Town To Market Waveny Fireworks as ‘Residents-Only’


Though police say they’re not anticipating a major rise in attendees for this year’s Independence Day weekend picnic and fireworks at Waveny, the volunteer committee that organizes the event is marketing it as “residents-only.”

The Family Fourth Committee long has urged those planning to attend the event, scheduled this year for Saturday, July 3, to buy parking/entry passes and typically sells more than 2,000 of them. Of those, about 1,800 are purchased by New Canaan residents in a normal year. The standalone fund to put on the event is supported by pass sales (it has about $70,000 in it currently).

Those driving into Waveny or New Canaan High School to park without a pass have been allowed to enter, in part because it’s a practical impossibility to hold up the line talking to them about their passes or trying to have them turn around.

Noting that some towns canceled their own fireworks shows this year due to uncertainty about pandemic-related restrictions, Committee members voiced fears at meetings held May 20 and 27 that the Waveny event could see so many people come that it overwhelms the park and becomes unsafe for pedestrians.

“We’ve had this problem for years,” Committee Chair Tom Stadler said at the group’s May 27 meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “It’s not a different problem. It’s just that it could be a lot, lot bigger this year.”

The Committee now is seeking to control the size of the event through marketing and by limiting sales of the $35 passes to town residents (nonresidents in the past have paid $50).

On the day of the fireworks, volunteers also plan to place electronic and other signs with messages such as “no pass, no entry” and “sold out” along South Avenue and Farm Road, members of the selectmen-appointed Committee said.

Committee member Tucker Murphy said “putting a fake bar code on the pass” could be effective if the volunteers “could be seen scanning” them by those driving toward Waveny without a parking/entry pass.

“They [the bar codes] will be the same number, but no one will know that,” Murphy said.

Asked during the meeting whether police are concerned about a dangerously high number of attendees, Deputy Chief John DiFederico said no.

“This year may be different given that it’s post-COVID and everybody’s looking to light their hair on fire and get after it,” he said.

“Having said that, I have done this for 28 years and I have heard kind of the same sentiment every single year and I bet you that the percentage of attendees probably doesn’t fluctuate much more than 10%. I always hear, ‘Well, Stamford’s not having it, we’re going to get inundated. Norwalk’s not having it, we’re going to get, you know.’ And I really don’t notice a difference in the crowd that much. So, for 28 years, we’ve handled whatever crowd has come and we’ve been able to handle it. Again, it’s a different year so maybe there will be a few more people. So I’m not guaranteeing it wont’ be. But I will staff it the way that we always staff it with 20 to 25 officers plus a large number of CERT [Community Emergency Response Team volunteers], and we will do the best we can with the crowd we get confronted with. But I’m not overly concerned that we are going to have a 50% increase in crowd size or anything like that.”

Stadler asked whether DiFederico was comfortable with the idea of directing those who did not have a pass away from the main parking areas in Waveny and the high school.

DiFederico said, “We can advertise and market it whatever way you want as far as needing a pass, not needing a pass, getting in, whatever. I can tell you right now, we are not checking passes, we are not checking ID’s, we are not separating people. There is no way we can do that, regardless of what the size of the crowd is. And if it is on the heavy side this year, there is just no way we can park everybody, if we have to stop everyone and have a 10-second, 30-second, 2-minute conversation with them about their pass, where they’re from, whether or not they’ve paid or not—we just have to open the gates and park everybody. But like I said, we can market it in whatever way you want and we will support that, and just say you need a pass, no entry without a pass. We can have that on all the literature and all the signs that we put up. I’m all for that. But the actual in practice as far as parking people that day? We open the gates, we park everybody. We have to do that. There’s no way we can stop and start separating and segregating people.”

This exchange followed:

Stadler: When you say we won’t do that, do you mean the Police Department? Because in past we have done this.
DiFederico: No we have not. We have never done that. We won’t do that. You can’t. There is no possible way to do that effectively and get everybody parked in time. 
Stadler: So anybody who shows up gets in?
DiFederico: Correct.
Stadler: With or without a pass?
DiFederico: Correct.
Stadler: And you don’t want us to stop them and direct them back out?
DiFederico: No. We can’t.
Stadler: And that’s the way we’ve done it for 40 years. And you are 28 years. 
DiFederico: Yup. And I’ve worked the front gate at South [Avenue] and we would just let people in.
Stadler: Would you be comfortable in light of let’s say, New Canaan resident buys five passes for his family but we’ve already let everybody in from Norwalk and Darien and we’ve got no more room. Then what do we do?
DiFederico: In 28 years we’ve never run out of room.

The passes are to be sold online as well as in person at places such as the Recreation Department, Town Hall and Walter Stewart’s. A town-wide mailer is to go out the week of June 11, with the “residents-only” language and a note about a limited number of passes being sold. 

Committee members suggested outwardly setting a limit of about 1,500 passes this year.

Murphy said during the Committee’s May 27 meeting that the town didn’t need to put a specific number on it.

“I think we should at the very least say we are limiting the amount of sales,” she said. “A, we will get everybody to get heir butts together and their act together and buy tickets. B, if we sell out, we are going to be able to cut this off and say we are sold out. If we see a response we didn’t expect, it might give us an indication of what we are looking at. We can always sell more. We can always add more. I wouldn’t put a cap out there. I would just say ‘limited.’ ”

The Committee has been guarded about plans for the event. 

At their May 20 meeting, Committee members instructed those in attendance, including the press, not to share what was being discussed. The following day, published a “Did You Hear” item regarding the July 3 date. The town then wrongly listed the Committee’s May 27 meeting as being held May 26, correcting it on the municipal website’s calendar only after the meeting had ended.

The Committee hasn’t made clear what its messaging will be in terms of mask-wearing.

Gov. Ned Lamont recently relaxed many COVID-19-related restrictions in the state, subject to guidance from the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

The most recent guidance from the DPH says that unvaccinated people “[s]hould continue to wear a mask outdoors when they are in a crowd, at a large event, or in a public place where keeping their distance from others is difficult.” The guidance says that event operators “[s]hould consider requiring attendees to wear a mask when at large outdoor events open to the public and/or where large crowds are expected and unvaccinated people (including children younger than 12 years) are likely to be in attendance.”

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan during the May 27 meeting asked whether pass sales could capture the names and email addresses of residents who buy them.

When Committee member Chris Cody said that street addresses can at least be checked by those selling passes in person, Murphy responded, “I would rather get email addresses” which are “far more valuable for us.”

Committee member Win Goodrich cautioned them against trying to secure that information.

“I want to say this being an IT person, and a younger person that’s very into technology—that it is a very touchy subject to be getting people’s cell phone numbers, their addresses, their house, as well as their email addresses,” Goodrich said. “You are literally crossing a very thin line.”

This year’s fireworks event will feature the Town Band as well as a second band, food trucks, glow necklaces and ice cream concessioners. It will not have a bouncy castle, due to public health concerns, Committee members said.

Stadler said the town has food truck commitments from Melt Mobile, which specializes in grilled cheeses and other sandwiches, as well as Forever Sweet Bakery.

Murphy said, “I wouldn’t even call Forever Sweet a ‘food truck.’ That’s just a cupcake.”

She added, “We need pizza. We need ‘food food.’ ”

The town is talking to pizza and taco food truck operators, among others. Committee member Robin Bates-Mason said she was in communication with a Westchester-based company that could make three different food trucks available for July 3—one with burgers, one with pasta and sandwiches, and one with Tex-Mex cuisine.

Stadler said he was confident that the Committee would be able to arrange for about eight food trucks.

During Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, officials spoke of the Family Fourth passes as though they were in great demand.  

“We are limiting the number of passes, less than we did last year, for residents,” Moynihan said.

Murphy said the passes would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We anticipate we will probably sell out and we will use some of the signs to let people know as they are entering the park,” she said. “We are hoping that that will turn away some people that hadn’t bought passes yet. Typically when they get into the park it’s hard to turn them around once they’re up there so we will have signs saying it’s sold out.”

8 thoughts on “Town To Market Waveny Fireworks as ‘Residents-Only’

  1. Too much emphasis on trying to keep people out instead of trying to accommodate as many as possible for what should be a grand celebration, given where we have been.
    Its interesting that the committee has already provided their “playbook ” of how they are going to keep people out. You would think that they wouldn’t want to tip their hand.
    What’s not clear on “residents only” is if said resident’s house guests will not be allowed entry if they are with the resident.

  2. As one of the principal organizers of the CERT volunteer deployment for the last 10 years, I can attest to what Deputy Chief DiFederico has said about how access to the event is controlled. Not that the Deputy Chief needs anyone to vouch for the accuracy of his statement. A fact is a fact. This was no secret among key event organizers, regardless of the apparent level of misunderstanding of this fact by some folks involved. But, at the same time, this fact was certainly–and pointedly–not publicized. But now it has been. To our detriment, I believe. And for me this is a point of very practical concern for this year. (I make no point here about freedom of the press, the right to publish this information, etc. But I certainly do wish it had NOT been publicized.)

    I don’t disagree with Deputy Chief DiFederico: there is no process or plan that has ever been articulated, developed, and tested–never mind proven to be safe and effective–that in my opinion could readily (and economically) be put in place for July 3, 2021 to (again, safely and effectively) screen every vehicle and deny entry to any vehicle without a pass.

    But as a person who has spent the last 40 years running a business dedicated to developing, standardizing and deploying automatic identification & data capture (AIDC) technology (think bar code and RFID), I can say without a doubt that there is a technology plan and implementation scenario that could be developed and implemented to effectively control access to Waveny Park and the high school parking lot if it proves to be necessary. It would involve a mobile phone based scanning app, unique barcodes on each pass, a cloud database and a modest 5-figure capitol expense (at most) and more volunteers that we presently have to implement it on the day, but it could easily be ready for July 4, 2022 and used for years thereafter if it proves effective.

    Adding this level of access control to this event would certainly generate aggravation among some of our town citizens and even more likely among a wider range of non-residents who don’t get the word. And that aggravation itself may be no trivial factor. But we have every right–and I would argue, the responsibility to reasonably assure the safety and comfort of those who do buy passes–to implement effective registration and access control measures for this event. And such control would likely (certainly in the future) provide a more pleasant experience for those who follow the rules and buy passes, with the very legitimate expectation that they can attend the well-planned and enjoyable event New Canaan has always provided. Whether we have that same experience this year is, in my mind, much less certain than in past years, for a variety of reasons beyond Covid-induced pent up demand.

    What happens this year may be a harbinger of things to come, or not. For this year, with no change to how park access is controlled, as the evening progresses past 8:00 PM it will be incumbent upon the event organizers, NCPD and CERT keep tabs on the number of available parking spaces in the park and in the high school lot and to be prepared to close all access to the park and the high school lot at some point well before 9:00 PM should those parking areas fill to capacity.

    If this happens, inevitably some people who have paid for a pass will not be permitted to enter and we will have to deal with the fallout from that. I doubt if a refund will be enough to make that person/family happy that they missed the fireworks because they were not allowed into the event. But if there is no place to park there is no place to park.

    As others have noted, there is much we can do to discourage non-residents from attending; and also to encourage pass-holders to arrive early (before 8:00 PM, for example). Limiting pass sales or using “fake” bar code that are not actually going to be scanned seems pointless if there is no attempt at access control at the entrance to Waveny or the HS parking lot. Now that it is public knowledge that park passes are not required for entry, what would be the point of limiting pass sales? However, the electronic signs at the entrances that can readily be changed–and DO get changed–to SOLD OUT and/or PARK FULL if/when needed will be crucial if the park fills to capacity before 9:00 PM.

    And maybe, just maybe, NCPD and Family Fourth Committee volunteers can work together to establish an action plan to be implemented in the hour after 8:00 PM after traffic flow has ebbed somewhat, to screen for passes in a way that will safely allow officers stationed on South Avenue and Farm Road to not allow access by vehicles without a pass, helping to assure that honest pass-holders arriving after 8:00 PM will have a place to park and an enjoyable evening.

    At the very least, I think the Family Fourth Committee will at least want to explore with town government officials, outside experts, NCPD command staff and others, how modern event registration and control technology could safely and effectively be applied to our wonderful New Canaan Family Fourth celebration in 2022 and beyond in order to better assure that it remains the uplifting, safe, family-friendly event it has always been.

    • Setting up such a complex technology to control access seems counter intuitive to the spirit of July 4th , which in effect is a day to celebrate independence and freedom.

  3. Yes it is a holiday about freedom and independence but this celebration isn’t free. Beyond the hundreds of hours put in by incredibly dedicated volunteers, there are costs associated with the fireworks, set up, clean up and the police overtime. Those who attend should help pay for it.

    • One clarification here, Jennifer, regarding police overtime. Though it’s true that the town makes no direct contribution to the fund for the Family Fourth, which is built and maintained through sales of passes, I believe there’s an understanding where the many of the police who work the event agree to take compensation time from the town in exchange. As I recall, in 2014, amid difficult CBA negotiations with the police union, none of the officers working the event took the comp time option, and that put a strain on the fund (I want to say it cost the town $18,000 to staff the event, as opposed to the usual $10,000). So, while the town doesn’t necessarily pay into the fund, it offers comp time to police which saves money for the Committee.

    • I have lived in NC for 30 years and have never known of the fireworks to be underfunded. I have also purchased a pass in each of those years to pay our fair share even if we were not going to be around. Maybe the town should explore a dome over Waveny so the “free riders” are not able to see the fireworks from outside the park.

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