Parks officials are seeking permission from New Canaan’s legislative body to forgo enforcement of a local ordinance that prohibits advertising in public parks.
The Parks & Recreation Commission voted at its meeting last week in favor of allowing a private group to run “dashboard” ads inside a makeshift ice rink that’s planned for Waveny.
Though the advisory Parks & Rec Commission supported allowing the ads last year—despite concerns voiced then-Recreation Director Steve Benko—the discussion never was vetted by the Town Council because the makeshift rink itself never materialized.
Gene Goodman—a principal of the private group behind the rink, NC Rink Inc, according to Connecticut Secretary of the State records—said the ads themselves would be six feet wide by 2.5 feet high.
“If you were standing at the perimeter of the dasher boards which will be about four feet high or so, you will be able to see it,” Goodman said during the Nov. 9 Parks & Rec meeting, held in Lapham Community Center. “But if you are driving by on the road you wouldn’t see it.”
The makeshift rink is to be installed near the parking lot alongside the Orchard Field at Waveny, where New Canaan Softball has its games.
The rink would have a banner on the outside calling it “Boucher Community Ice Rink” in recognition of a $100,000 grant from a twice-defeated GOP state Senate candidate (Goodman is also treasurer of the Republican Town Committee, according to that volunteer group’s website). The project also recently received a $200,000 grant from the state. The advertising is expected to bring in $15,000 per year, Goodman said.
Parks & Rec Chair George Benington said the dasher boards are “tasteful advertising.”
“No tobacco, alcohol, firearms,” he said. “And it’s just on the interior of the boards, there’s no banners or anything that might—because advertising in parks is a very touchy subject.”
In fact, it is prohibited by a town ordinance.
Under Section 42-8(G) of the Town Code, “No person shall distribute any handbills or circulars or post any bills, notices or advertising matter of any kind and nature in any park.”
Commissioner Rona Siegel noted the ordinance during the meeting.
“This may need to go to the Town Council first for approval so that it can have ultimate approval so you might want to double, triple check,” she said.
Benington said he spoke that day to the head of the Town Council Bylaws & Ordinances Committee “and he brought this ordinance up.”
“I think we need to express what our vote is and then if we need to send it to the Town Council for their final approval then so be it,” Benington said.
It isn’t clear whether the Town Council has the power to decide in what situations it can grant organizations the ability to forego ordinances. Normally, when residents object to an ordinance, the matter is referred to the Bylaws & Ordinances Committee for review.
It also isn’t clear to what extent allowing the private ice rink group to advertise will open up the town to advertising from other groups in the park, or to liability problems if those groups are denied.
The ads would run in the ice rink from November through February, Benington said.
Goodman said it’s “debatable” whether temporary advertising is allowed in the park, and suggested that the ice rink ads could fall into an allowable category. Goodman also said the softball field had a banner up thanking corporate sponsors for their support. (Last year, Benko noted that such single banners are different from individual ads plastered about sports facilities in the park.)
Parks & Rec Commissioner Keith Richey declared that the ice rink ads would not be setting precedent, though he offered no information beyond the declaration itself.
Richey suggested that the ads would not be problematic because they would be low-exposure, saying of Waveny in the winter, “There are not that many people walking around in there anyhow.”
Though Goodman is principal of NC Rink Inc. and presented the item to Parks & Rec, he did not recuse himself from voting on the matter as a commissioner himself. In fact, Goodman made the motion to support the advertising in the public park, with the caveat that if Town Council approval is required, it will be obtained. The other commissioners at the meeting—Benington, Richey, Siegel, Francesca Segalas, Jake Granito, Susan Lione, Steve Haberstroh and Hank Green—voted in favor. (Commissioner Matt Konspore was absent.)
The Town Council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The NC Rink Inc. advertising matter is not on its meeting agenda.
[Note: This article has been updated with the full list of Parks & Rec commissioners voting in favor of the motion.]