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Approved Activities In Town Parks Can Continue, Rec Commission Affirms At Special Meeting

[Correction & Apology: In a conversation on March 16, the First Selectman told our editor that his children have never been involved with the Football program. We have corrected the article below to reflect that. The NewHartfordPlus crew sincerely regrets the statement regarding one of the First Selectman’s children being involved with Football; the statement was based on information received from three credible sources and as such represented a conflict of interest on the part of the First Selectman. Based on the First Selectman’s input, no such conflict exists.

Note: We have been asked if we videotaped this meeting. We decided not to video the meeting but rather we opted to do an audio recording. The report below is based on that audio recording. The NHPlus Crew; Thursday, ]

Note: We have posted a copy of the Park Regulations at the end of this article since frequent reference is made to the different Regulations; you may also download a copy of the Park Regulations: Brodie Park Regulations, Rev. June 11, 1987 (98).

Concerned about the effects of the directive they had received from the First Selectman to cancel all evening activities in town parks, including evening rentals at Berkshire Hall, the Rec Commission members convened a Special Meeting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14 at the Beekley Community Library.

The meeting room in the Beekley Library was packed for the Rec Commission’s Special Meeting.All 7 Rec Commission members were in attendance, as well as Rec Director Dennis Minor and Recording Secretary Robbin Goodskey. First Selectman Dan Jerram was also present. The rest of the room was filled with members of the public, some of them members of the Friends of Brodie Park South and others were dressed in the red sweatshirts of the Wolverines, the Youth Football program based in New Hartford.

“We should probably call this a town meeting. There are more people here than ever show up at a town meeting,” John Maschi joked, as he called the Rec Commission Special Meeting to order at 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. “The Recreation Commission is less than 1% of the Town’s budget and we get more attention than most of the other departments and I think that’s great – there’s a lot of interest and activity, that’s what government is all about.” John then went straight into the agenda item, that of discussing the directive they had received from the First Selectman to cancel all evening activities in the town’s parks.

John said that at their last meeting on March 7 the Rec Commission members had readopted the Rules and Regulations for Brodie Park that had been in place since 1987. “Obviously, there has been some controversy regarding that discussion,” John said. John said that he and First Selectman Dan Jerram had had a long conversation that same day that had been very positive, that they had arrived at something that they could each work with, that could work in the long run. John said that the concern is that some of the rules and regulations may be antiquated and outdated. He said that the Commission members are in agreement that the rules and regulations should be updated, and that by Rec’s next meeting they would have a rough draft of the rules and regulations.

The second thing John said he and the First Selectman had agreed on was to establish a committee, a group of people who are involved specifically in the Brodie South area. He said the group would include two people from the Friends of Brodie Park South, two members of the Recreation Commission and two from Youth Sports (from Football since they were the ones using Brodie Park South). His suggestion was that the group should be overseen by an independent party who will move the process quickly. “Dan (Jerram) and I discussed that this morning and this individual will be Bill Baxter,” John said. He added that Bill, a former First Selectman had been involved in town for a number of years and in Youth Sports as well and was very knowledgeable on how the town runs. John said that Bill had agreed to do it and that he would be very helpful in moving the process along.

The third part of the discussion is that of the activities that are scheduled to take place at Brodie Park, primarily at Berkshire Hall after sunset, that until they finish reviewing their regulations and change them if need be, those activities will not be canceled. “We need to be cognizant of the people, we need to understand that they have put forth money, have put forth time, some of them have weddings, some of them have parties and it would be absolutely wrong to stop them.”

John said that those were the three pieces of the puzzle that they could come to an agreement over very quickly and have everyone accepting of it. “I’m hopeful that Bill Baxter can help us out.”

John then opened up the discussion to the Rec Commission members and to the First Selectman. Dan Jerram began by saying that the rules that are illegal, rules 2, 3 and possibly 18, should be addressed immediately. John said they would be reviewing them, but Dan Jerram said that they needed to do it immediately. “The Farmers’ Market won’t be considered tonight by P&Z because of the parking requirements under rule 11,” the First Selectman said.

“It has to do with common sense,” John said. “That rule is there for a safety issue. As far as parking on the street is concerned, it’s for that, and if we use common sense in how it’s addressed, I think it can be taken care of.” John asked when the Farmers’ Market will be starting and Sally O’Neil, who is helping to organize the market this year, said that it will be starting in June through October. John asked when the P&Z agenda was issued and Dan Jerram said that it was cancelled that same day (Wednesday, March 14.) John said they could take care of the pressing ones, like the Farmers’ Market that same day. Dan Jerram insisted that they strike # 2, 3 and 18 immediately and that they had to get the Farmers’ Market going by addressing the on the street parking. Rec Commission member Ed Smith said that they had dealt with the Greenwich decision (out of town use of town parks)covered by numbers 2 and 3. Ed agreed with dealing with the Farmers’ Market but he said there was no rush to do anything else. Dan Eddy said that the Farmers’ Market could be taken care of under rule # 17, saying that they could approve the site plan as designed. Dan Eddy said that they could take care of # 2 by a change in the language.

John said he would have no objection to taking care of the Farmers’ Market if it meant that they could go forward with P&Z later that evening but Sally O’Neil said they were off the agenda for that evening. John said that they would take care of the Farmers’ Market right there so that they would be ready for the next meeting. Dan Eddy made a motion based on rule # 17 that the Rec Commission approves the site plan as designed by the Farmers’ Market that needs to be presented to Planning & Zoning for the duration of this season’s market. Dan Jerram objected saying that they were trying to do something based on # 17 that was directly contradictory to # 11. “That just creates a series of conflicts with your own rules that it will be harder for the town to maintain a list of all the special exceptions that will then become a greater list than what the original rules are. These rules are so problematic going through that the simpler the rules the better, and I don’t know if this will be OK for P&Z, I’m not a P&Z guy, but these guys are the guys that live by the specifics of the minutiae.” Dan Jerram went on to say that in the new Zoning regulations the Farmers’ Market is a very specific approval that requires a specific site plan and a specific parking on the street, that Rec’s rule # 11 says is prohibited. John answered that it was for a specific safety issue that could be addressed (in their regulations). Rec Commission member Paul Korzinski said that their motion did not preclude them from changing anything, all it was doing was giving them time to consider all the differences instead of just throwing their rules out without any discussion. The Rec Commission voted on the motion and unanimously approved the Farmers’ Market site plan to be taken to Planning & Zoning.

Dan Jerram said very emphatically: “I hope that we get a thorough review of a much more simple document where we can keep to the guidelines where the rules list is longer than the special exceptions and I think that at some level we need to develop some kind of permit – document that someone’s going to be able to keep track of the exceptions because it appears that’s going to be a part of the process so that whoever gets tasked with enforcing this is going to understand who is and who isn’t permitted to do what.”

John responded: “Actually, there’s part of me that says I’m glad this came up because obviously it’s been neglected for years and years by everyone and to a certain extent now it’s on the table and it’s been addressed so I see that as a positive move. I don’t want it to be seen as a negative thing this was brought up and discussed. I think it’s good. You’ve been after us to tighten things up, we’re tightening things up and it’s causing a controversy with our children but we’ll get it done.

John confirmed that activities are to continue at Brodie Park as already booked, with the Regulations to be reviewed ASAP.

Regarding rule # 2, Dan Eddy said that, pending legal language, he would make a motion to amend rule # 2 to include non-resident use of the park based on the current price structure for stickers. John clarified that they had discussed the requirement to allow non-residents use of the park since it had been introduced 7 years ago. He said at that several years ago they had run the fee structure by the town attorney and it had been approved subject to anyone challenging anyone else’s fees in the state. He said some fees on the coast had been challenged but theirs had not. Even though they had been following the law he agreed that it should be posted in their rules appropriately. Dan Jerram said if they changed rule # 2 they should also change rule # 3. John Maschi responded that they would work on it before their next meeting. Dan Jerram suggested they use the language “both residents and property owners of New Hartford as well as non residents may purchase stickers.” “Per the fee schedule.” John Maschi added. The motion to change rule # 2 was voted on and was unanimously approved.

John Maschi said that he would be in touch with Bill Baxter and they would move forward with it.

Dan Eddy emphasized that rule # 17 is an active rule so that no group – boy scouts, or any of the sports leagues – that those are all groups and if they want to use any of the parks in town they simply have to receive approval from the town and/or Recreation Director. Regulations for group activities will be determined by the Rec Commission. “If something comes up with respect to “parking shall only be on designated areas” that can be addressed by the group that needs parking on grass for an event, that they need parking for 30 cars, that they need to park on the grass, then that’s part of the regulations that we can approve on their behalf to keep the cars off the roads. This is just a reaffirmation of this so that if in the meantime something comes up, people are aware. Dan Jerram interrupted saying: “Even that rule is problematic, because there are certain conditions that individual uses are subject to P&Z approval, not just Rec approval.” “I’m sure there is, Dan,” Dan Eddy said, “all I’m saying is that I don’t want people to walk out of here feeling that they can’t continue to schedule an event in June, July, April. All we are saying here is “Let us know.” There are 3 weddings approved, one scheduled by Town Hall, one scheduled by P&Z and one scheduled through us, all for the same time at Berkshire Hall. The town is growing, there’s a lot of use of all of our facilities and we need a centralized clearing point for all of this.” “Maureen Morris said: “And you’re saying that the clearing house should be the Rec Commission through the Rec Office.” Dan Eddy agreed.

John said they would address the rules and would forward them on to the Board of Selectmen for their approval. John thanked everyone for their work, saying: “I’m a firm believer that 90% of what happens in our town is because of volunteers.” A parent from the Football program interrupted saying that she wanted to address enforcement action on her child, as mentioned in the video tape of the March 7 Rec meeting. John said he was available to speak to her after the meeting, and the meeting was adjourned.

What Led The Rec Commission To Call The March 14 Special Meeting?

After the Rec Special Meeting, a resident asked our reporter what had led the Rec Commission to hold that Special meeting. The following is the explanation she gave to that resident, and it is being posted on NewHartfordPlus for those who are still puzzled by the controversy regarding the Football program’s use of Brodie Park South.

The Football program has been holding practices in the field area of Brodie Park South for 3-4 years. During the past two years they began to use construction lights about 20 feet off the ground in the park to allow them to continue their practices until 8 p.m. and sometimes later into the night, against park rules. The First Selectman had supported Football’s practices at Brodie South despite residents’ complaints to town officials about the excessive traffic, noise, and use of lights after dark. The First Selectman also authorized the placement of a large metal storage structure (POD) in the park last summer for football’s use without Rec’s agreement and without the necessary permit from Planning & Zoning.

For the upcoming Football season, the First Selectman’s Office confirmed to our reporter that he plans to take care of the parking problems that occurred during Football practices by allowing all vehicles to be parked inside the field area. Last year, Football practiced 4 to 5 evenings per week, and 45 to 50 cars were counted during a typical evening practice, both in the parking area at Brodie South which accommodates 10-12 vehicles and parked along the side of the road outside the park; the number of vehicles counted did not include the coaches’ cars and trucks that routinely parked inside the field area. Regarding the issue of the construction lights powered by a generator that were used to light up the field area to allow practice to continue after dark, the Rec Commission stated at its recent meeting that first they were told that the issue would be dealt with by the Planning & Zoning Commission and then they were told that the issue would not be dealt with by Planning & Zoning.

During the past Football season, the Rec Commission had become aware of the violations of their regulations by Football at Brodie South and the Commission had asked Football to move their practices to the field space at New Hartford Elementary School. Football had refused to move and continued to practice at Brodie South through the end of their season. When called upon to enforce the Park Regulations, the police did not do so, although in the past they had enforced the same Regulations with other groups that were breaking the park rules.

A number of residents who were concerned by the situation at Brodie Park South formed a group, the Friends of Brodie Park South (FOBPS), and sought the help of town officials to control the excessive noise, lights, traffic safety issues and after-dark practices, all of which were breaking the Park Regulations and were taking place in a residential zone. The FOBPS group went to the Board of Selectmen, the Planning & Zoning Commission and the police, asking them to enforce the park regulations, the Zoning Regulations and rectify traffic safety issues. All three enforcement organizations did not carry out any enforcement.

At the March 6 Rec Commission meeting the FOBPS asked Rec to enforce their Park Regulations, which had been in place for Brodie Park since 1987. The Rec Commission had reaffirmed their regulations, extending them to all the town’s parks and they had called on the town officials to enforce the Park Regulations as they had always done in the past. This reaffirmation of their Park Regulations and the statement that the rules would apply to all groups had prompted the First Selectman to issue his directive to Rec to cancel all evening activities in all of the town parks, including all activities at Berkshire Hall. The Rec Commission had called the Special Meeting to discuss the First Selectman’s directive.

Rec Commission members with First Selectman Dan Jerram at their March 14 Rec Special Meeting. Ed Smith is not shown in this image. Photo: Maria Moore

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