Ads in Wallingford parks waits in limbo

Ads in Wallingford parks waits in limbo

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WALLINGFORD — The Parks and Recreation Commission wants the town ordinance committee to move forward with a proposal to allow business advertising in town parks, but it’s unclear when that issue will be discussed again.

Town zoning regulations on signs don’t allow advertising in residential zones, in which most parks are located. The regulations have no exceptions for parks, so an ordinance is needed.

The Town Council Ordinance Committee last discussed the issue on June 11.

Town Councilor Christopher Shortell, chair of the ordinance committee, said that the proposal was pulled back at the request of Parks and Recreation officials.

“At this point, we are waiting on them to tell us when they want it back on the agenda,” he said.

Parks and Recreation first proposed the idea in May. Commission members envisioned the ads would be displayed on athletic fields, including baseball backstops and outfield fencing.

At the June 11 meeting, Parks Director Kenny Michaels said advertising would generate additional funds to reduce overall costs to operate youth leagues and decrease the town’s contributions.

According to Michaels, the town contributes between $1,500 and $3,000 to various leagues.

Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small has said she has concerns about free speech issues if parks are opened up to commercial advertising.

When a town opens up publicly-owned land to advertisements, she said in May, town officials “can’t pick and choose the message of a sign” under the First Amendment.

Small has said that she wanted to research whether a limited public forum could be created. She did not return calls for comment for this story.

At the commission’s meeting Monday, commission member Jason Michael said the proposal is “a no-brainer for revenue.”

“We need to figure out if it’s possible to have the revenue end up here for general park improvements, not just earmarked for general fund for the town,” he said. “Our purpose is to create funds for park improvements that we always get told ‘no, because there’s no money to do it.’ ”

Michaels said he’s asked other towns that allow ads in parks how they deal with the free speech issue.

He said that the other towns just tell people “no” if they want to advertise products like alcohol or tobacco in a park for children. He wasn’t able to find many recent lawsuits over the issue.
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