The Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 to approve a naming resolution that designates 13 acres in Byram as the Eugene Morlot Memorial Park.
The resolution went further, to say that within those 13 acres, the .6 acre memorial grove of trees dedicated to alumni of the former Byram School who gave their lives in service to their country was designated the “Veterans Memorial Tree Grove.” In discussion that was amended to add the word “Byram.”
The 13 acres also includes Strazza ball field, a parking lot, playground and Dorothy Hamill Rink, which the town is looking to replace somewhere on the site. That has become somewhat controversial because both the Byram Veterans and Byram Neighborhood Association want the ice rink rebuilt on its existing footprint, rather than moved north onto the ball field an accessed by a new 30 ft wide road off Western Junior Highway.
But that was not the issue of the day. (A pre application for the rink will go before Planning and Zoning commission on December 21, 2021, and there will be time for public comment.)
By way of background, Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano explained that the grove of trees had never been formally named and was not included in the town’s land records. The Park & Rec website doesn’t include the memorial grove or the 13 acres of mostly greenspace in its list of parks.
“We’ve looked extensively,” he said. “It looks like the dedication, plaque and flagpole was dedicated by former Parks & Rec director and veterans associations in 1989, but it was never voted on by the Board of Selectmen. That’s what we want to do here today.”
Siciliano said a survey done by Langan in Oct 2001 indicated the total property was 13.41303 acres overall, and the area with the trees dedicated to the veterans was .64782 acres.
“What we’re asking of the board is to vote on naming the entire 13.4 acre parcel as ‘Eugene Morlot Park,’ and we’re also asking the Board of selectmen to take another vote to say that the .64782 acres be permanently dedicated, which means that it cannot be touched.”
Siciliano said the community had asked for a review of the last paragraph of the resolution that refered to limiting a permanent structure on top of the parking lot, but he didn’t think that was an issue.
“We’re not considering building the rink on the parking lot location,” he said, referring to the rink user committee.
First Selectman Fred Camillo recalled skating on the rink even before it was named Hamill Rink after Dorothy Hamill, the Olympic Skater from Greenwich. Originally it was an open air rink, and was added to piecemeal over the years.
He noted the baseball field in the park was dedicated to his late friend Sal Strazza. He wanted Mr. Strazza’s memory and the field be protected.
Camillo agreed the memorial trees should be protected and said he’d like to see some signage added, to say for example, Strazza Field at Morlot Park, Hamill Rink at Morlot Park and the Byram Veterans Memorial Grove at Morlot Park.
“Sort of like Oriole Park at Camden Yards,” Camillo said.
Sylvester Pecora Sr, whose brother is honored in the memorial grove noted that the only people killed in the wars came from Byram School.
“It should be named the Byram Veterans Memorial Grove,” he said, adding that it was important the trees not be blocked. “At one point they were thinking of putting the skating rink in the parking lot.”
Don Sylvester from the Byram Veterans Association questioned at length why the different elements in the park should be named separately.
“The five segments – the play area, parking lot the skating rink, the ballfield and the memorial grove – they’re all within the park,” he said. “You don’t have separate designations for every little thing in the park. Why you’re singling out these trees?”
Who was Eugene Morlot?
Mr. Morlot was a custodian at Byram School, which is now McKinney Terrace housing for residents age 55+ or disabled.
During World War II, Mr. Morlot, wanted to honor former students who died serving their country.
He started a fundraising program with students and faculty to purchase and Sycamore trees on the school grounds in honor of the 10 students who died during World War II.
Another tree was added for a former student killed during the Korean War. Two additional trees were planted for former students killed in Vietnam.
In total 13 trees were planted and brass nameplates were fastened to concrete bases at the foot of each tree.
In 1978 the Byram School was closed due to declining enrollment and remained closed until 1988 when it was refurbished by the Town and became McKinney Terrace.
In 1986, the plaques by Byram School were removed, and there were plans to cut down the trees, but residents, veterans, and Anne M. Kristoff in particular, wouldn’t stand for it. After protesting, the markers were restored.
During public comment Joe Kantorski who chairs the Byram Neighborhood Association said his organizationsupported the naming resolution.
However, BNA vice chair Liz Eckert, whose brother-in-law Don Repaci is honored with a tree in the memorial grove, had one concern.
“I appreciate you getting that clerical error fixed,” Eckert said. “I agree with everything said today, except one thing having to do with the expansion of the parking lot.”
She said back a previous P&Z commission and former P&Z director Diane Fox had issued a condition that the parking lot never be expanded.
“Byram is a very densely populated area. This green space, this park means so much to our residents because we don’t have much green space,” Eckert said, adding, “Don’t pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Byram resident Bob Kristoff also testified in favor of the naming resolution, saying he had known Eugene Morlot.
“At one point they took all the plates off the bottom of the trees. It’s like taking the plate off a mausoleum,” he said, adding that he supported protection of the the grove in perpetuity.
Mr. Kristoff said at the time the nameplates were removed, his sister-in-law Anne was very active in the RTM and she and his brother asked for his help in returning them to the foot of the trees.
He recalled that as he was restoring the plaques a passerby commented, ‘How perfect. Life through death.’
Ms Oberlander questioned the designation of the entire park.
“What we’re saying is, make (the memorial grove) permanent so that section of this park can never be altered,” Siciliano explained, adding that leaving it as parkland/open space meant it could be altered to add other functions.
“If we wanted to change the parking lot, if we wanted to move the ball field into a different location within the park….You could build a swimming pool there,” he said.
The board voted 2-1 on the naming resolution for Eugene Morlot Memorial Park, and an amendment which added the word Byram to naming (Byram) Veterans Memorial Tree Grove.
Ms Oberlander voted against the resolution.
She said she was confused by the objections of two veterans Don Sylvester and David Wold, and acknowledged the neighbors’ wanting to protect the entire 13 acres of greenspace.
“If this is not permanently restricted parkland, I wonder why we are not restricting the entire 13+ ares as permanently restricted parkland, subject to the existing uses already on the site. That would seem to allow for renovation of the rink and protection of the baseball fields,” Oberlander said.
Text of the Eugene Morlot Memorial Park Naming Resolution
WHEREAS, in 1978, the Byram School was closed and the trees and markers were set to be removed as part of the renovation of the area. The Byram Veterans Association and the 9th District Veterans of Glenville petitioned the Town to save the memorials.Mr. Frank Keegan, Director of Parks and Recreation at the time, worked with the veteran associations to clean up the area and to install a flagpole and a memorial plaque. On November 11, 1989, the Eugene Morlot Memorial Park (EMMP)was named in a ceremony lead by Mr. Keegan. There are no ordinances, meeting minutes, deeds or related documentation which give a definitive answer to the question of what comprises EMMP.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Selectmen officially name EMMP on Town of Greenwich parcels # 4544 (11.60082 acres) & # 4533 (1.81221 acres) combined for a total of 13.41303 acres as was surveyed by Langan Company (boundary survey map # VB101 revised10/22/21 & partial boundary and topographic survey map # VT101 revised10/22/21); and
FURTHER RESOLVED, the total 13.41303 acres shall be named Eugene Morlot Memorial Park to be recorded in the official Town land records and listed in the inventory of Parks on the Town’s website; and
FURTHER RESOLVED, the .64782-acre Veteran’s Memorial Tree Grove located within Eugene Morlot Memorial Park will be permanently dedicated and forever protected. The Veteran’s Memorial Tree Grove will be recorded in the official Town land records. The Veteran’s Memorial Tree Grove will also be included on the Town’s website; and
FURTHER RESOLVED, the Town will not construct any permanent structure on or above the existing parking lot. However, the Town retains the right to perform maintenance to the parking lot that includes reconfiguration, paving, installing drainage, lighting and possible expansion. This maintenance agreement also includes any and all work needed on the playscape that is divided by the dedication line
Nov 10, 2016