A committee of New Canaan’s legislative body at its most recent meeting decided against a recommendation to amend a local ordinance in order to allow a private group to have advertising in a makeshift ice rink planned for a public park.
Though certain members of the Town Council Bylaws & Ordinances Committee argued in favor of allowing New Canaan Ice Inc. to run 10 to 15 paid “dasher board” ads along the walls of a rink planned for Waveny, others cautioned that making such an exception to a clearly written ordinance would set a bad precedent.
Tom Butterworth, a Committee co-chair, noted that there appears to be a lack of enforcement with respect to the Section 42-8(G) of the Town Code, which reads: “No person shall distribute any handbills or circulars or post any bills, notices or advertising matter of any kind and nature in any park.”
Yet “we want a pristine Waveny,” Butterworth said at the Nov. 22 meeting, held via videoconference.
“We want to have a rule that basically tells the world that Waveny gives you this pristine experience with nature,” he said. “And that’s a laudable goal. It seems to be pretty popular. And it’s awkward for us to mess with that, whether it’s temporary or not. The question is, do we open up this door and amend this ordinance? And I think there would be a lot of resistance to that. If we were to pass on this and say we’re just going to table this and not deal with it, you could fend with the enforcement people and maybe that’s the way our policy should evolve, by people violating rules through exceptions because of non-enforcement. But once it’s on the table and you pose the issue that way, I have to say no, that’s no way to run a town. We really should be forthright and say, what is our policy and how should it be reflected in the ordinances?”
Ultimately, the Committee voted unanimously in favor of “tabling” a request to revise the town ordinance in order to accommodate the private group. That request came from the private group itself earlier in the month through the Parks & Recreation Commission, an advisory body that supported the dasher boards ads on condition that it met with Town Council approval.
Yet as Committee co-chair Hilary Ormond—a lawyer by profession, like Butterworth—said, “the ordinance is the ordinance and it’s written pretty specifically, without exception.”
“The lawyer in me is a real strict constructionist here with the wording of the ordinance,” Ormond added. “We have had people come before our committee before and ask for exceptions to the ordinances, and we have said we’re not going to make single exceptions before. And so it seems a bit hypocritical to feel like we’re doing so now.”
Other Committee members voting in favor of “tabling” included Kimberly Norton, Mark Grzymski, Maria Naughton and Cristina A. Ross.
Committee member Rita Bettino appeared to recuse herself because she’s a member of the New Canaan Ice Inc. group. She and town resident Tom O’Dea presented the advertising proposal.
They said the ads themselves largely would not be visible to park-goers except for those very near to the rink, that other groups such as New Canaan Softball have put up a banner that recognizes program supporters, that the ads would generate $15,000 to $18,000 per year, that they had already told prospective advertising businesses that it would be allowed and that they were seeking permission to run the ads temporarily for one season.
“It is a good revenue stream for the rink and it would help us to operate it without any cost to the town,” O’Dea said.
Committee members asked them whether the signage itself would be temporary or the change the ordinance would be temporary (either), whether the Zamboni ice clearing machine would have advertising also (there’s no sponsor for that yet), what the season for the rink would be (mid-December to the middle or end of February to start), what the days and hours of operation would be (10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, though not open to start on Mondays or Tuesdays), how many “dasher board” ads there would be (10 to 15), how the advertisers would be selected (first come, first served), whether the cost of electricity could be covered by the private group even without advertising revenue (yes) and whether the ice rink group has considered posting advertisements on its own website (the businesses won’t pay for that).
Town resident Betty Lovastik noted that the ice rink group had broached the prospect of advertising one year ago and never brought it as far as the Town Council.
“It just seems like it’s last-minute,” Lovastik said. “It’s the end of November and you want to open next month.”
She added, “If you truly can’t see the ad, what purpose would it be to the advertisers?”
Much of the 90-minute meeting was dedicated to a discussion about how the town should handle enforcement of existing signage in the park that may run afoul of the ordinance. Some even suggested that what proponents have dubbed the “Boucher Community Ice Rink” should put up the advertising, despite the ordinance, and see what happens.
O’Dea said that since the rink is enclosed, the ordinance may not apply to it.
Others pushed back on that suggestion.
For example, Grzymski noted that ice hockey happens to played in an enclosed area, but if other sports—such as paddle tennis—wanted to have similar advertising but lacked the privilege of such an arena “you are really drawing distinction to one sport which really doesn’t sit very well.”
Ormond said, “You cannot put that toothpaste back in the tube. I’m telling you. There is no temporary here, guys. And I really would caution us. We would be picking winners and losers if we say we’re going to let this happen because the ice rink is enclosed even though it doesn’t have a roof. It’s not explicable. It’s hard for me to justify in light of the statute as written. I’d rather stick to that language and if we want amend it, or the ice rink can take its chances and hope that nobody sues them—I don’t know what somebody would do—I don’t think they would, but can we bless this? I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
It wasn’t clear whether Bettino, O’Dea and the private ice rink group would try to put the ads up and see what happens.
According to Connecticut Secretary of the State records, town resident Gene Goodman is a principal of the New Canaan Ice Inc. group. Goodman also is a member of the Parks & Recreation Commission and treasurer of the Republican Town Committee, according to that volunteer group’s website. Since advertising in the ice rink first was proposed one year ago, Goodman and others dubbed it the “Boucher Community Ice Rink,” named for a Fairfield County woman who gave $100,000 to the project and ran this past election for state Senate (she lost anyway).
Ross also is a member of the RTC, according to its website.
During the meeting, she argued that if the ice rink cannot run ads, then no one should be able to, and even suggested the Town Council take action by formally requesting the town to take up enforcement.
Ross’s statements during the meeting included:
“I’d like to say that if we are going to not allow the signage inside the rink then we have to enforce the law and have everybody remove signage on the boards and across the fields. So you can’t just say, you’re not allowed to do it because you asked for permission. You have to take action on those who are violating it. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to do it on a temporary basis, open to all, and see how it’s handled and how it presents and what the public’s perception is. I think that would be a more considerate way of doing it.”
“Do we forbid kids from wearing T-shirts that forbids them from wearing names of teams and sponsors?”
“We should send a letter to all sports teams and say they are not abiding by the regulations and they should stop it.”
“I’d just like to say that it seems that the rule to not advertise at the park has many exceptions. One of them is that the New Canaan Public Schools website promotes advertising for the sports in support of it. And we have it at the scoreboards and softball fields. So why not at the ice skating rink, since it’s only going to be shown on the inside?”
“I don’t see why we’re even discussing it. The support for the teams is advertised in many different ways throughout the town, and this should not be an exception.”
Bettino said she agreed with Ross. “Putting my Town Council hat on,” Bettino said, “I have to agree with Cristina in terms of how she is looking at it. There are other entities that do it today and then not to allow someone to do something that’s happening, that’s literally happening today, seems a little unfair.”
Ross called for a follow-up meeting of the Committee after Thanksgiving, though Butterworth noted that, given the Town Council’s process, nothing could be changed this season to help the ice rink anyway.
Summarizing where the Committee was leaving the discussion, Butterworth said, “We don’t really have a process that can really give relief to the ice rink this season, anyway. We don’t really have a consensus tonight of how we would adjust this ordinance in a way that would really give relief to the ice rink but also make sense as applied generally. I don’t think we’ve quite figured out how to do that.”
He added, “I am not ready to take this to full Town Council.”