Setting boundaries for commissions

Borough board to decide who oversees what parks

NAUGATUCK — When it comes to the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve, the Park Commission and Conservation Commission are two boards divided.

Park Commission Chairman Linda Ramos came before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses last week to discuss an ongoing disagreement between the two commissions have in regards to who should oversee Gunntown, the 40-acre open space parcel off of Gunntown Road.

Ramos contends, since the land is technically a park, it falls under the purview of the Park Commission.

“We, the commission, feel that we should probably oversee some of the events there to make sure there is a start and a finish and is consistent with a positive reaction with what you are doing,” Ramos said.

Len Yannielli, who is the community outreach director for the volunteer committee that maintains Gunntown and author of “Hurry Down Gunntown,” which tells the land’s history, contends that the park should be under the control of the Conservation Commission, since it is a designated passive park.

“We support the move of the authority of all passive space and waterways to the Conservation Commission. The Park Commission is geared toward sports and other active recreation. This passive open space is not the place for those activities,” Yannielli said in an interview following the meeting.

Ramos said the issue came to a tipping point when the Park Commission was trying to host events for the City Hill Middle School Wingman Program at Gunntown.

Ramos said the Park Commission felt the Conservation Commission was trying to impose strict rules on what the program could do, including how many people could be at the park and the type of activities it could host.

The program ultimately decided to not use Gunntown, Ramos said.

“It was decided it was too much of a struggle between Gunntown and what they want to do with the Wingman project. It shouldn’t be. It should never have been a negative. It should have always stayed a positive. It is for a very good program,” Ramos said.

Yannielli said he believed the Park Commission pulled the program from Gunntown voluntarily and it had nothing to do with the Conservation Commission.

According to Yannielli, state statutes give the Conservation Commission the right to decide what type of activities take place at Gunntown and how it can be used.

Yannielli pointed to state statute 7-131A, which says a conservation commission “may supervise and manage municipally-owned open space or park property” if delegated to do so by the entity that controls it, which, in this case, is the borough.

“The Park Commission gets the active spaces and the Conservation Commission gets the land with no hard or impermeable surfaces,” Yannielli said.

Yannielli said the Park Commission currently has authority over about a dozen parks throughout the borough. He said, by the Conservation Commission taking control of Gunntown and the passive space at Andrew Mountain Park off of Andrew Mountain Road, it frees the Park Commission up to focus on what they already have.

“They are going to be relieved to see other commissions stepping in to help. It is silly to have it all under one commission,” Yannielli said. “The town is growing and these are the types of things you work out as a town grows.”

However, Ramos contends the Park Commission is still able to offer passive activities at open space parks such as Gunntown.

“I think we need to do kite flying. We need to do all those passive, enjoyable sports you can do which are not baseball or football,” Ramos said. “I checked into passive parks. That’s what they do. They have picnics, they are quite. The owls don’t mind, the birds don’t mind, it’s a really quaint atmosphere.”

Conservation Commission Chairman Melissa Leonard said the commission has no issue with the way the current Park Commission and Parks and Recreation Department employees handle passive open space. She said the commission’s main concern is that the members of the Park Commission and employees will change and may not be as well-informed, open-minded and sensitive to the needs of passive open space as the current members.

“We feel that, given the nature of the tasks and responsibilities of the Conservation Commission, future Conservation Commission members will always be supportive of the need for, and use of, passive open space whereas future Park Commission members may be more active open space-minded,” she said. “Therefore, the Conservation Commission is the more suitable commission to oversee passive open space. That’s how it’s divided in quite a few towns around us, including Beacon Falls and Shelton.”

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the Board of Mayor and Burgesses would hear presentations and arguments from both commissions at an upcoming meeting.

“We have two well-intentioned groups that have a different philosophy and we are going to have to make the decision,” Hess said.

Leonard said Hess’ idea is fair.

“No matter the outcome, it’s our commission’s intention to work with the Park Commission when it comes to passive open space,” Leonard said. “That’s the best solution for our town.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Conservation Commission Chairman Melissa Leonard that were received after press time.

Correction: The story published in the July 14 print edition incorrectly stated that the Park Commission pulled the Wingman Program from Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve. The story has been corrected to reflect that the Wingman Program decided to not use Gunntown.