New Milford arts groups duel over Railroad Station space
NEW MILFORD — A town arts group challenged Mayor David Gronbach Monday over his plan to move the town’s Arts Commission from a gallery space near the Village Green to the town’s former railroad station.
The Local Artists Crafts Group is asking the Town Council if the mayor has the right to move the Arts Commission into the station. Citing a 1984 town decree that it would be “dedicated to community use,” the organization says the mayor cannot move Gallery 25 full-time into the station.
Back in 1984, a committee of residents was created to oversee the station. It has long since been disbanded, so the town government now controls its use.
The Local Artists Crafts Group, a coalition of vendors who have rented the station for Thanksgiving weekend over the past six years, is under the impression that it won’t be able to hold the event there next year, said Donald Turner, one of the vendors.
The town’s plan is to have the Arts Commission’s gallery operating in the train station starting in February, according to Gronbach. On Tuesday night, the New Milford Zoning Commission was scheduled to consider a proposal that would allow “a community art gallery with accessory retail sales” in the 1,300-square-foot station.
Arts Commission Chairman Diane Dubreuil has said that civic groups will likely have to find a new place after the gallery moves in, but cultural events, including Christmas’ hands-on train display, will still be held there.
“We’re going to try to blend with the events that already go on there,” she has said, adding that the gallery at the station will be a “cultural center ... It’s advantageous for us all to work together.”
Turner, and two other crafts group vendors, say they think they will no longer be allowed to hold their event in the station, and that the Arts Commission will likely turn them down.
And a move to another location might kill their annual event, Turner said.
“If we can’t do it at the train station, I’m not sure this show will survive,” he said.
The station’s location and its ample parking provide the foot traffic needed to sustain the event, he added.
Gronbach contends that the train station is a town building and the gallery move will only benefit the town and its arts scene.
“There’s a lot of excitement — not only on the Arts Commission, but in the town — about the move to the station,” he said.
Other civic groups that rent the station from the Chamber of Commerce, which has run the building as a tourist information center, have voiced displeasure about the mayor’s plan, announced in August.
When the mayor said he planned on moving the gallery to the station, Chamber members said they were “shocked.” The Gallery is planned to move into the center space of the station, and the Chamber, and the Police Department, will retain their offices come next month.
Gronbach maintains that space will be found for the nonprofits and businesses that have rented station over the years for $20 to $50, and has said they could use other town buildings free of charge.
The crafts group is requesting that the Town Council consider moving the gallery to a different space, Turner said. After all, he said, the building was set aside as a community center back in 1984. The group also made a Freedom of Information Act request Monday for all “documentation supporting the mayor’s view that said mayor can make decisions” regarding the station’s use.
The mayor said the station is a town building, and it is the town’s call to make.
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