On Thursday morning the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously not to pursue litigation concerning the GHS Cardinal Stadium lights.
And since two weeks ago the Planning & Zoning Dept withdrew its proposal to to add 30% Floor Ratio to educational institutions in downtown zones, GHS is back to square one, with limited opportunity to illuminate fields, and nary an inch of FAR left to add team rooms, bathrooms or locker rooms at Cardinal Stadium.
On Friday morning on WGCH in his Ask the First Selectman radio show, Peter Tesei said a 2003 settlement had been a compromise between the Town and the aggrieved party who he did not mention by name.
The reference was to Bill Effros, a neighbor on Old Church Road whose property abuts Cardinal field.
Tesei said the 2003 agreement was originally signed off by the Board of Education, Selectmen and P&Z, and that the Selectmen recently retained Cohen & Wolf, attorneys who specialize in municipal land use issues, for advice.
Tesei said the Selectmen voted unanimously not to pursue litigation, though for a time, it seemed that momentum was building in that direction.
Last November, at a special meeting at Central Middle School in which the BOE voted 6 to 2 to pursue litigation, Rick Kral was the lone resident to urge the board not to so.
About a dozen people spoke in favor of litigation, but Mr. Kral, who was part of the original group to work on getting lights and turf at GHS, said going straight to the legal route was “premature.”
“We have neighbors in the areas of GHS who have concerns and haven’t been able to speak in proper forums,” he said. “We need to respect them.”
Beyond Mr. Effros, the goodwill of neighbors including many on Hillside Road toward GHS has eroded. They have expressed chagrin over the behavior of their oversized neighbor, including long memories of fill being trucked out, lights left on overnight, loud music, outside groups like Trinity Church renting the building and overall constant activity seven days a week.
They are also unhappy with the double parking on Hillside Rd at pick up time and their inability to park or have guests park on Hillside due to student parking, which was never written into municipal code and is under study.
Still, at that November special meeting, residents argued that the implementation of new school start times, the one hour later dismissal at GHS and loss of an hour of daylight for sports practice and games highlighted the need for additional lighting of fields.
Indeed just a week earlier, a JV football game was played in the darkness on field 7.
One of just two voting against litigation, Barbara O’Neill said the neighbors shouldn’t be ignored. Echoing Mr. Kral’s point, she said, “I’m not sure we know what we want to ask for. …If we don’t have a relationship with the neighbors, then we’ve lost an ally.”
And so, on Friday morning, Tesei turned his eyes to Havemeyer field.
“We have a wonderful facility behind town hall and there is a group working independent of my office,” Tesei said, mentioning Rick Kral by name. “We should work with the BOE to make Havemeyer field a signature field for football and playoffs. It ties nicely to the downtown. You can illuminate it and I don’t believe there’s limitations on that.”
He said that the BOE has the care, custody and control of Havemeyer and the field.
“It will bring people into our downtown, which would help our local economy,” Tesei said adding that the BOE could tie in with other institutions to defray costs and add locker rooms, changing rooms and lavatories.
A week before the Selectmen voted against pursuing litigation, P&Z held a POCD open mic night, during with Mr. Kral and Abbe Large presented the idea of upgrading Havemeyer field.
Kral said a multi-purpose field at Havemeyer would suit a number of playing activities.
“It would be artificially turfed,” he said, adding that there is room for up to 1,000 parking spaces. He said it would be a good location for a community center that would attract young people.
Contacted by email on Friday, GHS neighbor Bill Effros commented on the Selectmen’s vote not to pursue litigation.
“The Board of Education, in illegal secret meetings, voted to harass me by filing an expensive lawsuit it could not win, in the hope I would not be able to afford to defend myself,” he wrote.
Effros said the Board of Selectmen, a named defendant in the 2003 Settlement, were right in their decision. “They refused to go along with this scheme, which subjected the entire Town to Contempt of Court sanctions.”
“The Board of Education will have to honor, in perpetuity, the stipulations it made as part of the 2003 Court Ordered Settlement,” Effros concluded. “There will be no ‘renegotiation’.”