Leland Graham and Steven Fong went before the Board of Selectmen on Friday morning with a proposal to again stage Greenwich Cars & Coffee events on Greenwich Avenue, which would involve a partial road closure.
The Board of Selectmen serve as the town’s parking authority.
Before the presentation, First Selectman Tesei said he did not support the event being held on Greenwich Avenue, and had offered Town Hall as an alternative venue.
“They have chosen to appeal to a higher authority, which is this Board,” Tesei said. “You’ve decided to appeal to my colleagues, and that’s fine, that is your right.”
Graham and Fong said they wanted a partial road closure on Greenwich Ave from East Elm Street to Havemeyer from 8:00am to 10:00am on four Sundays: April 15, June 17 (Father’s day), Aug 12 and Oct 14.
They said they seek 143 parking spots that would be allocated to the event, including the the parking lot at Havemeyer (Board of Education building) for participants to display their cars.
Fong, who shared a professionally edited video of the event, said he and Graham had networked with car owners, and in 2017, had a successful event with much positive feedback from both drivers and local businesses.
Tesei asked the duo what was their “entity.”
“How we identify ourselves is with ultra high luxury cars,” Fong said. “We really focus on supporting local businesses and our number one priority is safety. But also supporting local businesses and restaurants.”
Fong and Graham said they would collaborate with Greenwich United Way, and had talked with CEO David Rabin about having students from Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon School to come to the events.
“I’m asking a factual question. What is the entity that is organizing it?” Tesei asked again.
“It’s free for everybody: owners and spectators,” Graham said.
“Who underwrites the cost for police and traffic control,” Tesei pressed.
“We get our funds from local businesses, so we go through stores on Greenwich Avenue who have written letters of support,” Fong said. “They sponsor to advertise at our event because we bring in the top one percent of the community …who can bring back business to Greenwich Ave. So, we’re sponsored by the high luxury stores – jewelry stores, high end fashion stores, because they know the return on their investment will be greater than what they give.”
Tesei asked how much money the event brought in.
Fong and Graham replied that they brought in $29,000 over the course of the four events, and that they’d like to put proceeds toward hiring more police officers.
“We’re learning as we go,” Graham said, adding that they would put signs on the meters at St. Mary’s Church saying ‘for church goers only.’
Tesei pointed out that very few stores are open on Greenwich Avenue on Sunday morning. He questioned how the event would contribute to the economic vibrancy of downtown.
The First Selectmen said several women had complained that they felt intimidated by the activity taking place. “That’s why I suggested the alternative place,” Tesei said.
Mr. Tesei also played a video, which highlighted some of the downsides of the event, including cars accelerating off Greenwich Avenue at a high rate of speed and cars driving down Greenwich Avenue with the doors open.
The video also showed drivers in both Island Beach parking lot and Bruce Park, where men stood in the middle of the road despite Greenwich Police repeatedly asking them not to. In the video drivers could be heard challenging each other to get arrested. (Since this weekend the video has been removed from YouTube).
Tesei said the Town Hall campus would afford a more controlled environment.
“I got the impression that was not adequate for you,” he said. “I’m now questioning my offer. There is nothing you can say that will change my view. It poses a tremendous amount of risk and exposure.”
Tesei gave Traffic Sergeant Patrick Smyth a chance to speak on behalf of Greenwich Police.
Sergeant Smyth said not everyone who attended the event was invited.
“It’s always when people are leaving the event that they want to rev the engine and peel out. There are many videos of cars racing down,” Smyth said, adding there were cars tearing down Elm Street, then racing to Miller Motorcars for a post event party.
Smyth asked Fong and Graham whether the drone used to film the event was licensed and had permission. “That’s what you have direct control over, but you’re violating,” he said.
Smyth said that at a Cars & Coffee event in Boise, Idaho a Porsche leaving the event crashed into 8 people including children.
“Cars are moving down Greenwich Avenue while people are walking all around them. Eventually someone is going to get seriously hurt,” Smyth continued. “That’s just the nature of these cars and these people who come to the event.”
Smyth said he did not think the event was a good idea, but had suggested the compromise of using Island Beach lot where cars could get off and on the highway without traveling through local roads.
Tesei said the reason the Greenwich Cars & Coffee event came before the Selectmen on Friday was because of the request for a partial road closure, but that if the venue was switched to Island Beach lot or Town Hall, it would require a special event permit.
“I don’t have a high confidence in the safety of the event,” Tesei said.
Selectman Toner asked about the town’s liability.
“If there is an accident the Town would be sued. I’m not sure about liability, but we would be sued,” said Selectman Litvack, an attorney.
“It’s only 1% – about of 4 or 5 cars – who behave badly. We’re open to suggestions you might have,” Graham said.
Selectman Litvack said he had a problem with the event’s entire concept. “I don’t know that it’s a venue problem,” he said.
“The people making all the noise are the ones who are not invited to the event,” Fong said, offering to keep the social media pages for the events private.
“It’s the most exquisite, high class, luxury – we’re not attracting (Toyota) Supras or Hondas,” Graham said. “We’re more than happy to make it invite only to select individuals. We have so many impressions on social media, but we haven’t done it yet. We’re fine with not posting it on social media – Facebook or Instagram, and not announce the dates.”
“It’s not the venue. It’s the concept,” Tesei said, adding that he’d received many complaints about the previous Cars & Coffee events in Greenwich. “I don’t want to own the responsibility of something happening because it gets out of control.”
Unlike the Concours D’Elegance event in June, which he said adds value and is more about the artistic value of the cars than their performance, Tesei didn’t see Cars & Coffee as enhancing the vibrancy of downtown.
“For me, Greenwich Avenue is out,” Tesei said.
“Our responsibility is to balance benefit to risk,” Litvack said. “It seems to me that the risk here is high. The benefit, I’m dubious about the fiscal benefit to the town, to the merchants and the ambiance of the thing. I am highly doubtful that this will ever fly.”
“Having said that, if you want to pursue it, put together a brief that says what the benefit is, how you would control it, how you’ll minimize risk, and why we should do this,” Litvack said.
Mr. Fong and Mr. Graham asked when they could return with a revised proposal. They were instructed to reach out to Barbara Heins in the Selectmen’s office.