Suffield Observations

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Andy Sauer

The Soul of Suffield

In 2003, Suffield got a $500,000 grant to spruce up the center of town.

A lot of the things we see today – the floral median, sidewalks, crosswalks – were part of a plan to make a “small-town model of the future.” Part of the proposal, though, included carving a 3,000-square-foot chunk out of The Green for 16 parking spaces. That’s when the pushback started.

Loathe to yield even one inch of The Green, folks made it clear they weren’t going let Suffield ‘pave paradise and put up a parking lot’. “The town green is the soul of Suffield,” one resident told The Hartford Courant back then.

One look at High Street today tells you who won that fight.

Fast forward to 2024. In January, First Selectman Colin Moll proposed requiring anyone who wanted to use The Green to apply for a permit 30 days in advance and obtain $1 million in liability insurance. If he determined the event detracted from “the promotion of public health, welfare, safety and recreation,” the permit would be rejected. The proposal, Moll said, was an effort to make Suffield safer and was patterned after Enfield’s regulations for its green — the critical difference being Mol would be the arbiter of what is appropriate as opposed to an unelected town manager, as it is in Enfield.

The proposal was not well received. Not only did it spark criticism from residents and local groups, it drew the ire of a national free speech advocacy group that cautioned the proposal wouldn’t pass a Constitutional smell test. In a March 2, 2024, opinion piece, Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, hardly a “progressive” voice in Connecticut, not only leveled a free-speech broadside against the idea, he called Suffield Republicans “jaw-dropping ignoramuses” for coming up with it. Ouch!

Thankfully, Moll withdrew the proposal.

Let’s take Moll at his word that this proposal was about public safety. There are so many other ways to make The Green safer — flashing pedestrian signs, speed bumps, wrought iron fencing — without infringing on The First Amendment.

And, I’m stumped as to the “why” of Moll’s proposal. As best I can tell, The Green is woefully under-used. Yes, I agree there are events — farmer’s market, Suffield on the Green, concerts, but no one regularly congregates there. When grant givers envisioned “small-town model of the future” did they picture the town’s most visible asset empty? The Green should be as vibrant as a college quad, replete with buskers, places to hang out and/or drink your coffee.

Eight years ago, The Green was designated as a hotspot for the videogame “Pokemon Go,” and it drew dozens of young people to The Green like some kind of digital pied piper. Granted, everyone was looking down at their phones, but it was cool to see The Green alive with activity.

We are witnessing the disintegration of community life — from the pervasive divisiveness plaguing modern America to behaviors that border on agoraphobia. We need ideas that attract more people to The Green, not proposals that erect bureaucratic obstacles to using it.

We have to come up with better ideas to save “the soul of Suffield.”

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