"They look like they're from out of town. They look like gang members."
"They," according to Palamar Drive resident Jim Kuczo, are the teenagers and young men who play basketball at the courts in Highwood Park at the end of his street, and who he said deter neighbors from enjoying the park.
Kuczo was hoping that the Parks and Recreation Commission last week would consider removing the basketball rims from the court, forcing the players to go elsewhere.
He spoke before the commission Aug. 21, but the panel did not grant his request.
The players speed and use foul language, Kuczo said, leaving garbage in their wake. "They have no respect for the neighborhood, for the park," Kuczo said, who insisted his complaints were "not a race issue, it's a behavior issue."
With no basketball hoops, he said, "Hopefully, wherever they come from, they'll go back to ... I don't want them in my neighborhood." Kuczo and neighbors also met about a month ago with Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo and representatives of the Police Department to express their concerns.
But commission Chairman Dante Gallucci said Kuczo has no idea where the basketball players live, just by the way they look. "I know both residents and non-residents use that park," Gallucci said, adding his son often plays basketball there with other Fairfield Warde High School graduates.
And, Gallucci said, some of the speeding and littering can also be attributed to the Little League tee ball teams that are assigned to the park. "God forbid a Fairfield parent leaves five minutes early for something," he said.
As president of the Fairfield National Little League, Gallucci said he would speak to the coaches and let them know that if they continue to contribute to issues in the neighborhood, they would no longer be assigned by the league to use the park.
Other factors are out of the commission's control, Gallucci said, and are instead police issues, such as speeding and people in the park after the sundown curfew. He said the park and rec officials would work with police on things like that.
But closing a park because of a police issue is not the answer, Gallucci said. "The bad people will go away, but the good people can't use it either," he said. "This commission should do whatever it can to ensure we don't close public parks."
In addition to the basketball court, there is a playground and a ballfield at the park, sometimes referred to as Palamar Park, though the sign there calls it Highwood Park.
Taking down the hoops was not an option approved by the commission, though a few suggested it might be something to try for a few months.
Selectman Kevin Kiley, a Steiner Street resident, said neighbors have come to the conclusion that most of the time, the park is just not an option for them to use because they are intimidated by the basketball players.
He said during July's neighborhood meeting with Lombardo and representatives of the Police Department, he believed a "gentleman's agreement" had been reached to remove the basketball rims. Kiley said with the rims going back up at the outdoor courts at Fairfield Warde, and if the Highwood rims were removed, it might help alleviate the problems.
The rims at Warde were apparently taken down by school officials because of behavior issues at those basketball courts, though they are back up now.
"The neighbors are at their wits' end," Kiley said. "They need some relief."
Police have been making regular checks of the park, tucked off of Fairfield Woods Road, once or twice a day, as well as responding to calls from residents. For example, on June 12, Kuczo called about a dog in the park. Police found a dog, on a leash, accompanied by the owner. According to the report, the owner said there were no signs that dogs are not allowed and he was not aware they were prohibited from town parks and schools. After he was informed of the regulations, the officer said the owner took the dog, described as a puppy, from the park. The report also indicated that there were no signs informing visitors of the "no dogs" regulation.
Often, the officers' reports indicate they found no violations at the park, in response to calls for service or during their routine checks. A call about a suspicious car parked near the basketball courts around 11 p.m. on a June night turned out to belong to another resident of the street. An abandoned car report was revealed to be a car with a flat tire, belonging to a Stratford resident. It was tagged by police, but when they went back to check on it a short time later, the vehicle was gone.
Kuczo told the commission that one time players threw garbage at a pregnant woman who asked them to pick up their trash. He also said he's confronted people who have gotten out of their cars and "almost beat the crap out of me."
One example Kuczo brought to the commission 's attention was a drug deal gone bad last May. A Fairfield teen was planning to sell marijuana to three others, who instead pulled a gun on him, after first trying to buy the pot with fake money. They met at the park around 9 p.m.
All four were arrested, and the gun, a pellet gun, was later found in a nearby yard. Of the four, three were from Fairfield, one was from Norwalk. The Fairfield residents came from York Road, Black Rock Turnpike and Rock Ridge Road.
Commissioner Barbara Rifkin said taking down the rims would be the wrong direction for the panel to take. "A better direction would be to have better police protection," she said.
The police, however, won't do anything about the offensive language or garbage, Kuczo said.
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