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Connecticut Loses Zombie 5K to NIMBYism, Massachusetts

by Jacqueline Wattles | Jun 28, 2013 5:30am
(20) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Business, Town News, Willington, Local Politics, Public Safety

Screen grab from runforyourlives.com

Zombie from previous race

WILLINGTON — Plans for a “zombie-featured” 5K expected to attract nearly 5,000 runners to Willington were foiled when the event’s parent company withdrew its permit requests Thursday after getting pushback from local officials.

The Run For Your Lives race, which is presented by Reed Street Productions and ProjectSole, was expected to take place July 27 at the Wilderness Lake campground in Willington with runners from all over New England. Instead, it will take place at Hobby Horse Farms in Rehoboth, Mass.

The event divides participants into two categories: runners and zombies. The “zombies” receive a gory makeover and chase runners through a 5K and obstacle course attempting to capture flags worn around runners’ belts. If runners finish the race with at least one of their two “life” flags intact, they are deemed “survivors.”

The event also would include an “Apocalypse Party,” an “all-day celebration” that features live music, food, and games. Participants can also opt to camp overnight on the grounds after the event.

Reed Street Productions organized 12 zombie runs around the country last year and have 20 more planned this year. Ray Crossen, the owner of Wilderness Lake campground, said that when Reed Street and ProjectSole approached him about hosting an event in Willington, he was excited to make it happen.

“We truly believed it would be a benefit to the town,” Crossen said in a phone interview Thursday. “Over the last six months I’ve dedicated an awful lot of time to it with the hopes that it would be something fun for the entire town.”

However, according to Crossen, plans fell apart when they ran into issues securing the permits necessary to make the event happen.

Jacqueline Wattles photo

Wilderness Campground

The Willington Planning and Zoning Commission approved a one-day liquor license for the event earlier this month. Runners and zombies who are 21 are each given a free beer when they finish the race. But it was the special “festival-hosting” permit that was a little more difficult to obtain.

The commission denied that permit request and a public hearing was scheduled with the Willington Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday.

However, a week before the hearing, ProjectSole President Joron Wilson received a letter from Willington First Selectwoman Christina Mailhos enumerating a lengthy list of conditions the coordinators would have to meet in order to receive a permit.

On June 26, Production Vice President of Operations Mark Henry sent Crossen an email saying they had decided to move the event to Massachusetts. Henry said Mailhos’s letter was the “catalyst” for the decision to move the event to Massachusetts.

“The Town of Willington has killed this event with a process unlike any other we’ve seen in the 20 plus communities we work with around the country,” Henry’s email reads.

Mailhos wrote in her letter that parking and security were major concerns.

“One major area of concern is the fact that no specific permits are being sought for the parking site . . .” the letter reads. “Another area of concern is that to our knowledge, the Connecticut State Police (Troop C) and [the department of transportation] have not been contacted in regards to traffic or site safety planning.”

The letter continues with a list of requirements Mailhos would be asking the zoning board of appeals to stipulate should they approve the permit request.

Among the Mailhos’s requirements that Henry said were breaking points for Reed Street:

—Detailed parking, security and traffic control plans approved by the Connecticut State Police, the Local Traffic Authority, and the Department of Transportation;

—Noise and sound attenuators and light shields on light fixtures, and;

—Approval from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Dam Safety regarding temporary stressors on an earthen dam, with a $5,000 bond to cover any damage.

Henry added that permits were secured for the event in Rehoboth, Mass. in three weeks, and the town “apologized that it took so long.”

“They were really absolutely very clear that they didn’t want the event,” Crossen said of the Willington officials.

Willington Selectman John Blessington said he had concerns about the volume of visitors and the impact it would have on the town’s residents.

“This is a town with 6,000 people,” Blessington said. “I heard everything from 5,000 to 11,000 people [attending], and that’s a tremendous amount of people to move in and out of the town in one day.”

Jacqueline Wattles photo

Wilderness Campground

But Reed Street Productions spokesperson Lauren Gambler said that about 4,900 participants have signed up for the New England race, and runners have staggered start times in order to control traffic.

“Races start in 30 minute increments,” Gambler said. “And we really encourage everyone to carpool. It costs $10 to park.”

But Blessington said the town’s infrastructure wouldn’t support heavy traffic.

“These roads are designed to have maybe 100 or 200 cars a day tops,” Blessington said Thursday in a phone interview.

Blessington added that he felt the event planners should have brought the request before the commission sooner.

“It usually takes a meeting, a public hearing, and time to think about it for the boards that are doing this, and this is an event planned for a month from [Thursday],” he said.

Crossen and Alyssa Omlie, a senior event coordinator at Reed Street, attended the planning and zoning commission’s April 2 meeting, but were met with immediate pushback from public officials and a couple of residents.

“We were just unprepared for this type of endeavor,” Henry’s email to Crossen reads. “We throw events, and obviously are not adept at navigating a complicated zoning application process.”

Crossen said he blames the local government for pushing out an event that could benefit the community and local businesses.

“Unfortunately we have town officials that are more in tune with how little work they can do than actually stepping up to the plate and asking ‘How do we make this work?’” he said.

Reed Street donates to charities with the proceeds and, according to Gambler, donated more $250,000 to the Red Cross last year. This year, they will reportedly donate to Kennedy Krieger Institute. ProjectSole is also a nonprofit organization that uses shoe drives to raise money and distribute footwear to impoverished communities around the world.

“These are good events and its a shame that some people don’t see it as that,” Crossen said.

The Rehoboth, Mass. event will take place on the planned date of July 27, but camping overnight will not be permitted. The Run For Your Life planners are issuing refunds to participants who purchased camping passes.

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(20) Comments

posted by: dano860 | June 28, 2013  8:19am

Micro-managing by the unknowing.
“But Blessington said the town’s infrastructure wouldn’t support heavy traffic.”
Blessington doesn’t realize how many people pass through his town daily, Rt 84 is the main artery in town.
The TA truck stop and the local gas stations do 2000 people /cars per hour. The roads to UCONN have a daily draw of thousands and when school is in session it is doubled.
This is another abuse of fiefdom power. These are the same people the want cell phones but don’t want cell towers in their area. They want clean power but no solar panel banks allowed, certainly no wind powered generators. They like to claim they are supportive of business but they can’t accommodate a few thousand people for a day or two?
This isn’t the type of leadership we need, they were combative and exclusionary from the start.
Logic and common sense have left the building!

posted by: lkulmann | June 28, 2013  8:39am

Suddenly feels like a ‘flag ordered to fly at half-staff’ kind of day.

posted by: bwg102 | June 28, 2013  11:04am

Dano, I think you need to realize where the event is being held when Blessington cites the heavy traffic the roads would get.  84, 32, and 320 are not the concerns here.  The event would be held off of Village Hill Rd, which is right off of 84 but is a narrow, windy road which does not receive the heavy traffic the state roads get.  There’s almost no reason to take this road unless you live on it or are going to the campground.  Believe me, I wish the event were being held in Willington as it would be a great boost to the surrounding communities, but Blessington had legitimate concerns.  I just wish the town and ProjectSole could have met half way and listened to the points each had to make.

posted by: Joebigjoe | June 28, 2013  11:38am

I dont think it has much to do with traffic. If this was a peace gathering of non-demoninational groups there would be no issues because it allows people to look good and feel good about themselves.

This is non-politically correct zombie running for lack of a better term. People dont understand it, they think its weird, so rather than saying that they come up with other lies as to why they dont want that many people coming to town with their wallets. Zombie running events are just not foo foo or left enough because there is a “violent aspect” to a non violent event.

posted by: Todd Peterson | June 28, 2013  3:53pm

Nice photo of Chris Murphy at the top of the story…

posted by: CT_Yankee | June 28, 2013  5:20pm

It is sad that Reed Street Productions withdrew their application on the very day that they most likely would have gotten their needed Special Exception.  The real questions is: Why did they withdraw?

Let me say that as a Willington resident who lives on the same road as the campground I had no preconceived sentiments about this event.  But I did want to know how the organizers were prepared for it.

The critical aspect of an event that would draw in excess of 7,000 people into the highest density residential area of a town whose population is less than 7,00 is public safety.  Going through the public hearing process would have allowed Reed Street and Crossen to explain how their plans would manage this doubling of the population.  Particularly when another large event is going on the same day in our neighboring town to the Northwest.  The key aspects to public safety involve traffic management, medical support and crowd control.  While NIMBYism was certainly part of a half dozen or so households whose properties abut the campground, this was NOT the focus of the town’s entities responsible for our health, safety and well-being.

The Board of Selectmen were asked to waive a Mass Gathering permit for the event, which they can do provided the organizers have shown that they have adequate plans to handle the expected number of attendees.  Those plans were incomplete.

The Zoning Board of Appeals would have conducted a public hearing last night to determine if a Special Exception should be granted to allow an activity not currently permitted under the existing terms of the campground’s Special Permit.  Apparently the organizers were not in a position to demonstrate that they had adequate plans.  Why else would they back out?

As far as Mr. Crossen’s comments about a “list of demands” by local officials, I think there’s a difference of opinion here - it was really a list of concerns that town officials felt were needed to be addressed.  Mr. Crossen seems to think that this event would be beneficial to local business - sure, his business (and Reed Street) would be the primary beneficiary - but what promotional efforts were planned for other businesses?  Or would it have all been an opportunistic “drive by” benefit, i.e. we need gas, so we’ll stop at Willington Mobil?  Further, to the best of my knowledge, Reed Street did not reach out to local vendors to afford them the opportunity to set up a booth at the event - they come with their own group of vendors that are far from being local.

< to be continued >

posted by: CT_Yankee | June 28, 2013  6:19pm

The number of attendees varies depending upon who you talk to.  Some simple numbers:  maximum possible number of runners = 18 waves of 500 each = 9,000 runners.  Assume that each runner comes with one supporter = 9,000 additional attendees.  First wave at 8:00 am, last wave at 4:30 pm, so the duration is 8 ½ hours, or an average of 2,118 arrivals per hour or 35 per minute.  Assuming 2 people per car, that’s about 18 cars per minute to park somewhere.  But we all know that this amount of traffic will not be distributed equally over the duration - traffic always seems to bunch up.  For Willington’s event, these numbers could be cut in half.  Even so, it’s still a lot to ask the residents adjacent to the campground to tolerate.

If ½ of one percent of these attendees over-indulge in beer, it has the potential to result in 90 or so persons that their “rent-a-cops” would have to deal with.  As of this past Wednesday, the local State Police troop had not been contacted about the event and asked how they could assist.

Mr. Crossen does not seem to understand that asking our local residents to readily accept his word that this kind of event can be pulled off without a glitch is unrealistic.  No effort was made to promote the positive aspects of the event with those who have to tolerate it.  This is not Stafford Springs or Thompson, where the influx of 1,000’s of fans has been tolerated and accepted for decades.  This is a quiet, residential neighborhood in Willington that has never had to deal with anything more than several dozen campers coming and going every weekend.

The charitable aspect of this event, while certainly laudable, comes from the donation of perhap 3,000 pairs of running shoes and a cut of beer sales - this pales in comparison to the gross receipts anticipated for the event.  If the average registration fee is $90, plus $10 for parking, the gross receipts could be as much as $900,000 - or in Willington’s case, somewhere short of half a million dollars.  How much goes to charity and how much enhances the organizers and the host?

As bwg102 said, “I just wish the town and Project Sole could have met half way and listened to the points each had to make.”  The organizers could have gotten that - but they chose to withdraw before the public hearing.  Why?  Or did they have the Rehodoth MA location waiting in the wings just in case?

< final part to follow >

posted by: Joebigjoe | June 28, 2013  9:23pm

Based on Yankees detail I guess I was wr…wr…wra..wraw…wr…wrong

posted by: Adamec | June 29, 2013  2:16pm

A little over a year ago Willington’s Board of Selectmen had a slightly different view about a Warrior Dash at Wilderness Lakes:

Willington Board of Selectmen meeting minutes for May 7, 2012,
“Selectman Littell stated he has heard that some residents will be charging people to park on their properties – and that might serve as a conflict of interest if any of those residents serve on boards in Town.  First Selectman Mailhos stated she will attend the meeting on May 24th with Lynn and a Public Hearing may be held.  From an economic development perspective, this could be a great event for Willington to host.”

Then on June 18, 2012,
“Selectman Blessington said it could have been a good thing, rather than being known as the Town that doesn’t let anyone do anything.  First Selectman Mailhos agreed and added that they never applied for the permits – therefore nobody said no to them.”

The Willington Board of Selectmen appear to swing whichever way the wind blows.
Crossen wants a Warrior Dash at Wilderness Lake, it’s a great idea. Neighbors complain about Zombie 5k and its a bad idea. Since the rule of thumb in not leading is to form a committee, they need to form a Willington Zombie Run committee to give them cover.

posted by: dano860 | June 29, 2013  9:55pm

Yankee makes valid points that answers in that could have been given at a public hearing. As I understand it there were issues with regards to some of the members of the committee that the promoter felt we’re antagonistic.
The figures that are presented here are all suppositions not facts. The fields on Kucko Rd could be used for parking with shuttle buses to transport the attendees.
Until they at least try something of this nature they will never know if it would work or not. I know the area well, I have friends that live on Village Hiil and I use it as a cut through to Rt 190. It’s a nice motorcycle road. Schofield Rd would have possibly picked up some of the traffic too.
There should have been a public hearing and a lot of the concerns could have been addressed.
Events like this one can have positive results that much further out reaching than a few gas stations and liquor stores. As far as profit and sharing that would be something that can be grown. We are capitalists and profit isn’t a bad thing. I would never try to stop something because “I” think they are going to make to much money.
We have the Woodstock And the Broklyn Fairs annually with thousands of people attending, even with rent-a-cops very few issues crop up.
This is the same town that rejected a music theater off Ruby Rd about 10 years ago.
I still feel a little bit of NIMBYism entered into the picture.

posted by: CT_Yankee | June 29, 2013  10:57pm

Final part:

And to dano860: “The TA truck stop and the local gas stations do 2,000 people /cars per hour. The roads to UConn have a daily draw of thousands and when school is in session it is doubled.”  Dano, have you actually counted the cars?  Or are you making a guess at the total traffic volume for T/A, Mobil & Sunoco combined?  And which is it - people or cars?  If it’s cars, you’re talking about a car every 2 seconds.  Maybe at a peak moment, but definitely not constant all day long.  BTW, the major roads bearing UConn-bound traffic do not run through Willington, other than perhaps Route 320 for those coming from Boston.

So now the event scheduled for July 27th will be held at Hobby Horse Farm in Rehoboth MA.  It’ll be interesting to see if Reed Street can get this organized in time without a lawsuit as happened with their event in Amesbury MA last year.

posted by: Simon Peter Gruber | June 30, 2013  12:28pm

That’s too bad, this would’ve been really fun and brought a lot of potential consumers into the area.

posted by: dano860 | June 30, 2013  1:23pm

Yankee, here are the facts from our own illustrious CTDOT, Average Daily Traffic (ADT) count, these numbers are from the 2012 count.
Rt 32 @ Village Hill 9300 on south side, 8500 on the north side continuing into Stafford. This means 800 per day (avg) use Village Hill.
Rt 320 has 1500 at the Rt 74 intersection with 6400 continuing to Ashford on Rt 74.
Rt 195 at the Tolland/Coventry line there is 6400 (avg).
At exit 71 they have 7100 turning to the TA.
At the Mansfield four corners, going into UCONN on Rt 195, the count is 15,300.
The numbers of vehicles that our roads can handle is deceptive and the average home owner doesn’t realize what passes by.
Willington needs to be more receptive to change and the lack of a vibrant economy. Our State is lagging in every category that the economists measure.

posted by: CT_Yankee | June 30, 2013  11:05pm

dano860, I can find the same DOT web page with the counts - I know them better than you might expect. Your earlier post was misleading (2,000 people/cars per hour?).

You are correct when you say that the average homeowner isn’t truly aware of the number of vehicles passing by their house in 24 hours.

We could get into a discussion about the lack of a vibrant economy and why our state is lagging.  Mr Malloy and our so-called leaders in Hartford certainly have a hand in why this is so.

But the real point isn’t about the traffic (even though the plan was to funnel ALL of it up & down Schofield Road) as much as it is about the accusation that Willington is business unfriendly.

First let me say that I was hopeful that this event could have occurred - we could have learned that:
- it COULD be done with minimal impact;
- the disturbance to the immediate neighbors might not have been as bad as assumed;
- the attendees would be nowhere near as troublesome as some might expect, AND;
- some businesses in the area could have benefitted.

Everyone who lives in the immediate neighborhood had legitimate concerns - better promotion of the event early on directly with those who stood to be affected would have helped. This is NOT a neighborhood that is accustomed to major events drawing 1,000s of people. Yes, we have the races in Stafford & Thompson, the fair in Woodstock (used to be an annual fair in Stafford), etc. But those events have been going on for decades and have grown slowly over the years - people have gotten used to them.

I do not feel it would have been an event on par with previous Spring Break activities in and around UConn as some were predicting.

I suspect that the ZBA would have approved their application - but rather than following through and presenting their plan to the ZBA last Thursday and trying to negotiate through the list of concerns, everyone threw up their hands and backed out. And then blamed the town officials.  Very sad.

This could have been handled better by both sides.

posted by: CT_Yankee | June 30, 2013  11:25pm

dano860, You mentioned the fields on Kucko Road.

From a logistical perspective, these fields could be ideal as the property abuts the campground property and it might be possible to eliminate the need for shuttle buses. It would also provide for access from 2 exits off I-84.

But the property owner has to be convinced that this works for him. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

posted by: dano860 | July 1, 2013  7:12am

I concur, agree.
They needed to follow through too.

posted by: StarsDelta | July 1, 2013  10:03am

After reading the comments already presented here, I would like to add my two cents.
NIMBYism certainly did enter into the issue of holding this event at Wilderness Lake, as it would have it had been held in most any area in the town.  It happened mainly due to the very poor effort to communicate with townspeople by Reed Street and Crossen.  They came in with a plan to hold an event in a highly populated area without considering what effect it might have on those living there.  They planned to close Village Hill Road to all but local traffic that day and route all vehicles coming to the Run onto Schofield Road; park cars in the fields at the intersection of Schofield and Village Hill, then run 40 passenger buses down Village Hill to the camp grounds.  The first bus run was scheduled for 5 a.m. to bring workers and volunteers in to get ready for the first wave of runners at 8 a.m.  Also, between 6 and 7 a.m. they were going to be testing their sound equipment and PA systems to insure they were working.  Now most people, not just the ones in Willington and on Village Hill in
particular, would push back at learning of something like this more or less out of the blue.  They had every right to be concerned about somebody showing up and saying trust us, we have it under control, we’ve done this before.  We’re going to bring in anywhere from 3,000 to 7,500 people for the day, play music and have a PA system most of the day, but don’t worry.
So yes, people did get upset with this when they first learned of it.  Being more open about this event prior to the public hearing might have saved them a lot of grief, Mr. Crossen knows this town, I would think he’d have thought of that.
The NIMBYism, such as it was, gave way to concerns of just how this event was going to be handled and did the promoters in fact have all the necessary permits and wavers they needed to run a safe event here.  In the end it appears they didn’t as they abruptly pulled out
when told there were certain permits they needed from the State and hadn’t applied for, so I am told.  This brings into question just how organized or how competent this company is if after almost six months of working on this project they weren’t aware of what permits they needed.  Granted, all states and towns have varying rules and regulations, but I would think you’d know what is needed for the location you want to operate in.  So rather than try and work things out the with the town and state, they pull up stakes and go somewhere else, maybe a place that is less concerned with public safety and citizens concerns. 
After all this I would like to say that believe it or not, there was no opposition to the Zombie Run itself, only to the lack of public information put out and the fact that a large event was going to be held in a highly populated area.  Most people I’ve talked with liked the idea of the Run, just not the way it was being handled.

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | July 1, 2013  11:08am

The discussion in the comments proves the point.  CT residents really do not want anything to change and will find numerous ways to stop it.

My God,  a one day event makes CT_Yankee call out the militia!  Think about the response if you wanted to build a factory.

posted by: CT_Yankee | July 1, 2013  11:57am

DJG you’ve got it wrong. I never suggested anything like calling out the militia.

We are indeed considered “the Land of Steady Habits” for a variety of reasons (not just for continually electing a large proportion of dumb politicians). If you want to do something out of the ordinary that can affect an entire neighborhood, of course there will be some initial push-back.

My bottom line position is that:
- There were a number of concerns that needed to be addressed.
- There were a number of concerns that were outlandish and needed to be negotiated out.
- The neighborhood needed to be reassured that the worst of their concerns were either addressed or were not based on reality.
- Rather than do this, the organizers and Mr. Crossen pulled their application, went elsewhere, and blamed town officials.

A simple “Trust me, we’ve got it covered.” doesn’t quite cut it.

BTW, I would welcome a proposal to build a factory in our Industrial Zone - just show me that it meets regs and does good for the town.

‘Nuff said.

posted by: Salmo | July 4, 2013  12:06am

People see this kind of idiocy as a good thing?!?