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New Canaanites not cool with nonresidents at pool

Updated 1:12 pm, Thursday, September 5, 2013

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  • Some New Canaan residents are upset that the town has allowed nonresidents to buy passes to use the Waveny Park pool. Photo: Contributed
    Some New Canaan residents are upset that the town has allowed nonresidents to buy passes to use the Waveny Park pool. Photo: Contributed

 

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New Canaan residents are hot and bothered by the newcomers to the Waveny pool, and, as of Aug. 30, 114 of them have signed a petition on change.org asking that passes not be sold to nonresidents.

"The Waveny Town Pool is a New Canaan treasure," the petition reads. "Our New Canaan tax dollars pay for the Town pool therefore it should only be available to people who live in New Canaan. We strongly urge the Parks and Recreation Commission to discontinue its policy of selling non-resident pool passes. Thank you."

On June 18, the Board of Selectmen approved a plan to sell 100 family passes to nonresidents with a price of $500 per pass.

Recreation Director Steve Benko, who had not heard of the petition until the New Canaan News brought it to his attention Aug. 30, said the pool is not funded with taxpayer dollars. It is one of the many aspects of the petition he takes issue with.

"The pool is (operated from) an enterprise fund, people aren't taxed for the pool," Benko said. "It operates on its own; no tax dollars are put into it in the budget."

Pool revenue pays not just for the operating expenses but also for the principal on the 20-year bond the town issued in 2002 to build it. The town covers the interest payments, according to Benko.

Those who signed the petition offered a wide range of complaints, some of the most common claiming that the pool is now more crowded and less clean.

"The Town Pool is a `Town Resident' amenity that is paid for by our property tax dollars," petitioner Jill Pescatore wrote on the site. "I am appalled that the Town would even consider letting non residents join. Since the pool has been open to non residents, I have noticed a complete change in dynamic. If the pool needs additional funding (which I dont believe it does) then increase the price for the residents slightly. Our residents need to band together and oppose this going forward."

[All comments are written as they appeared on the site.]

Attendance at the pool has been slipping in recent years, Benko said. Prior to 2009 and the financial crisis, the town sold between 800 and 850 family passes per year. In 2009, that number fell to 660 and has risen only modestly since then, with about 720 passes sold for the 2013 season. Since the pool is not funded through the municipal budget, Benko said he looked to other means of financing the operation, eventually asking town officials for permission to sell a limited number of passes to nonresidents.

The 100 passes sold out in six hours, according to Benko, raising $50,000 in a day for the operation, which has a budget of roughly $355,000. New Canaanites pay $385 for the same pass.

"July Fourth weekend people stepped over each other on the lawn and in the water because there is no more room," petitioner Ken R. wrote. "Importantly -- the number of people in the pool exceeds the number of lifeguards who are safely in place to watch over bathers."

Benko acknowledged the pool was busy on the weekend following July 4, but said that was the only crowded weekend of the summer and that the pool is never understaffed.

"That's not true. If anything, I got criticized for (having) too many lifeguards. If it's busy, I've got all five lifeguards plus a deck guard plus a guard at the kiddie pool," he said. "There are these rumors people are putting out and they're not true and it's not fair."

At Darien's Weed Beach, there may be between three and five lifeguards on patrol during busy times of the summer. The swimming area at Weed Beach is about 490 linear feet, Darien's Parks and Recreation Director Sue Swiatek said. A season parking sticker costs $40 per car for residents and $40 a day for nonresidents, according to Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation Jim Coghlan.

One petitioner on the New Canaan petition dissented strongly with the others.

"As a person who purchased a pass for the Waveny Pool, I am shocked and indeed disgusted by the comments I have read here," wrote a woman who identified herself as Kate Morin from Norwalk. "I have been to the pool many times this summer and have never found it crowded. Here is what I have noticed -- my children are not welcomed into games of basketball, they are ignored by other children when they ask to play with them, I have been used as a base during many tag games with children grabbing onto the back of my chair and then racing between chairs and around, bumping into myself and our family, with no apology. I watched a mother (wearing a NC Rams hat) hold her child over a grate and let her urinate, rather than walking to the bathroom, I have watched groups of mothers chatting as their children blatantly eat and also run on the deck against policies."

Each person who commented on the petition was either called for comment for this story or was not listed in the White Pages. None of the more than a dozen people called wanted to comment for the story, and none of the voicemail messages were returned.

A frequent complaint by petitioners was that there was seemingly no discussion on the issue and no chance for the public to weigh in on the decision to open up the pool. The decision had been discussed at the May 8 and June 12 meetings of the Parks and Recreation Commission and, as mentioned earlier, discussed and passed at the Board of Selectmen June 18.

Town Council Chairman Mark DeWaele said he's planning on placing a discussion of the decision on the agenda for the Sept. 18 Town Council meeting, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the New Canaan Nature Center.

"I was frankly surprised when I read it in the paper that that decision had been made by the commission, I would have thought they'd reach out to the council before making that decision," he said.

The process by which the change was made was a frequent concern, but several petitioners also made mention of a larger change to the pool's atmosphere.

"The appeal of living in New Canaan is the community life style," petitioner Wayne Hartslief, who also noted the crowded conditions of the pool, wrote. "This community lifestyle no longer exists at Waveny with the opening of New Canaan amenities to non-residents."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews