Saying an originally requested two-month run was too long given opposition from some merchants and residents, New Canaan’s traffic authority on Tuesday night unanimously approved a July 21 to Labor Day (Sept. 3) summer season for the Pop Up Park at South and Elm downtown.
Police Commissioner Paul Foley said that although he personally likes the Pop Up Park, a 9-week season starting July 4—what was formally proposed by the volunteer committee that runs it—would be “excessive” given the “outspoken” concerns of some business owners.
“I like the concept of the park, I think it’s been fairly successful,” Foley said at the commission’s regular meeting, held in the New Canaan Police Department. “I just think closing it for two months is a bit excessive for everybody else who uses Elm Street and South Avenue. I would propose that you cut back the time. in fact, I thought last year you kind of overdid it doing July  through Labor Day. I would suggest you do it for the month of August through Labor Day. I would be in favor of that.”
Ultimately, Foley, Chairman Sperry DeCew and Commissioner Jim McLaughlin voted 3-0 for the July 21 to Sept. 3 season.
DeCew said he would support the dates that the Pop Up Park Committee originally had asked for. He noted that no one from the opposition showed up to the commission’s meeting although it was properly posted with the Pop Up Park on the agenda as a voting item.
“This was posted,” DeCew said. “They had a right to show up today to oppose or give comment on it. The fact that nobody is here tells me that there is a lot less agita about it.”
He asked New Canaan’s Betsy Wilson, of the Pop Up Park Committee, a guest at the meeting, what was the reason for seeking to expand the season by a couple of weeks this summer by starting July 4.
She answered: “The Fourth of July is after school is closed and we feel like that is a whole holiday week so it’s a good weekend to open the park. There maybe are people who don’t go on vacation who are off for that week, and we also we have enough larger organizations to do substantial weekend events that we are hoping to offer for those weekends.”
Wilson said her committee has received only positive feedback regarding the Pop Up Park and that none of the merchants who have opposed it in the past have expressed that opposition to the group itself. This summer’s programming theme is to be “Arts in the Park,” Wilson said, with the Silvermine Arts Guild, various dance groups and the Gridiron Club music troupe as host organizations.
“We are just really feeling like this season is super positive, continuing from last year,” Wilson told the commission. “We had such energy in the park last year and community feedback where we feel like the community took ownership of the park.”
Other members of the Pop Up Park Committee include Jeff Holland, Marty Skrelunas, Barbara Wilson, Nicole Jezairian and Kremena Doust.
The Pop Up Park has drawn wide interest since its inception.
Starting in 2012 and for three years, the Pop Up Park ran for a limited number of weekends, with its organizers taking on the labor-intensive work of setting it up on a Friday evening and pulling it back down by Sunday night. The town approved an all-summer run in 2015, but the Pop Up Park didn’t run at all that year after some merchants raised concerns. It returned the following summer, running for three continuous weeks last August and in 2017, the Pop Up Park launched July 15 at the Sidewalk Sale and remained in place through Labor Day weekend, with various organizations, professionals and musicians offering entertainment, exercises and classes.
Commissioners last summer voiced concerns over a proposal from the Pop Up Park’s organizers to allow nonprofit and community organizations to sell items there such as Girl Scout Cookies or fundraiser tickets. Wilson said the committee had “tabled” that suggestion.
At the meeting, commissioners asked whether the committee had considered a different location for the Pop Up Park where it wouldn’t block any roads (yes and the current location was found to be the best option), whether the committee would consider running it just on weekends until August (motorists prefer to have it up and running continuously so they grow accustomed to the traffic flow) and when this summer’s Sidewalk Sale would be held (July 14, meaning public works would need to dismantle the park and re-install it the following week).
Asked whether the committee could work with starting on July 21, Wilson said: “The community will be thrilled for any days the Pop Up Park is open.”