On Thursday over 100 people showed up at Stratford Town Hall to participate in the Public Hearing for the appeal of the removal of trees for the tennis court project at Longbrook Park. Twenty-five residents signed up to speak.
Attorney Kurt Ahlberg, Hearing Officer for the Town of Stratford, chaired the hearing with Raynae Serra, Director of Public Works and Kelly F. Kerrigan, Environmental Conservation Superintendent.
The public comments were overwhelming against the removal of trees. All of those opposed to the removal of trees were also firmly in favor of new tennis courts for the Town, and all supported the relocation of the tennis courts.
Favoring the removal of trees in the existing Longbrook plan was Bruce Johnson, who recently moved to Stratford, who claims that he looks out his window every day at the tennis courts and is glad to see them go. Diana Kunkel made it clear that she was not knowledgeable enough to weigh in on the removal of trees, but pointed out that there is an active U.S. Competitive Tennis Team in Stratford, and it was time to replace the tennis courts, as they have been “unplayable” for more than 6 years at least.
Irresponsible and shortsighted were repeated comments. Peter Bowe, the former Bunnell High School Environmental Science Department head, pointed out that responsible green space planning was necessary in Stratford, but planting 14 trees was not really a viable solution, as it would take over 30 years for them to mature.
Joseph Gerics spoke of the flawed process by the Town of Stratford for the approval of the Longbrook Tennis Court Project. Gerics, a former member of the Town of Stratford Planning Commission, went to Longbrook Park in July when the project was listed on the Planning Commission’s agenda. He found that the project was much larger than reported to planning, and termed it an expansion, not a replacement, as the footprint was much larger. He spoke of his frustration at trying to get answers from the Town, ignored emails to Town Attorney Bruce Jackson and Christopher Tymniak,Chief Administrative Officer.
According to Gerics, in an email from Susmitha Attota, Town Planner, he was told that according to the Director of Public Works (Raynae Serra) the project was already approved and no hearing was necessary.
To put the public hearing in perspective according to the Town charter any tree removals by the town require a formal notification, and after 10 days, the removal is subject to a Public Hearing if contested. The notice of tree removals was posted on Town website on December 20th, and 70 appeals were sent to tree warden (Kelly F. Kerrigan) which resulted in the public hearing being scheduled.
In addition, a Change.org petition was generated with over 659 people signing the Save Stratford Trees.
Why the outcry you ask? Let us look to history; Longbrook Park is a 34-acre park developed in 1935 on a reclaimed swamp with natural areas, a creek, and lit sport fields. In 2010 the Connecticut Historic Preservation Council listed it on the State Register of Historic Places. This designation was the result of the hard work and due diligence of Dave Killeen, then the Town of Stratford Planner; Matthew P. Catalano, Chair of the Longbrook Park Commission, and Thomas Yemm, Historic District Commission member.
Thursday’s public hearing reinforced many residents concern not only of a lack of transparency in town government decisions (escaberated by the Covid pandemic or opportunistic timing, as there were no open Town Council meetings), and a lack of a solid plan of conservation in the Town.