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New Canaan's Pool: Elitist Restriction or the Ruination of a Beloved Amenity


Roughly a month ago, on the online petition organizing website Change.org, a user named "Friends of the Waveny Pool" took to the site—typically reserved for raising awareness about human rights and other similar issues—to call for action against the New Canaan Parks & Recreation Commission and the town itself to stop the sale of pool passes to non-residents

"The Waveny Town Pool is a New Canaan treasure. 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 Wednesday evening, the Town Council took up the topic briefly to discuss the process used to come to the decision to sell passes to out-of-towners. Mainly, conversation centered around whether the council should have been consulted prior to the decision to sell the passes being made.

"This item on the agenda is really about our looking at the process, not looking at the issues around it," said Chairman Dr. Mark DeWaele. "As a prior chairman of the Parks & Rec Commission, hearing about this vote that was taken at the Parks & Rec relative to this made me think, 'What is the ability of the Parks & Rec Commission to make a decision like this?"

DeWaele said he spoke with the town attorney to discuss the Park & Recreation Commissions ability to begin selling passes in regards to what is outlined in the charter and whether or not the issue had to appear before the council. 

Attorney Ira Bloom attended the council meeting and explained that, while town charter dictates the use of parks is restricted to New Canaan residents and their guests, there may be Connecticut Supreme Court precedent that establishes it is unlawful for anyone to be restricted access. 

"The Parks and Rec Commission shall exercise the following powers: They can recommend to the Selectmen, for adoption by the Town Council, such by-laws or ordinances pertaining to public recreation and use of parks," said Bloom. "I think that's very clear. Parks and Rec can recommend to the Selectmen for final adoption by this town council. That should be the process that's followed."

Bloom said he believed the Parks and Rec Commission approached the Selectmen with a fee proposal, but the Town Council would still have to weigh in on the decision in pursuant to the charter. However, he brought up a section of New Canaan code and the case of 

"There's a code section that we have on the books... which says the use of parks shall be restricted to New Canaan residents, property owners or their guests," he said. "That is something that I think you should look at and refer to your ordinance committee because there's a good argument that that kind of prohibition on out-of-towners in town parks is not allowed in the State of Connecticut."

Bloom referred to the 2001 case of Brenden P. Leydon v. Town of Greenwich et al, in which a man jogging through Greenwich Point was denied admission to the park as he was not a resident and successfully sued that the park was a public forum and his first amendment rights permitted his presence. 

"The government basically can not exclude a speaker from such a public forum unless it has a compelling state interest," Bloom said of the court's decision. "I think it's something you should take a second look at."

Council member Kenneth Campbell said he agreed everyone must have access to the parks, but that ruling did not include to the amenities provided within them. 

"I was on the Parks and Rec Commission when that ruling came down and I think the state might agree with me that the interpretation we had then was that, yes, out-of-town residents could have access to the park, but they couldn't have access to facilities that were in the park, such as the swimming pool," Campbell said. "So, yeah, they could go into the park, but that doesn't mean they could walk into the swimming pool."

The petition, now closed, garnered 132 signatures and incited a bit of a backlash from news outlets and the online community with people calling the sentiment elitist and possibly rooted in racism. Comments on the site in favor of denying out-of-towners access to the pool include things like the following from user "Liz Squillante":

"The town pool is a town "amenity". It attracts buyers and subsequentlyraises (sic) home sale prices. It has the feeling now of more of a "Fairfield County community" pool rather than a small town gathering place. If people are choosing between the pool of New Canaan or the pool AND beaches of Darien or Norwalk, why not pick one of the other towns? It no longer has the appeal and allure of being a town ammenity (sic). I feel this matter should have been presented to the public and allowed for comment before the town officials made such a huge decision. There could have been/should have been options available to the people of New Canaan before this step was taken."
Or this one, from user "Jill Pescatore": 

"The Town Pool is a "Town Resident " amenity that is paid for by our property tax dollars. 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 (sic) believe it does) then increase the price for the residents slightly. Our residents need to band together and oppose this going forward. As a comparison, I cannot obtain a beach pass at the Westport or Darien beaches."
Detractors to the sentiment, like the response from Kate Morin" out of Norwalk, say they face a lot of exclusion when utilizing the facility as a non-resident: 

"As a person who purchased a pass for the Waveny Pool, I am shocked and indeed disgusted by the comments I have read here. 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. I have seen many cars pull up and drop off children who are clearly under the age of 12. The bathrooms are gross, but never more so than right after a swim practice, which is only available to residents. There were only two umbrellas available for half of the summer. The only reason the passes were made available was because when the pool was built it should have been sustained by resident fees. Many residents did not buy season passes, and they needed to get the money from somewhere. Those of us that purchased the passes have followed the rules, have expected our children to include others in their games, would never use a stranger as a base, and above all we watch our children and remind them where they are to eat, and not to run and to politely apologize. Oh, and as an aside you can get onto any beach in Fairfield county, you just have to pay, which is what we have done to get into the Waveny pool. I am only signing this as I unable to comment without doing so."
So what are your thoughts, New Canaan? Is the consensus that only New Canaan residents should have access to the pool, or was this outcry the work of a vocal minority? I want to hear your thoughts in the comments. 
Richard Cranium September 19, 2013 at 07:44 AM
These inclusion programs are a great way to raise funds and serve a wider, lofty goal of achieving social equality. Another proposal is too open up up enrollment of our top performing schools to residents of Norwalk for a nominal fee. We all should strive to embrace diversity and to spread the wealth around. Our town should also enforce mandatory acceptance of members to its country clubs at a substantial discounted fee for low income residents of the Bronx who deserve a slice of the good life that we have all been accustomed to by the good blessings of The Lord.
Chris September 19, 2013 at 01:08 PM
Set a limit on the number of passes each year in order to foster the appropriate 'dynamic' we all want at the pool. Offer those passes 1st to New Canaan residents and then offer the remainder to non-residents at a premium. Done, let's move on. The elitist argument is so annoying...
Darcy Fitzpatrick September 19, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Seriously the elitist argument is old., before we had the pool we used to buy one of the limited pool passes at a higher rate in Pound Ridge. no one had anything to say to us.
Tom September 19, 2013 at 04:48 PM
The first question one must ask is why is attendance by New Canaan families down so significantly? I offer as a reason the poor management of the pool facility. I have seen the pool manager berating both life guards as well as families. In the years that we were memebers we were constantly being attacked by bees in the manadatory eating area. I have never seen any effort made by management to stem the number of bees. Luckily none of us are allergic to bees but I have been stung there. I think it is time to examine the management more closely. I don't support life long jobs for non performance. Fix the management and I might come back. Personally I am sick and tired of the elitist cheap shot approach that people adopt. My family works very hard to live in this community and I don't believe in this free lunch mentality of the entitlement society.
Four Jacks September 19, 2013 at 05:06 PM
This is only my opinion... I don't think that people have abandoned the pool to join country clubs or because they have installed pools. My opinion is that budgets are still tight for many families in this town, and $385 is still unaffordable given the number of times they may visit the pool, for example, if they visit the pool only 10 times, it is $38.50/visit. As a homeowner with a pool, I contributed to the initial fund because I felt that such an amenity would be an asset to NC and especially for those families without a pool. Growing up, we went to a County Pool, which was really fun! I think that we need to find a way to visit for a day for a fee, or buy a 10 visit pass, or think of some other creative way to increase attendance. Though it is said that the pool is funded by monies raised by passes, it is still supported by taxpayer dollars, we pay the salaries of the Rec. Dept. employees (Mr. Benko and Mr. Kapp), and the town pays the interest on the bonds. My opinion is that this should remain a town amenity for residents only, this is very common practice across the USA.
Hope September 20, 2013 at 10:36 AM
It would be nice if there was a second pool in front of the senior center for adults only with lounge chairs, tea time and classical trios playing.
Chris September 21, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Fwiw, I think $385 for a resident family season pass is quite reasonable and doubt very much that this cost is prohibitive to most families in our community. I would support a daily pass option though. We have a pool and, while we wouldn't pay for a season pass, we would like to be able to stop by a couple of times each year for the social aspect and for a change of pace. And it sounds like a change of management and/or operational practices is in order.

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