Park & Rec reluctantly supports letting C&C car show shift gears to Waveny
Five years ago, Caffeine & Carburetors was a small car show in downtown New Canaan, where about 30 drivers would gather outside Zumbach's Gourmet Coffee, 77 Pine St., on a Sunday morning for a cup of joe and some car talk.
As the years went by, however, the event has grown so popular -- drawing hundreds of cars and thousands of people -- that the town is no longer able to staff each of the planned shows with adequate police staffing.
So Doug Zumbach, the event's founder and owner of the eponymous coffee shop, asked the Park and Recreation Commission this week if next month's planned event could take place at Waveny Park, where police said is easier to control traffic.
Despite strong opposition by several commission members, the panel voted 4-3 Wednesday to recommend that Caffeine & Carburetors take place at the park Oct. 19 as a one-time trial.
One of the advantages of having the show at the park is that "it's a very contained facility," where police could staff it with two or three officers, Capt. Vincent DeMaio told the commission. He attended the meeting to explain why the event can no longer be held six times a year in the center of town.
"It clogs up the intersection while they're moving in," DeMaio said. "Once everyone is in place, it's pretty easy to maintain, but I have to staff that with a minimum of five officers for safety reasons in case something does goes wrong ... I have to have additional officers specifically for that event."
Zumbach said he's always paid for the additional police officers, but the town does not have enough officers available to staff six large car shows every year in the downtown area.
The commission's recommendation now goes to the town's Special Events Committee, which is likely to approve the plan as early as next week.
The commissioners opposed to the idea were mostly concerned about whether the park could handle thousands of people at once and whether the gathering would benefit the town at all. Commission Chairman Sally Campbell said participants likely would get on the Merritt Parkway as soon as the event ends instead of going downtown for brunch.
"This is an event that is drawing people from all over the Northeast, and there's exposure in the fact that it's in New Canaan, but it's really not benefitting our merchants," she said.
Zumbach disagreed, saying many participants would want to see the rest of the town. "Fifty percent of people will," he estimated.
Recent Caffeine & Carburetors events have spread through Pine and Elm streets as well as Morse Court, which officials said helps drive many shoppers and diners to downtown restaurants and stores. Tucker Murphy, executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview Thursday that restaurants offering breakfast meals certainly "see a spike in business."
"It's an event that allows the downtown area to really shine, people to see the decorated windows, the range of stores we have," she said.
Murphy noted that she would be willing to hand out fliers or downtown maps at Waveny Park to encourage people to visit the downtown area.
Commissioner Joan Guzzetti said she was "more concerned about the impact on the park" if thousands of people show up. The average estimated number of auto enthusiasts who come to the shows is between 2,000 and 3,000, according to Zumbach.
"I'm not sure we have enough parking to accommodate everyone," Guzzetti said, noting that the New Canaan High School parking lot might provide "a much wider space."
As for the number of cars, Zumbach said the gathering usually attracts up to 700 vehicles.
Starting next year, he's hoping to have two gatherings downtown and two elsewhere -- possibly Waveny Park, if next month's trial proves a success. After he failed to get permission for a June event downtown, Caffeine & Carburetors had a special event at Lime Rock Park that month.
Besides the high school, another alternative location suggested Wednesday was the lumberyard lot downtown. But Zumbach said the park is much more "attractive."
"I think it's an asset of this community and why not show it off to another person who's never been to this community?" he said. "Maybe they'll have a wedding here one day."
He said the gathering, which is non-commercial and not-competitive, has gained national recognition though newspaper and magazine articles. (Coverage of the latest Caffeine & Carburetors event by the New Canaan News is here: http://bit.ly/1pXz4tO.)
"I think it brings a lot of attention to this town. It brings individuals who have never been to this community," he said. "It draws people to this community from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Long Island. The farthest has been North Carolina."
Zumbach said he counted the spaces in the park and found up to 700 spots, excluding the grass areas. Recreation Director Stephen Benko said the number is well within the park's capacity, since his department sells about 1,500 passes for New Canaan's annual Family Fourth fireworks event.
The commission's positive recommendation comes with requirements that parking be limited to hard surfaces or on the grass areas where parking is currently allowed during large events and that impact of the show be reviewed at the commission's November meeting.
Benko said vehicles would park in the parking lots, the circle in front of Waveny House and the road leading to Lapham Road while spectators may park at the high school or at the Waveny Pool lot.
Campbell, however, still was concerned that Zumbach has "no idea how many cars are coming," noting that by selling passes, like for the Family Fourth, he would know how many vehicles to expect. Zumbach said he would not consider pre-registering cars.
Commissioners also questioned Zumbach and DeMaio about the possibility of litter by the crowd. The captain, however, said Zumbach's crew is efficient in picking up garbage left after the event.
"Based on the history of the event, while it does create some volume as it's occurring, it's a very low-impact event," DeMaio said. "We never get any complaints about trash."
Though the event officially starts at 8 a.m., some people arrive as early as 6:30 a.m., Zumbach said, but they all know it ends at 11:30. "It's one of the draws of the event," he said. "It's short, it's compact and it's busy." Then by noon, he added, "you wouldn't know that we were even there."
Murphy said she has seen overflowing garbage cans in the wake of the event, but the trash was contained in the cans not on the ground. She also said overcrowded events is a "very good problem" for a town to have. "They translate into a town that's very active, very robust."
Some commissioners disagree. "Obviously, it has grown too big for the town," Campbell told Zumbach.
Commissioner Richard Kilbride, who joined the meeting via telephone, was not allowed to vote, but he said he opposed the recommendation.
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