In-Person Hamill Rink User Committee Meeting Results in Confrontation during Public Comment

On Wednesday the Hamill Rink User Committee met in person in the Cone Room at Town Hall.

About 20 members of the public were present, including veterans, members of the Byram Neighborhood Association, Greenwich Tree Conservancy director JoAnn Messina, Budget Overview Committee chair Lucia Jansen, and Clare Kilgallen, who is a Byram resident and served on the New Lebanon building committee.

View of existing Hamill Rink from Strazza field. The proposed new rink would be 42,000 sq ft, which is larger than the existing rink, though it is not designed for more people. Rather, it includes facilities currently lacking, including lockers, showers and bathrooms.

Unfortunately six members of the rink user committee were not present, so there was not quorum for votes on the two motions on the agenda.

One was a vote on the options A-E previously presented by SLAM (design firm). None of those options included keeping the rink in its existing location.

To date, there are no price tags on any of the five options.

The first motion was one offered by the Byram Veterans (BVA) to dissolve the rink user committee and create a new committee with broader representation including veterans, ball players who use Strazza field, RTM district 3 and 4 members, and residents of the adjacent McKinney Terrace (elderly and disabled housing).

“I agree with the previous speakers that this committee should be disbanded and a new committee should be repurposed.”

Lucia Jansen, chair, RTM Budget Overview Committee

Committee member Nick Macri (representing Planning & Zoning) said the motion came as a result of a recent discussion at a meeting of about 20 people hosted by the Byram Veterans.

He said that group discussed having the rink rebuilt on its current location in the corner of the park, versus option A, which would place an access road and new, larger rink in the middle of the park, bisecting it. They also discussed the possibility that alternate locations in Greenwich be explored.

Rink User Committee member Liz Eckert, who is vice chair of the BNA, auxiliary member of BVA, and RTM member seconded the motion.

She said the committee needed more representation.

Rich Bouchard from SLAM reviewed five options for configuring access road/rink/ballfield/parking lot. None include putting a new rink on the existing site. July 21, 2021

“We need more than rink users and rink designers,” said Eckert speaking on behalf of the BNA. “Since we are no longer designing just an ice rink – we are designing an entire park.”

Eckert said there will be a BNA meeting on Monday July 26th via Zoom at 7:00pm. It is open to the public and the rink will be on the agenda.

Committee Chair Bill Drake said the committee did not have the authority to dissolve itself, and that had been confirmed by the town attorney Barbara Schellenberg, who said only the Office of the First Selectman, who established the committee, had the authority to dissolve it.

As for the next item – that the committee listen and take into consideration comments and suggestions by all parties – Mr. Drake said, “We’re listening to all parties. That’s our job is to listen to the community.”

Drake said at the previous meeting the committee members had leaned toward option A or B, both of which would result in an access road, plus a new rink located in the north of the parkland, removal of a wooded area, and a new, regulation sized ballfield with an ideal orientation to the sun.

He said the other three options – C, D and E – would have required an extra $1.1 million to run utilities further to the west and did not have committee support.

He said Babe Ruth league coach Mike Parisi, a frequent user of Strazza field, supported option A.

Rick Bouchard, project manager from SLAM, explained the difference between option A and B boiled down to field rotation. He said option A would provide more room for dugouts and batting cages because it utilized property in the corner of the property, behind the existing rink.

Option A shows the parking lot moving into the setbacks for the memorial grove. The pinky wavy lines represent 50 ft and 75 ft respectively from the memorial grove dedicate to Byram men who lost their lives serving their country.
Of the 11 committee members, only committee chair Bill Drake, BNA representative Liz Eckert, P&Z member Nick Macri , plus town employees rink manager Rich Ernye and Sue Snyder were present on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Photo: Leslie Yager
Bill Kelly suggested that the rink user committee recommend to First Selectman that they disband and reform with more representation from the Byram community. July 21, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

During public comment, Bill Kelly from Old Greenwich, who is challenging First Selectman Fred Camillo in the November municipal election, said he had been asked by the Byram Veterans to speak.

Mr. Kelly blasted the committee.

“This committee has zero credibility,” he said. “It’s made up of rink users. It’s like if I put all the teachers in charge of building a school, you’d build a Taj Mahal.”

“Although you can’t dissolve yourself, according to counsel, you can recommend to the First Selectman, that this committee be dissolved and a new committee formed that is representative of the community. If you are not representative of the community, you have no credibility.”

Bill Kelly, Democratic candidate for Greenwich First Selectman

Mr. Kelly said the veterans were doing the committee a favor by criticizing the process.

“Because you’re going to go down in flames either today, tomorrow, or in front of the RTM. It’s going down.”

“I have roofs that are leaking on children in this town and now you’re morphing, with all due respect, sir, from a skating rink to a baseball field!” he said, adding, “I just can’t emphasize enough to you that at the end of the day you got to look at the goal: you want to rebuild Dorothy Hamill Rink. Develop credibility. Form a real committee of people interested in this community. You don’t go to design plans with 10 people who skate all the time.”

“If it comes to me, I guarantee you that I’ll kill it on December 1,” he said referring to what would be his first day if he wins the November election.

“I think the judgement of the person who put this committee in place – he should have limited the scope of the committee. The scope should be what would be good in an ice rink. It’s not in designing, placing and infringing on the community. You don’t do that.”

Mr. Kelly, who received a round of applause, advised the committee to revise the motion and recommend to the First Selectman that the rink user committee be disbanded and re-formed in consultation with the RTM, the neighbors and the Byram Veterans.

Molly Saleeby, a member of the RTM, said she supported the project and had voted for the $950,000 budget item to advance design work, but questioned the composition of the committee.

“It doesn’t seem the public is being listened to,” she said. “It seems only Fred (Camillo) has the power to change this committee and make it more inclusive. Let’s not have (the rink) in danger of not getting done.”

Mr. Drake said that while six committee members were not present, all of them had expressed themselves either orally or in writing that they favored option A.

He also said if a new rink was built in its present site, skaters would lose two seasons of skating.

Drake talked about challenges of buying ice time for the four GHS hockey teams and other users.

“We’ve had testimony that (ice time) is not available,” he said. “It would be helpful if those opposed to would come up with a practical alternative.”

Al Monelli, Greenwich’s Superintendent of Buildings, acknowledged that the two year timeline included time to construct a two lane access road from Western Junior Highway.

Existing 13+ acres at Eugene Morlot Park with rink at south east corner of the park, plus five options for alternate designs, all of which relocate the rink and feature an access road.

In a previous meeting Mr. Drake suggested the current access via Sue Merz Way might be sold by the town for $600,000 fora buildable lot.

Mr. Monelli said renovating the existing rink would take the same amount of time as building a new one.

“The existing surface has to be jack hammered out. Walls have to be taken down because there’s no footings around exterior wall, ” Monelli said. “The old warming hut, which was built when the rink was an outdoor rink, also has to come down. It doesn’t meet any building codes. To make it meet building code would take substantial construction, which means we’d be gutting and leaving the roof. All the electric and all the plumbing have to be replaced.”

“We know that,” said Byram Veterans Commander Don Sylvester.

Alex Popp also said the confrontation between the rink user committee and both the BNA and BVA was unfortunate, but would continue if SLAM expected to present Option A to those groups.

Mr. Popp said without the support of the BNA, veterans and McKinney Terrace, Option A “had no chance of passing the RTM.”

JoAnn Messina, director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said the committee had gone beyond its original mission and should return to the First Selectman.

She asked how many mature trees would be removed.

Messina also said more balance was needed between the goals of not losing two hockey seasons preserving mature trees.

“When you speak to the priority of not losing two seasons versus not losing mature trees that assist all residents – not just the population that uses the rink – that needs to be balanced,” she said.

Messina said the tree conservancy, in partnership with the Town of Greenwich, had planted in excess of 5,000 trees in the past 15 years and had focused on the western part of town precisely because it is more densely developed.

Clare Kilgallen said the veterans were not speaking on behalf of the entire BVA, nor were the BNA members speaking on behalf of their entire association. July 21, 2021

Clare Kilgallen said it was unfair for a few members of the BNA to speak on behalf of the entire association.

“Nobody should be saying the BNA is against it. That’s an unfair statement,” she said, adding, “This is a long time coming and to say there is no support form the RTM is not true.”

She asked the members of the public to be patient and anticipate a complex process.

“Have faith in the process. You are not being cut out,” she said, going on to warn of the costs of “touching an existing building.”

“There are investments being made in the property that will reduce costs going forward,” she said, “Looking at it as a whole process, long term and short term.”

Dean Gamanos, a veteran, said he was in favor of keeping the rink where it is.

“I think we have capable people who can make this happen in a shorter amount of time. A year – whatever it takes – I think we can do it. It will inconvenience the skaters, and their practice is important, but the whole town is affected here.”

Lucia Jansen, chair of the RTM budget overview committee, spoke at the Rink User Committee meeting on July 21, 2021

Lucia Jansen, of the RTM budget overview committee, said, “I the lead committee that cut the $950,000 request for this budget item. We were very clear that the reason was because of the lack of information, and certainly not because of the genuine support and interest for the rink.”

Ms Jansen agreed with previous speakers who said the committee had exceeded its mission and encouraged them to listen to stakeholders.

She said the motion to “listen to all parties” was absurd because not doing so would mean not listening.

Besides she said, “People don’t want to be listened to. They want a vote. Each of these members in audience want a vote. Not that your nod your head.”

She questioned the proposed requirementsfor a 12 month rink, including air conditioning.

“That cost has a price tag. We ask what is the cost of air conditioning in an ice rink,” she said.

Indeed, Hamill rink is used in the summer. Back in the 1970s children roller skated on the slab after the ice was melted. Later, turf was purchased and it is unfurled from rolls annually.

Later, Mr. Monelli said the air conditioning was necessary. “The kids can’t get in there because it’s too hot,” he said.

“I agree with the previous speakers that this committee should be disbanded and a new committee should be repurposed,” Ms Jansen said.

As for the vision of option A, she said it included a parking lot, new ball field, rink structure, removal of trees, and impacts on the environment.

“It shows that this is not about a building. It’s far more than a building,” she said. “This is no longer a rink project. This is the Eugene Morlot Park Project. Those stakeholders are not on this committee.”

View of some of the Sycamore trees in the Memorial Grove in Eugene Morlot Park. Photo: Leslie Yager

There was some discussion about the fact the memorial grove was never formally dedicated.

Mr. Drake said, “This committee will undertake to permanently and formally make the park official. It’s only the right thing to do.”

Mr. Popp said that was inappropriate and beyond the scope of the committee.

The meeting ended after public comment. There were no votes taken due to lack of quorum.