Heeding some public comments on its planned approach, the Board of Selectmen intends to survey the voters who cast a referendum ballot earlier this month to learn why they didn’t — or did — support funding a third artificial turf field in Wilton.
Following a narrow defeat of the board’s proposal to bond $1.935 million for the field at Allen’s Meadow by a vote of 1,298 to 1,249, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice drafted a survey aimed at learning why those who had voted against it did so.
“Do we want to explore the idea of an alternative proposal?” she asked the board at its meeting Tuesday night, May 16, specifically for building an artificial turf field at another location.
In a memo on Monday, May 15, Vanderslice said in order to help them decide she requested that the town registrars provide demographic data on those who voted at the meeting. She also wrote that she has met with leadership from the Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF), but did not publicly share any details.
“The vote stands, (but) I believe it’s a good idea for us to have some discussion,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.
To explain her idea of learning more about why voters who opposed the field voted as they did, Vanderslice cited the $50-million renovation project at Miller-Driscoll School, which passed by only 27 votes in 2014.
“It resulted in a lot of hard feelings, a lot of problems … I had to deal with that fallout for a couple of years,” she said.
Vanderslice believes that cost was the primary reason people voted against the bond for the field.
“The level of taxation in town is usually the number one concern,” she said. “Most people feel their taxes are too high.”
She stated that getting confirmation or clarity on that question could guide decisions to propose another location for an artificial turf field, which would likely be more costly.
More than one member of the public expressed concern about largely targeting the voters who were against the proposal.
“Identifying a group, the ‘No’ voters, as being the object of the survey, really looks bad,” resident Kelly Morron said. “I mean, it looks bad, it sounds bad, and it feels bad for the people who voted against it.”
“No one says that fields aren’t important,” she said, but noted that equal attention should be given to getting details from the people who voted ‘Yes’ on their decision-making process.
“I truly believe that you really ought to focus as much on why people voted for it as against it,” she said.
Vanderslice agreed that it would make sense to expand the survey.
“We should probably do the exact same thing,” she said of people who voted in favor of the field, giving them a range of survey options for their reasons and a chance to state more than just one reason.
Resident Sarah Curtis also spoke to the sensitivity of many people with regard to stating their opinions publicly, as well as some level of apprehension people have, feeling that the BOS is not listening to them.
“I’m not certain the board really appreciates how terrified parents are of speaking openly at the Annual Town Meeting, or really how scared they would be to be in an open forum discussion and actually talk about how they might not have voted for something,” she said. “And I can’t underscore that enough.”
Board members supported the idea of the survey, though they weren’t in consensus as to why they believed the vote fell as it did.
“I would kind of like to understand more the reasons why the people who voted against it, voted against it,” Selectman Joshua Cole said, including thoughts on cost, location, and feelings about artificial turf in general.
“These are things that I think I would want to know in … making a decision of whether we want to pursue it somewhere else,” he said.
Selectman Ross Tartell said that, artificial turf aside, there appears to be wide consensus that more fields are needed.
“The fact that we need playing fields is indisputable to me,” he said, adding, “We need to make that investment.”
Vanderslice pointed out the expense of natural grass fields and indicated that people wouldn’t want to invest that additional money.
Selectman Basam Nabulsi said he wasn’t sure if it was in the board’s purview to keep moving forward with investigating whether the town wants an artificial field somewhere else.
“In terms of looking forward, I’m not feeling like the Board of Selectmen is the right forum for doing the fact-finding and due diligence on these issues,” he said.
Vanderslice said that since the BOS made the bonding request, it was their place to follow up.
“I think it’s incumbent on us as the people that put it on the ballot to get some further information …Since we put it up, we supported it, we put it on the ballot, we should at least try to do the first phase of it,” she said.
Vanderslice said she would have Sarah Gioffre, coordinator of community affairs, draft a more detailed survey per the board’s discussion, and share an online template with members before Memorial Day.
If the board has no concerns about it, Vanderslice said it would be distributed to those who had voted earlier this month via the SurveyMonkey website.
Instead of this relentless obsession with Turf which does not generate income for the town, we should start considering revenue generators such as a Skating Rink with help from State bonding on commercial property (Stamford is raking in the bonding for all sorts of facilities). Not once did the Board of Selectmen address this. Maybe they should now.
If there is to be another vote, could we this time have the full costs of maintaining the turf and bubble? First Selectwoman stated that this had yet to be completed. Understand a direct comparison to current and what new costs would be? Surely there are comparable costs of the Y’s bubble – putting up/ down / storage etc. The additional costs for trash collection / providing and maintenance of toilets etc. It is one thing to understand the costs of installing, but then tax payers need to understand ongoing costs.
I feel certain that if the Vote had been yes to the turf, those that voted No wouldn’t get the opportunity to have a survey to understand why. This feels like an opportunity to pressurize those that didn’t vote, and intimidate those that did.
There’s an interesting democratic question here as to how much they would have to change the proposal in order to be able to bring it up again and not have it seem like they were having endless do-over votes until they get the result they want.
Personally, I voted ‘no’ mainly because of the school budget cuts, but I don’t think that a change in that situation by itself would constitute enough reason to hold another vote. Maybe after 5 years or so you could start to argue that Wilton’s financial situation had substantially changed, but probably not after just one or two. And the data regarding turf fields and environmental issues is complicated, so while more data comes out every year, I doubt any particular new study would change a meaningful number of minds either way.
The two changes I can think of that might justify coming back to the voters on this in the near future are:
1) A substantially different financial package – some combination of a lower cost or more private donations; “you rejected our first offer, here’s a better one” seems like a legitimate reason to bring it up again.
2) A different location, perhaps on some other state-owned, formerly-acquired-for-Super-7 piece of land. This has the added benefit of not taking away an existing grass field – even a poorly maintained one is still pretty good for stuff like flying kites, and replacing natural grass with plastic feels kind of cheap and ugly despite the practical benefits – and maybe even creating an opportunity for further expansions to our athletic facilities in the future. If higher-density development is going to leave Wilton with a couple thousand more residents in 20 years, eventually Allen’s Meadows may not have enough space regardless of what kinds of fields we put there.
Ironically, a more ambitious project might actually have an easier time passing, because we’d be debating that whole project rather than just a single field and the appropriateness of its surface material. Imagine, say, a Wilton Athletics Campus, with 2 turf fields, one of them domed, new parking / road access, and maybe some other artificial outdoor amenities like a splash bay or a playground, along with plenty of empty adjacent land for further expansion; even at a much higher price tag, the benefits of something like that are obvious enough to non-sports people that it might have a better chance of passing than the standalone field did.
(that same long-term population growth might also eventually entail cannibalizing some of the space adjacent to CM/WHS for an expansion of one of them, which is all the more reason to start looking for a new place to put athletic fields)
Kelly is on to something here. I agree that it is unlikely the town would have even considered a survey if this had been approved by even slimmer margins. The Town ignored the facts presented by Sensible Wilton and others that challenged the much more controversial & expensive MD renovation…they were right but the town wasted considerable monies and goodwill nonetheless.
I agree with Mr. Love regarding the turf fields and the school budget. If Wilton prioritizes a turf field over the the qualities of our town’s education system then maybe we have our priorities misaligned. People move to Wilton for the quality of our school not whether we have another turf field. Having been in the Wilton school district for 44 year (and in town for 50 year) I can tell you that due diligence goes into developing the school budget every year . The budget was cut before the Board of Finance took the additional 1.4 million out of it. Maybe we need to trust the boards we elect to develop the appropriate budgets. The Board of Finance should not be making huge cuts to the school budget without considering the impact it has on programs, curriculum, and most importantly our children.
I can’t wait to see the skating rink and athletic campus! Keep us posted Messrs. Love and Hickey as that comes together.
Heh, I mean realistically we’d have to see a *big* boom in our property values to be able to have a serious conversation about a gleaming new $10M or whatever athletic campus (and I don’t think I’d personally vote for it unless our schools were absolutely flush with money). I’m just saying that if we were in a position to spend that kind of money, it would probably be an easier sell to voters than spending $2M to change the surface material on a field we already have; the fact that this turned into an argument about a single field specifically is a big part of why ‘yes’ lost.
One key calculation used to evaluate and compare capital projects is to determine how long it will take to get the money back on investments, in this case $2,000,000.
Assuming maintenance cost are lower for artificial turf fields than regular turf grass fields, how many years of savings does it take to recover the $2,000,000 ? If the payback is really good, wouldn’t it be smart to build 4 or more artificial fields to reduce Taxes for ALL Wiltonians. Show us the numbers …. I’m told it’s complicated, Why?
Hi Sonny, we did the analysis. There isn’t a financial ROI. The financial cost of turf, including debt service would have been $135,000 more than properly maintained grass. Here is the presentation, see slide 6. https://www.wiltonct.org/sites/g/files/vyhlif10026/f/uploads/turf_field_bonding_proposal-4-29-website.pdf
The BOS should have done their homework before, not after the vote. The people have spoken. The democratic process should be respected.
Another example of actions initiated by our authoritarian Selectman.. shame on you Lynne! What exactly are we teaching our young people? What if you all won by 49 votes… would you be engaging in all this fuss? Is this is what the Democratic state is all about? Please vote… and make sure it’s my way or else you will have to explain yourself!!!! Are we going to send out surveys to shake down the people every time the Selectmen and their puppets don’t get what they want?
Speaking as an elderly resident whose children are long grown and moved away, I opposed the installation of a turf field at Allen’s Meadow, and will oppose more artificial turf fields in town, for environmental reasons.
Grass playing fields might cost more in the long run (although considering all factors, I wonder about that), but grass fields provide far greater benefits to our community than just as playing surfaces.
Natural grass fields don’t shed microplastics. They generate oxygen, reduce water runoff, cool the environment, and support pollinators and other wildlife. They provide a welcome outdoor space for individuals and families.
We are all paying for global climate change, and the total bill is nowhere near yet due. It is our responsibility to be better residents of the Earth and to choose the most environmentally beneficial ways of living in community.
Madeleine, it’s amazing us seniors have to keep reminding that climate change is happening at a rapid pace.
While we’re trying to stretch limited school budgets, here’s an idea…
I actually sent the BoE a letter advocating that they cover some of the budget shortfall by raising sports participation fees, mostly in the interests of fairness – sports do have all sorts of wonderful developmental benefits, but those apply to little kids as much as to bigger ones, and yet the fee high schoolers pay the school is much less than what private organizations WSA or Wilton Lacrosse charge for their programs for younger kids. Not to mention all of the high schoolers doing sports the schools don’t offer, like dance or rowing.
(personally, I’d much rather we subsidized sports for everyone, but if we’re not going to do that then we should at least be consistent)
Dear Board of Selectman,
Being that the result is the slimmest of margin, and I support the survey and the opportunity for this committee to rethink and repropose and put this up for vote again. But perhaps in addition to the pledge of partial funding from WARF, we might spend the time in between to find additional funding. Although easy to be say and suggest…maybe finding another private donor or even a corporate sponsor for naming opportunities. I’m sure there are limitations to this, but perhaps if you come to the table with 50% of the funding secured, the townspeople might find the project more agreeable.
I have so many thoughts and my initial thought brings to mind something my grandmother instilled in me as a young child in the 60’s. I have a right to a private ballot. I find it offensive that those who voted against the bond were being ferreted out to be surveyed. Another thing my parents tried to teach me to respect is that no means no. It’s that simple. We still live in a democracy and votes still count. The relatively small voter turnout on both sides particularly on the side that was seeking the funds is curious to me. How many families in town register their children in the sports that would use the field?
I find it disturbing that with our mill rate already in the stratosphere, we are being asked to fund practically 2 million for the benefit of a select few in town. My children played hockey and competed in horseback riding. How about getting a bond to provide a town supported stable or better yet an ice rink? Don’t all of us deserve to have our sports and hobbies funded by taxpayers?
I agree with Kelly Porter in her concerns for the costs of on going maintenance and I find it hard to believe that there was no research on the cost of the bubble both in terms of its acquisition and the annual maintenance and storage of it. I feel that the bond and field is a Trojan horse, and hidden from the voters is the cost of the inevitable next big ask. It’s disingenuous of the presenters to lead us to believe there is absolutely no information available on those costs. How much more value is the artificial turf without the bubble? Isn’t the goal really to be able to play year round in town without having to drive to other towns or miss practices due to rain?
Despite the impassioned testimonials at the town meeting attesting to the artificial turf’s ability to draw buyers to Wilton, the truth is buyers look at the quality of the schools first. Even buyers without children look at the school rankings. School rank and test scores bring buyers to Wilton. Lowering taxes would also help attract buyers more than the surface of a field or two.
Lastly, my greatest concern is for the health and safety of the children and the environment. I don’t feel that I could confidently vote for the artificial turf with the questions raised at town meeting about the thoroughness of the pfas testing; the greater risk of injuries to players; the fact that plastics or some sort of coating is used on the coconut husks, etc. I was not satisfied that these fears are unwarranted.
I’m stunned to find out that the principle of a secret ballot doesn’t apply here. How does the town know who voted no? I agree with the commentators above that when a vote doesn’t go the way the powers that be want it to, they should take that as a sign, not try to find ways around it. Seems like the big question on turf is simply how many voters opposed due to financial concerns and how many due to environmental concerns. A simple exit poll could have done that without the unfortunate implications of this plan.
Wow. Most of these comments are actually thoughtful for a change.
My initial reaction was to vote against the turf field because I thought it was too much money for no net add. I don’t believe that people say “I’m moving to New Canaan instead of Wilton because they have more turf fields”. They find that out after they get here! In all seriousness, I would have considered supporting a project of similar cost if it actually added to the amenities in town.
I should add that the many concerns raised about the environment and health and safety issues cemented my vote. Are they all valid concerns? I don’t know. And neither does anyone else reading this comment.
In my opinion, the NO vote prevailed for a number of reasons. It was not just the old guard not wanting to spend the money.
I find it very strange that a truly rigorous overview of other municipalities that have banned the artificial turf fields are not mentioned here, including Westport and Hartford. And it is a little surprising in the heavily corporate community of Wilton that the measure failed which exposes how questionable the proposition was from the beginning. A recent Guardian article raises many concerns: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/mar/10/phillies-ball-players-cancer-artifical-turf?fbclid=IwAR07hArWRqisJ5NKKQTerjdqmrKsHtmWeACZsKXbRqodfhEptW7HrhSS1dU
Artificial turf is simply not worth the risk with likely litigation for negligence on the horizon as evidence continues to accumulate.
Editor’s note: It should be noted that Westport and Hartford banned the use of crumb rubber, not turf fields overall. The infill used in Wilton’s synthetic turf fields is coconut husk. The articles linked to in this comment refer to fields using crumb rubber, not coconut husk.
Coconut infill explanation copied from GMW LTE May 4…
May 4, 2023 at 10:13 am
Here’s the “safe” turf infill…
Coconut husk is sourced primarily from Indonesia and India, where there is exceptionally poor regulation or quality control over pesticides or chemicals added prior to harvesting, during processing, or post processing. ■ The largest producer of the world’s coconuts is Indonesia, where the process of retting coconut husk is hastened by adding bacteria to the water the husks are left to soak in for several months, making it easier to extract the “coir.” ○ The extracted coir may be chemically treated to reduce the risk of bacterial spore growth. ■ Copper sulfate fungicide (used in combination with petroleum oil in the US), malathion, and chlorpyrifos and many others are used on coconut plantations. ○ Coconut husk infill floats, leading to a possible problem in heavy rain.
True about Westport and Hartford, but the environmental issues with artificial turf transcend crumb rubber. The tide has clearly turned on the use of artificial turf- we are not alone in voting it down.
However, it was mentioned at the town meeting that the coconut husks are coated with plastics or rubber of some sort. I have not researched this further but it seems that there is more to the coconut than benign organic materials.
Editor’s note: My clarification regarding the infill wasn’t an argument for artificial turf, or against it, for that matter. It was to make the distinction so readers unfamiliar with the story wouldn’t assume Wilton had crumb rubber, what those two linked articles specifically mentioned. Also, not making an argument about the positives or negatives of coconut husk infill — just making the distinction.
Per Lynn’s comment above, turf costs more, almost certainly worse for the environment, and high school athletes sustain more injuries on turf, it doesn’t provide a broader use benefit for people who aren’t field sport athletes like a grass field can. Seems like an easy answer. No.
No one mentioned the fact that Allen’s Meadow is natural birding spot with vernal ponds in spring and many other reasons to let it stay that way. There are many playing fields encroaching the Community gardens already, so let the wildflowers grow where they may.
It seems like our plan for the future development of Wilton generally involves spoiling our rural and bucolic setting. All the proposed or in process new buildings going up are a hodge podge of disagreeable architecture. Ruining the scenic beauty of Allens Meadow and throwing up a giant bubble would further contribute to this degradation. Hence the no vote.
We should be celebrating that 20% of the town came out to vote. If the vote were reversed and people asked for a survey would the BoS have agreed? What is a survey going to tell us that we don’t already know? The majority of the voters said no for one or multiple reasons. Why not keep the sanctity of the ballot? If a revote happens and the results are the opposite can we have a tiebreaker vote after that? Or since it is for sports let’s do a best 4 out of 7 ballot initiatives.
The voting on another turf field with a seasonable bubble was anticipated to result in a resounding YES vote, but surprise, it was a NO vote. The Board of Selectmen (BOS) and Board of Finance (BOF) had succumbed to the high pressure, grandiose plans promoted by WARF, complemented by promises of prosperity for all through their business plans and revenue generating activity. We should acknowledge that only BOF member Sandy Arkell got it right in making a motion objecting to the turf field proposal, as noted in the Good Morning Wilton article of April 12, 2023. Ms. Arkell’s comments are in line with our thinking, particularly “This is an amenity, it seems like a luxury…it feels like more of a want than a need.” While BOF Vice Chair Stewart Koenigsberg agreed with Ms. Arkell’s comments, he failed to second her motion. Perhaps if Mr. Koenigsberg had, we would not be where we are today.
Trust is a fragile thing, easily lost and difficult to reestablish. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice announced following the rejection by voters of the turf field bonding proposal that the BOS and BOF need to know why those who voted NO did so. Who says this but another election denier? The simple answer is the NO voters didn’t agree with the proposal. Upon receiving pushback, it was decided to also include the YES voters in the survey. This was done only because the initial optics of the NO survey were poor. Is the only real point of this exercise to provide information to WARF? The First Selectwoman stated that she met with WARF leadership, but will not discuss details of the meeting. This behavior raises red flags with us.
We recommend that NO voters ignore the survey. The BOS and BOF ignored the input from those residents critical of the third turf field proposal, and now are looking to NO voters to help them understand why the bonding proposal failed. What good does a YES voter opinion matter, as the BOS and most of the BOF were in favor of the bonding proposal? We suggest they counsel with BOF member Sandy Arkell as she was spot on. Also, the Boards should go back and read all the input they received that they didn’t agree with.
There is no simple explanation to creating all this nonsense because the vote didn’t go the way the First Selectwoman and the BOS expected. We suggest the BOS stop promoting division in town, looking for someone to blame for the defeat of the bonding proposal, and move on to other more important business. There are more critical events confronting Wilton at this time, particularly endless development proposals around more housing and greater density.
Frankly, while I am literally the last person to defend the Board of Finance on anything, in this particular case, their mandate is pretty limited and (in something of a departure for them) they made their decision based solely on the issues they’re supposed to consider. A $2M bond is not an enormous burden for the town, and was unlikely to affect our bond rating or impose an untenable burden on Wilton taxpayers; they quite reasonably concluded that they had no good financial reason to object to it.
Whether the project was worthwhile or environmentally safe is not really their call; the BoS decided it was promising enough to put before the voters, the BoF lacked any good reason to block it, and the voters duly made their decision. The system basically worked the way it’s supposed to, strangely enough.
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