Tesei takes walking tours to get resident perspective

First Selectman Peter Tesei took notes of resident issues as part of his ongoing tour of town. — John Ferris Robben photo

First Selectman Peter Tesei took notes of resident issues as part of his ongoing tour of town.
— John Ferris Robben photo

Looking for a sense of the community’s priorities before the process for the 2014-15 municipal budget really kicks into gear, First Selectman Peter Tesei has begun a series of walking tours around town to meet with residents.

Mr. Tesei, who is running for re-election for a fourth term this fall, kicked off the tours on Sept. 6 at Hamilton Avenue School. After meeting with members of the Chickahominy Association and other residents for more than an hour inside the school, Mr. Tesei walked around with them outside to get a first-hand look at what was concerning them.

This continued on this past Monday in Cos Cob and on Tuesday in Pemberwick and will happen again tomorrow, Sept. 20, at 10:30 a.m. for northwest Greenwich at the Griff Harris Golf Course, and Old Greenwich at 2 at the entrance to Binney Park at the corner of Arch Street and Sound Beach Avenue. Additional meetings are set for Sept. 23 at 10 a.m. in Byram and Sept. 30 at 10 a.m. in Riverside.

While the residents of Chickahominy had plenty to say about issues like traffic and parking, it was police protection that dominated the discussion on Sept. 6. Several residents said that they wanted to see more patrols in the area, noting both noise complaints and drug activity. Lisa Perri said this was a particular problem at the basketball court near the school.

“Starting after school and especially when it’s dark, there’s a bunch of teenagers who are trashing the place, setting things on fire, smoking marijuana and probably doing a lot more than that at night,” Ms. Perri said. “I know this has been going on for years and I’ve called many times. All I ask is for some police presence. If they see the police officers not just sitting in the car but coming out with the drug-sniffing dog it will scare the kids. Nothing is scaring them and I can’t even walk my dog there because there’s broken glass, there’s trash all over the place. It’s ridiculous. It shouldn’t be this way.”

Ms. Perri claimed that when she calls the police they don’t come right away and, when they do, the people responsible are gone. Ms. Perri agreed with Mr. Tesei’s suggestion that cameras there might help and said there should also be more lights because of how dark the court area is at night.

During the meeting, one parent said that, as Mr. Tesei was speaking, he witnessed a drug transaction take place near the playground at Hamilton Avenue School.

“When I’m waiting in the car to pick up my son I see drug deals happen all the time on Hamilton Avenue,” the parent, who preferred not to give his name, said. “I don’t understand why the police can’t send an undercover unit to come here once school lets out to make some arrests. You’ve got to start cracking down on the drug problem. It’s happening not just on Hamilton Avenue but throughout Byram and Chickahominy.”

Diana Roina said existing police patrols of the area aren’t sufficient, claiming they’re “five minutes in and five minutes out.” Mr. Tesei said this led to questions about whether there was adequate police manpower to meet the needs of residents versus the desire to keep taxes low, and it was one of the reasons he was doing this to help with the budget.

There were also other issues discussed. Mr. Tesei and Sylvester Pecora, president of the Chickahominy Association, who helped put the meeting together, walked outside to look at the playground’s sloping hill, which is an issue that predates the construction of the new school. Mr. Pecora explained that 20 feet of the hill was removed to bring the garage closer and it’s created a six-foot ditch from the playground to the garage that hasn’t been fixed due to ongoing litigation between the town and the contractor for the school’s construction.

“If you get a little kindergartner throwing a ball it’s going to go down that ditch and I don’t think there’s a school in town that has that kind of problem,” Mr. Pecora said. “We’ve been waiting for this to be dealt with as part of the suit between the town and the construction company. A number of years have passed by, though, and I would hope something could be done by 2014.”

There was also an issue with garbage being thrown into a stream in the area. The stream goes through Armstrong Court, but it’s not believed the issue originates there but from other parts where people just throw unwanted junk into the water, causing blockage in the drainage system and making it an issue particularly in the summer with mosquitos. Mr. Tesei said he would check with the Housing Authority and the Department of Public Works on this.

“This is something that should be fixed,” Mr. Tesei said.

Allison Radzin, president of the Hamilton Avenue School PTA, said there is an ongoing issue during the times of day when there is no crossing guard on St. Roch’s Avenue by the school of cars not stopping for pedestrians, which they are supposed to do under state law.

“I can’t tell you how often I’m walking my kids across there or I’m seeing other people walk their kids across there and cars just speed through there without stopping,” Ms. Radzin said. “I feel like we need some signage there that’s better than what we have now or some more enforcement when there’s not a crossing guard.”

Other complaints included parking at the school and trailer trucks, often from the auto dealerships on the Post Road, cutting through the neighborhoods to get back and forth from Exit 2 off Interstate 95 in Byram to central Greenwich. Mr. Pecora said they are not using the proper truck routes and said he was worried that it could lead to an accident near the school, the playground or the nearby preschool. He suggested putting a four-ton limit for vehicles on Hamilton Avenue and other key streets with heavy pedestrian traffic.

“You see it almost every day and it’s such a tight squeeze with the cars parked along the roads,” Viola Belmonte said. “These are huge trailer trucks and they’re not going 25 mph like they should. They’re speeding all the time.”

Mr. Tesei said that lately there had been “increased cooperation” between the town and the dealerships so he believed this could be addressed. But there are continued complaints about the dealerships, particularly when it comes to the loading and unloading of cars on the Post Road.

Mr. Pecora said this wasn’t just an issue with car carriers, but also with garbage trucks, which he said are improperly using streets like St. Roch’s Avenue that already have the four-ton limit.

Mr. Tesei said the goal of this meeting and the others is to see what can be done to deal with issues residents raise through existing resources. These might not be the major issues that dominate town meetings, but rather ones dealing with quality of life for residents where the town can help.

“What I’ve found, from doing this in the past, is that there are issues within a community that have been relatively minor, in my estimation, in terms of dollars,” Mr. Tesei said, noting efforts last year to deal with pedestrian safety in Byram. “There are departments that fall under the first selectman, like police and public works, and we can try and address issues through existing dollars.”

Mr. Tesei took notes throughout the meeting and said he would follow up on the complaints.


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