The Planning & Zoning Commission will be holding a public hearing on the Board of Selectmen’s plan for the Ox Ridge property on Tuesday, May 15 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall. The plan is as follows:
Ninety-two parking spaces, a 600-foot by 300-foot field to run concurrent soccer games, porta potties, a storage shed, 15 community events, year-round Parks & Recreation programming, a walking trail, with the potential for portable structures such as tents, bleachers, lights, and up to a 1,000-square-foot concession stand at some point in the future, all of which must be reconciled with the Ox Ridge Riding and Racquet Club’s 21 horse shows, 20 squash tournaments, 12 community events, and up to 250 members, in two-acre residential zoning. Is it the end of an era, or the opportunity for smart planning and wonderful legacy?
The Board of Selectmen, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the Planning & Zoning Commission have their work cut out for them, and they need our input as the Planning and Zoning Commission shapes the use through the issuance of special permits for parking and events! Please attend the hearing and let your thoughts, concerns and input be heard.
The vast spectrum of use ranges from “fallow” to maximum possible programming. For your convenience, the definition of “fallow” is as follows: “(of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production.” When key leaders are questioned as to the very high level of intensity proposed in the Board of Selectmen’s plan, the answer is always the same: “We never would have approved the purchase if the intent was to leave the field ‘fallow’,” The language is well coordinated and designed to deflect by suggesting that the questioner wants the field to remain untouched or farmland. There doesn’t seem to be room to discuss anything in between “fallow” and 92 parking spots to accommodate U12 commercial soccer programming, etc. It is difficult to have an intellectually honest debate about a subject when one side won’t engage in an intellectually honest manner. “Fallow” seems to be the party line, so be sure to watch for it, because that is the signal that the conversation is over.
The Ox Ridge property has the potential for a balanced and thoughtful plan; one that allows the Parks and Recreation Department to offer events or programs that Darien residents want (based on paid market research), and at the same time maintains the scenic landscape that is part of the history and heritage of Darien. For example, community events ranked higher than programming and athletic fields, are a great way to build community and generate revenue for the town, and yet would cause less traffic and visual obstruction to Ox Ridge. Why not start with a few community events and see where things go? How about 30 parking spaces, consistent with R-2 zoning, and for special events, people can park on the grass like they have done for decades during the horse show? Why the rush to pollute the field with so much programming? Where is the evidence that there is a scarcity of athletic fields?
This is a critical moment in the history of Darien, and there is much at stake. Darien is vulnerable in that it could very well lose an iconic landscape that has been steeped in tradition and part of the heritage of this town since inception. The charm, serenity and vista of driving along Middlesex have considerable value, and also offers the promise for inviting all members of the public to enjoy it, if properly planned. Will we see a shift of Town Hall activities to the Ox Ridge property to make way for an aquatics center some day? In the absence of proper planning, sensible boundaries, and appropriate processes, this property could become a victim of “suburban sprawl.”
Time will only tell.