Playground Project to Move Forward While Park Committee Forms
Members of the newly-minted Fred Wolfe Park Committee met for their first meeting on January 19, and elected Attorney John Carangelo, a member of the Board of Selectmen, as its chairman. The committee will meet monthly, with the next meeting set for February 16 at 5:30 in an effort to sort out how the 69 acres of open space can best be used for passive recreation.
Members of the committee include Carangelo, Jeanine Capecelatro, Kaury Kucera, Jim O’Connor, and PJ Shanley. They looked at a long list of questions and ideas, drawn up by Shanley and Carangelo, which the committee will attempt to solve. First item on the list is to obtain existing plans for the park – including the 2013 Master Plan - as well as traffic and parking needs, bathrooms, lighting and scoreboards; possibly more fields and additional uses.
Meanwhile the Playground Committee, which has been at work for the past two years or so to bring an accessible playground to Orange, is anticipating construction to start soon. “The playground project is moving ahead as we are inching closer to spring,” wrote First Selectman Jim Zeoli when asked whether the playground was on hold.
Supply chain issues added to the delay in construction, said Travis Ewen, who chaired the playground project for the town. In February of last year, the selectmen voted unanimously to endorse the playground project moving to construction. The playground equipment was finally delivered after the holidays, but it seems the ground needed to be prepared for construction to start.
The town had received two grants from the state, for a total of $500,000 towards the project. In addition, the committee raised over $10,000 in donations towards the purchase of benches, named bricks and other amenities. “This will be the first playground in Orange not associated with a school which will allow families with children not yet of school age to have access to play throughout the day and not be restricted by school schedules,” Ewen wrote. “In addition to the destination play equipment, some other exciting features include a paved track encircling the playground that will allow parents and grandparents to get their steps in while their children play, this will also be a great location for kids to learn how to bike.”
Parents, though mostly excited about the planned new destination playground, have expressed concern at public meetings about it being located right next to the driveway off Hollow Road, which at this point is the only access point to the park. Families arrive for soccer and lacrosse practices and games, up to 500 cars on some busy weekends, according to Tom Pisano, chairman of Orange Soccer Association. “That’s five hundred (cars) in and five hundred out,” he said.
If in the future the town re-purposes the fields behind Mary L Tracy School for parking, Orange Soccer will need to move all of its activities to Wolfe Park, adding another 300 cars to the mix. Pisani maintains that the town should add the 14 acres that are currently farmed at the north end of the park – to allow for more parking, an additional soccer field and possibly, a safer location for the playground. That’s where it was located in the Master Plan.
Pisano and Zeoli have butted heads repeatedly. The latest confrontation at the January 11 Board of Selectmen meeting focused on the question whether or not the town could end its license agreement with Field View Farm, which is using the fields to grow corn.
Town Attorney Vincent Marino explained that Dorothy and Walter Hine had the option to renew the license for another two years, which they did, but now that they exercised that option, they had no right to extend the contract beyond those two years. In two years, it will expire and the town can use the land for its own uses. Zeoli suggested that in two years the FWP Committee will have come up with a plan of its own, and the town can decide at that time whether to use the cornfields for farming or for recreation.
Pisano was incensed. “I asked for it (to lease the land) in December, knowing that the Hines people had not given notice,” he said. Their letter to call the option to renew did not arrive at Town Hall until after his own, he said. He is hoping that a petition that circulated, asking the Board of Selectmen to not renew the license, can force a referendum. The petition has gotten close to 400 signatures, Pisano said, 100 away from the needed number to trigger a referendum. He is hoping to avoid a legal challenge of the license renewal. But if Attorney Marino’s interpretation holds up, the town has to fulfill its obligation. “It’s corn over kids,” Pisano said.