There were 24 people in attendance on Zoom at Wednesday’s Hamill Rink User Committee meeting chaired by Bill Drake.
The first item on the agenda was new:
“Consideration and vote on recommendation to design an accessible pedestrian trail in the woods at Morlot Park – proposal by Timber and Stone, trail designer.”
“There is this new topic on the agenda that has to do with a path through the woods that are on our acres,” Mr. Drake said, adding he would like to keep the topic to no longer than 10 minutes and move it to the end of the agenda, just before public comments.
Mr. Drake gave an update on the status of a new Hamill rink, focusing on Al Monelli’s presentation to the P&Z commission on December 7.
He summarized P&Z feedback in the form of five questions: What is the right size ice surface? Is ice time allocated to non Greenwich users? What environmental and sustainability features are planned for the rink? How will the surrounding neighborhood be affected? How will parking be affected?
Committee member Nick Macri, who is also on P&Z, mentioned another concern of the commission, which was the impact to traffic if access to the facility moved from Sherman Ave to a new road off of Western Jr Highway.
Also he said the commission had asked how the project would integrate to the immediate neighborhood, which includes Western Middle School, Greenwich Communities (Housing Authority) elderly housing at McKinney Terrace and Vinci Gardens, a building for elderly residents in the works.
Mr. Drake added, “I’ve got to look at the transcript, but the last thing the chairman said was, ‘We know Sherman Ave is a problem.’ That’s their way of saying, ‘It ain’t great access today, and we want to understand how the project fits into the community.’ Those seem to be the notes on which she ended.”
Sherman Avenue is a road that goes up a steep hill to the rink via Sue Merz Way. The residential street has served as access to the rink for 50 years.
Mr. Drake said Mr. Monelli was working on responses to the P&Z questions and looking at coring under the existing rink to determine whether there is rock or soil there.
Later, during public comment, Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, reminded the committee that on Dec 7 P&Z was also concerned about the environmental impact of re-grading the entire property, which would be necessary if the rink were to be built in a different location in the park.
Mr. Drake said the proposal for a walking trail at Morlot Park had come from a designer at Timber and Stone.
“About 4 acres of the 14-acre site are woods,” Drake said. “This is a rare wooded space in Byram. It hasn’t been respected and isn’t not accessible to the neighborhood. If you walk it today, it’s a few baseballs, a few beer cans and trees that fell down 20 years ago and are laying there horizontal preventing people from walking.”
The vendor had offered to design and lay out the path for $12,000.
“It’s not a complicated path. It wouldn’t have curves or lights,” he said, adding that the path would likely be made of stone dust.
“People could walk this terrain with their one-year old, or their dog or themselves, and enjoy this green space in the middle of the neighborhood,” he added. “The path would be sensitive to protect the valuable trees and take advantage of the undulating terrain.”
Drake noted that Vinci Gardens, which has an approved Municipal Improvement, but has yet to reach the final application stage at P&Z, was being designed with a three-sided garden room.
“It basically faces this thicket on the Morlot Park property,” Drake said.
Mr. Drake said Pat Sesto from Conservation, Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer and the chair of Greenwich Communities Sam Romeo all thought the path was a good idea.
“This piece of land has been ignored for years – what cooperative thing can we do to put it in the hands of its neighbors to be enjoyed or walked through?” Drake asked. “It may be months ahead of schedule. Hopefully it’ll be taken up by others, but it’s on our parcel. “
Mr. Macri ask how the proposal was initiated.
“It arose from the day we had Greg Kramer (Tree Warden) and Pat Sesto (Director of Conservation), and we walked the site. It was like 60 days ago,” Drake said.
“It’s a fine idea but not in my opinion something we should be focusing on,” Macri said. “We should be focusing on the rink itself, not this path.”
Rick Loh said he liked the idea of a trail, but it would come with a cost and require maintenance.
“If the new road is put in there, there’s going to be a lot of landscaping that has to take place anyway,” Mr. Loh said. “The additional cost to put in a path would not be that much in terms of the town budget. As Nick has said, it’s not really up to us to decide.”
During public comments, Alex Popp, said he would prefer keeping the woods in their natural state.
“As you know there’s not many woodlands left in Byram. The last one of significance was clear cut for the New Lebanon School.”
Lucy von Brachel from the Byram Neighborhood Association said the rink committee should stick to the rink project.
“One of the concerns of the community is that the rink user committee shouldn’t be redesigning an entire park that has multiple uses. The idea of you adding on more park design is a concern,” she said, referring to the proposed new access road, new Strazza ballfield and relocated rink to the existing ballfield location.
There has been ongoing controversy between the BNA and Byram Veterans who both want the rink to be rebuilt on its existing site to preserve the green space in the middle of the park. Renderings of the ballfield show it fenced in and there are questions over whether it would be artificial turf.
The rink user committee plan emphasizes not losing a season of ice.
“This should be more of a community driven effort, not coming from the rink user committee,” von Brachel said. “It doesn’t sit well.”
Syl Pecora said it was good that Mr. Monelli was checking what was under the rink.
“We all know there is ledge under there,” he said. “Once you prove it, that means there is no way you’re going to be able to move that rink unless you move it out of Byram – unless you take it down and rebuild it right in the same place.”
Andrew Boer said a new rink will be a big draw. He said 1500 people live streamed last week’s Winter Classic between Darien and Greenwich at the Greenwich Skating Club, and 300 attended in person.
Bob Russel, a longtime user of Hamill rink, talked about the Sherman Ave access.
“The challenge of Sherman is a lot of parking along (both sides of the street). It’s very narrow. The huge hill is very dangerous. If there’s a snow storm you go rolling down the hill potentially into the river,” he said. “Kids get in the car and gun it going out of there.”
He said Western Jr Highway would be a more direct route.
John O’Brien said there would be a lot of demand for a proper rink and the existing rink was an embarrassment.
“A lot of people left to go to Twin Rinks in Stamford because of the facility – the showers and the heat,” he said. “I think the leagues will come back.”
“Right now as a Greenwich resident, since there is no league here, I either have to play in Stamford, or it’s an elitist thing where hedge fund people have their own rinks and it’s invitation-only and not accessible,” O’Brien added.
Marc Ducret objected to the decrease in seating capacity as proposed. The proposal calls for a reduction from 600+ to 500 to better match the site parking.
“Don’t cut down on seating or skimp like we did with the original rink when they put a roof on it and no walls,” Ducret said.
Stan Rumbough said, “We’re freezing our butts off here and there’s no place to go drink. It’s an embarrassment that a rich community like Greenwich has such a shoddy facility. Let’s do it.”