NORWALK, Conn. — Comments made by Cranbury Park neighbors Wednesday in opposition to the proposed Go Ape! Treetop Adventure were later characterized as “ludicrous” by Common Council Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee Chairman Travis Simms (D-District B).
About 40 people were present for the committee’s public hearing for the proposed Cranbury Park Treetop Adventure, which includes a zip line, and the proposed Veteran’s Park skating rink, and most speakers were dead set against the Cranbury proposal. Council members later approved sending the skating rink to the full Council for a vote. They took no action on the proposed zip line, as they had promised the crowd earlier, but Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae announced a surprise for them after they had been laboring for about 2½ hours, with the room almost empty of spectators.
Two of the three people watching were Go Ape! representatives, he said.
“If you have any questions prior to the vote next month, I think they can answer them for you,” Mocciae said.
Mocciae said he didn’t “hear anything really big” from the naysayers earlier.
“You didn’t get stopped by an angry mob outside, though,” Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) said, with a laugh.
“But then again, there’s not 85,000 people out there, either,” Mocciae said. “There’s 10 or 15 people who live in Cranbury.”
The eco-adventure’s driveway has been planned for off Grumman Avenue opposite Live Oak Road.
“I don’t think I would have chosen that neighborhood if I had known it was going in,” Live Oak resident Andrew Troetti said earlier. “I would not have chosen the neighborhood if I knew the parking lot was going in.”
“Why this place, why this spot?” Troetti said, adding that the proposal “doesn’t make sense.”
Patty Ruffo said she grew up near Norwalk Hospital and chose to live in Cranbury because it’s quiet. Her children would be unsafe in their own driveway because the “zip line” would be directly in front of her home, she said. People park in the street, she said.
Several speakers alleged that the treetop adventure would make Cranbury Elementary School children unsafe.
“I think the zip line should die on the vine,” Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said, standing in the back of the room with the public and garnering applause for his remarks. There’s been “zero public cry” for a zip line and the people who visit the adventure would not venture further into Norwalk to patronize the restaurants or shop, he said.
Mike Mushak spoke in favor of the proposal, saying he had used a zip line while visiting Vancouver. The “fears” of the neighbors need to be addressed, he said.
Some audience members snickered as he talked. The zip line would raise their property values, Mushak said.
David Rinaldi, a Stonehenge Road resident, immediately followed Mushak, passionately asserting that Go Ape! would only bring in $23,000 a year for Norwalk. That would not be enough to pick up the garbage created, he said.
Most people who use the course would not be Norwalk residents, he said.
Tonya Steiner said she had recently purchased a home on Live Oak after years of research.
“If I wanted my children to go to an urban elementary school I would not have bought a home near Cranbury Park,” she said.
She called the proposal “devastating,” and her voice broke.
“These are not fears, this is my life,” she said. “I spent my life savings on this home and this zip line will crush it. … It’s crushing. You are impacting everybody’s homes.”
“We hear your concerns,” Simms said, closing the public hearing.
He had gone to visit with other Council members, he said, calling some of the concerns “extremely valid” but adding that the 80 parking spots would not be where originally expected.
“Everyone will come into the entrance on the Wilton side,” he said. “… I think that would take care that part of the concern from a lot of the folks.”
Mocciae later said the park was not being commercialized, as asserted by Joanne Horvath, but that the master plan was being completed.
Residents were given every opportunity to weigh in on the master plan, he said.
“We are not prohibiting anything. We are not making it any louder than the users with their dogs that are fighting on the paths,” Mocciae said.
Less than 1 percent of the city’s budget goes to Recreation and Parks, he said.
“There is no supervisor at Cranbury Park during the day. If you are worried about ‘strangers,’ anybody can walk the trails during the day. They can go to the school ground and be a lunatic. I can’t stop them,” Mocciae said.
Rinaldi’s claim of $23,000 a year was inaccurate, he said. There’s a potential for $200,000 if the city allows him to charge for parking, and with potential rentals to the bunk house, he said.
“I am not going to book double events so there will never be a time where we are going to have people parking on Live Oak. I have never seen that, ever. In 32 years I have never seen somebody park on Live Oak and walk into the park. Absurd,” Mocciae said.
“I thought a lot of (the comments were) hysteria because they don’t want anything in their neighborhood,” Mocciae said. “… I have yet to see a downside to this.”
Simms said he had had concerns after the last meeting, where the neighbors expressed anger, but the site visit had allayed his worries.
“Right now there is no foliage on the trees. … You saw far in the woods, you cannot see the road, you cannot see the houses, you cannot see in, nor can you even hear what is out there,” Simms said.
There were 100 kids in the school yard screaming and they could hardly be heard, he said. When there are leaves on the trees the sound will not carry, he said.
A neighbor had said that the master plan showed a trail through the woods, from the zip-line area to the school; Mocciae said it had never been built because it was discovered that it ran through a wetland.
Councilman Mike DePalma (D-District D) said he had met with the neighbors. They were still angry but feeling better about it, he said. Maybe if some of the income were used to fund a security guard for the park it would help, he said.
“It will happen,” Mocciae said, asserting that city government is different now than what it was a few years ago.
The committee agreed that they would go visit the nearest Go Ape! adventure, in New Britain.
Then they will vote on the idea next month.