No Hint of Controversy in Parks & Rec Website for New Hamill Rink Project

The September Hamill rink user committee meeting was tame.

Whereas there was shouting from residents at both the June and July meetings, there was minimal public comment on Wednesday.

Previously, criticisms had focused on the proposed new 30 ft wide access road from Western Jr Hwy to the rink, and the prospect of relocating a new 40,000+ sq ft rink to the middle the 13 acre green space, bifurcating the green space in the process.

Currently the rink is tucked into the southeast corner of 13+ acres of green space. The rink is accessed via Sue Merz Way, a short entrance to the parking lot that comes off Sherman Ave.

At the June meeting, committee member Liz Eckert who represents the Byram Neighborhood Association, 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.

Byram Veterans complained they did not have representation on the committee.

Residents had complained there were no price tags on any of the options, including building a new rink on the existing site.

When Byram residents and veterans referred to Eugene Morlot Park, rink user committee chair Bill Drake said a list of town parks did not mention Eugene Morlot Park.

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

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.

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.”

In July, the committee met in person at town hall.

There were raised voices.

The committee hoped to vote on one of the options A-E, but the group failed to achieve quorum.

There was a motion to disband the committee on the grounds that it was not representative of the community.

“…this committee should be disbanded and a new committee should be repurposed,” said Lucia Jansen, chair of the RTM Budget Overview Committee.

Mr. Drake said only the Office of the First Selectman, who established the committee, had the authority to dissolve it.

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

Existing 13+ acres shows options A-E, with option A the rink user committee’s preferred layout. The existing rink is in the south east corner.

Alex Popp of Byram 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.

Fast forward to Wednesday, the agenda focused on community outreach and communication, and Mr. Drake said the town had created a rink website with “a button for public comment.”

There is a link at the foot of the web page that says, “Have questions concerning the project. Please contact us.” The form requires submitting a name and email address.

Blaize Levitan, Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation, said the webpage,, was intended to be a resource.

The web page gives no hint at the controversy surrounding the rink and reconfiguring the 13+ acre green space, that Mr. Drake said is “not a park.”

Perhaps residents are waiting for the pre-application to be filed in the fall with the Planning & Zoning Commission, who will hold a public hearing.

Eugene Morlot Park?

The committee discussed whether Eugene Morlot Park was the entire 13+ acres or just the memorial grove with Sycamore trees and plaques dedicated to people from Byram who gave their lives in service.

Selectwoman Lauren Rabin said she had funneled records of votes, minutes, newspaper clippings and Abby Wadler from the town law department for an opinion on whether it was officially a “park.”

“Full transparency, it was a lot to process,” Rabin said, adding that the Selectmen received numerous emails. “Whatever happens to the rink…the way I approach this is we need to make sure this portion (of the 13+ acres) is designated officially.”

Rabin said designating the memorial grove as an official park was not an action for the rink committee, but rather for the Board of Selectmen.

She said the town’s legal department researched the history of Eugene Morlot Memorial Park and that, “The conclusion was that the entire 13.42 acres was not named for Mr. Morlot, and there is not an intent to do so.”

Further, she said the law department suggested the Parks & Rec board recommend to the Board of Selectmen that the grove be officially designated a park.

The rink user committee voted unanimously on a motion to support protecting the memorial grove.

Vinci Gardens, 4-Story 50,000 Sq Ft Senior Housing Adjacent to Rink Site

The rink user committee next discussed the pre-application submitted by Greenwich’s Housing Authority “Greenwich Communities” to add more housing at McKinney Terrace, which is adjacent to the rink and memorial grove.

The housing authority proposes a 4-story 50,000 sq ft “Vinci Gardens,” which would create 52 senior independent living apartments at 71 Vinci Drive.

The access road to Vinci Gardens would be via Vinci Drive, not via the proposed rink access road.

Mr. Siciliano, the Parks & Rec Director, said the housing authorityps proposal would be vetted by Planning & Zoning.

“My recollection was that this was set-aside land that would not be built on,” Siciliano said of Vinci Gardens. “We’re going back a number of years.”

During public comment, Syl Pecora Sr, whose family member is honored in the memorial grove, asked how far the access road would be from the flagpole by the grove.

He was told by Al Monelli, Greenwich’s Superintendent of Building Construction & Maintenance, that it would be “way more than five feet.”

Francia Alvarez of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy suggested coordinating new sewers for the rink and Vinci Gardens.

Rink user committee member Nick Macri, who is also on P&Z, said sewers would be vetted by P&Z during their process.

Lucy von Brachel from the Byram Neighborhood Association noted that the current plans for Vinci Gardens would reduce the parking at McKinney Terrace even though 51 new units are proposed.

“That might create some pressure on the parking for this project and on the street for Putnam Green,” she said.

The next rink user committee is on Wednesday October 13. Mr. Drake proposed that the meeting be held at the existing Hamill Rink.

See also:

P&Z Watch: Pre-Application Submitted for “Vinci Gardens,” 52 Elderly Apts in 4 Story, 50,000 sq ft Building in Byram
August 6, 2021

Veterans Blast Hamill Rink User Committee: “There Will Be Hell to Pay”
June 24, 2021