollins said two new businesses had recently opened in Byram, including a mixed martial arts studio near the Firehouse Deli, and a vintage shop called The Marketplace by Fofie & Mia’s at 248 Mill Street.

On the topic of traffic, Mr. Camillo said he planned to be in touch with the Mayor Filanka of Port Chester, just over the Mill Street Bridge where there are plans in the works for several multi-story apartment buildings, including Tarry Lighthouse which was recently approved following a series of public hearings both before and during the pandemic.

Camillo said the town’s new blight ordinance was still in the works and he expected it to be on the call for the March RTM meeting.

See also:

DOT Hearing on 6.6 Miles of I-95 Improvements: Yes to Tree Clearing, No to Sound Barriers, No to Noise and Air Quality Analyses, 3-4 Years to Complete

Jan 24, 2021

Amendment to Greenwich Nuisance Ordinance Would Add Muscle in Abating Blighted Properties

July 2020

First Selectman to Target Blighted Properties in Byram

June 2020

After Decades of Complaints, Blighted Byram House is Razed

November 19, 2019