Dog park still looking for a home in Stratford

July 12, 2016 GMT

STRATFORD — Two weeks ago the Park and Recreation Committee announced that it had found the perfect spot for a dog park in town — in a vacant lot behind the waste treatment plant at the foot of Birdseye Street.

Now those plans are all but torn to shreds. The Town Council on Monday night agreed that that the the waste treatment plant location was less than ideal and voted to refer the matter back to the Park and Recreation Committee.

They decided to reject the P&R recommendation after it became clear that Animal Control Officer Rachel Solviera wasn’t consulted on the matter.

Solviera told the council that the location behind the sewage plant was too close to the town’s Animal Respite and Control Facility and that it might confound efforts to train dogs that wind up there, many of which are difficult to handle a first.

“We have a program that’s been highly successful — averaging about two to three weeks per dog, which is something of a miracle,” she said. “We have a national award-winning facility and we have to work hard to reduce stress for the shelter animals. But having a dog park that close to the shelter will compound the stress on our animals and send our progress backwards.”

Council members said that they weren’t too keen on have a dog park on such an out-of-the-way lot in the first place. Of course the dogs wouldn’t mind too much, but their human companions might have other ideas.

“It’s not the most pleasant place in town,” said Council Chairwoman Beth Daponte of the sewer plant site. “One of the reasons for having a dog park is to create a community among people with shared interest, so you do want it to make a pleasant and fun experience for people involved.”

Several council members said that they were leaning to a location in Longbrook Park owing to its central location.

In other action the question of what to do with the long-shuttered Center School precipitated a confusing discussion on a $1.2 million state development grant obtained by the Mayor John Harkins to be used to test the school for asbestos, PCBs and other toxins.

First, the council agreed to request proposals on a study to determine the feasibility of getting Center School up and running again as a school, something that the Harkins administration is dead-set against. But most council members said that they favor having a neighborhood school in the center of town.

“There seems to be a strong consensus and sentiment on that,” Daponte said. “Even before I was elected to the council, there was a lot of resistance to razing Center School. So the council wanted to make sure that the town wasn’t going to demolish the structure.”

But Harkins was worried that the $1.2 million grant would be jeopardized depending on how the council resolution was worded. That concern was resolved by the end of the meeting, but Harkins and the council remain miles apart on what to do with the Center School site.

“It’s a horrible place to have a school, and not only that, the School Board decided that it was an outmoded, contaminated and unnecessary building, too,” Harkins said, adding that his team’s plan to turn the schoolyard into a “transit-oriented development” with a parking garage, apartments, shops and the like would be the best move to make.

“The fact is, Center School was decommissioned by the School Board back in ’05 — they don’t need it,” Harkins said. “We need more parking downtown and we’re looking to reinvigorate the center, but the council is listening to a handful of people, as opposed to looking at the needs of the entire town.”

But Daponte a Democrat, who was schooled there as a child, said that people with children living in the center of town are weary of sending their children to far-flung schools every day.

“There is no feeder school at all in that neighborhood and having a school downtown would be a wise move,” she said echoing the comments of several council members. “And the administration has not kept the council in the loop. Too many questions.”

Tina Manus, the Dist. 10 Democrat, was even more blunt.

“He’s gonna do bad things to it, mark my word,” Manus said after the meeting. “Something is going to happen to it and that school is going to come down.”

Monday’s meeting got off to an uncomfortable start when Dist. Democrat Tina Manus attempted to topple Daponte as the council chairwoman. This was over a comment that Daponte allegedly made in a closed door meeting prior to the June 13 meeting it which she reportedly said: “(Expletive) the South End.”

“My comment was made in anger — in a private conversation — after council member (Walli) Kadeem (the Dist. 3 Democrat) asked for $500,000 of pork for his district — part of it was for Juliette Low Park and part of it was for a splash park — things that already got money,” Daponte said. “And this was after he voted for a zero tax increase a month earlier.”

She said that money was badly needed in the town’s capital improvement plan to re-roof Bunnell High School instead. “That roof is in bad shape and now — during the summer — is the time to take care of it.”

But Manus said after the meeting that she can’t support anyone who utters “hate speech.”

“Once that goes on record — Wali said publicly that it happened in the meeting — you can’t leave that unchecked,” Manus said. “I will not sit in my council chair and condone hate speech. She chose to pick on the poorest people in town.”

Manus’ bid to push Daponte out of the top chair failed on a 5-3 vote with Kadeem, Manus and Republican Mitzi Antezzo voting in favor of the effort.

“There’s bit of civil war going on in the Democratic party in town,” observed Dist. 8 Republican Vincent Chase. “It’s nonstop with the shots that they take at her, and a lot of it is uncalled for.”