‘Great’ or ‘troubling’? Mixed reviews from Greenwich neighbors on new plans for ice rink in west end of town

GREENWICH — At its first review before the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, plans to build a new municipal ice rink got mixed reviews from the public.

A revised plan to build a rink on the same site as the Dorothy Hamill Ice Rink went before the commission Tuesday, where some neighbors expressed concerns about blasting and traffic associated with the proposed facility.

The current rink, built 50 years ago, has become too old to continue using, officials said. The proposed new ice rink would be 200 feet long, the regulation size for high school and college hockey teams. The current Hamill rink measures 185 feet in length.

The plan by the town would regrade the property and eliminate a small berm off Sue Mertz Way so that the ice rink would be level with nearby parking and not require handicap ramps.

“We would be lowering that section of the property to put the rink in,” said Alan Monelli, superintendent of building construction for the town.

The regrading of the property will require blasting, Monelli said.

The issue of blasting through rock was troubling to one neighbor, Mark Fichtel.

“How much damage is going to be done to the neighborhood with the blasting?” he asked. He said he also had concerns about traffic associated with the project.

The rink replacement also received support from a number of community residents.

“We think this is a very good plan,” said Joe Kantorski, president of the Byram Neighborhood Association.

“I think this is a great thing for the town. This is great for the younger generation,” said Brett Atkinson, a hockey fan.

The town could be without an ice rink for up to three years while construction takes place. Town leaders have been considering a temporary solution to make up the lost ice time, perhaps through an additional facility elsewhere in the community.

When completed, the new ice rink would be operational 11 months of the year, not just during the cold-weather months.

The planning commission requested information on traffic and the number of potential users, especially when the rink opens the ice to the general public for open session skating.

A full application will be filed by the town administration at a later date. The new rink project, which includes new locker rooms and improved seating, could cost in the $17 million range, according to estimates.

Plans to replace the Dorothy Hammill rink have not been an easy discussion. While most people have agreed that the rink needs upgrades, the details have pitted neighbor against town against fans.

Don Sylvester, head of the Byran Veterans Association, said early plans would have had an impact on Eugene Morlot Memorial Park.

“We’re all for a new rink. It’s how they’re doing it that we’re objecting to. They created this tension,” Sylvester said in November, after the committee overseeing the project backed a new 40,500-square-foot municipal ice rink on the site of the Strazza baseball field.

That plan was scrapped, to be replaced by a plan to build an updated rink in the footprint of the current one despite committee opposition because the town would go without a rink during the several years of construction.

Razing the old and rebuilding a new rink was the plan presented this week to Planning and Zoning. But part of the current debate is how to preserve skating during the estimated time the rink would be out of commission.

Under the new plan, the town would build a second rink for the three seasons lost because of construction. Bill Drake, chair of the Rink User Committee for Design and Planning, said finding a spot for the replacement would be a challenge.

“This would be a full-size but simpler practice rink without the quality amenities of the new Hamill, such as a scoreboard or spectator seating. (First selectman Fred) Camillo and everyone would naturally prefer that this second rink be perennial rather than be thrown away after three years,” he said earlier this month.

The revised plans call for construction of the new Hamill rink to begin in October 2024 with completion by January 2027 at the earliest.

One of the reasons for the delay is Camillo did not include any funds for development of the ice rink plans in his proposed 2022-23 municipal budget. Instead, the $950,000 for design plans would be deferred to the next fiscal year, he said.

This story contains prior reporting by staff writer Ken Borsuk.

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