Editorial: The facts on Highland Farm

The facts

On Tuesday, June 19, the Planning & Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the use of the town-owned land on the site of the former Ox Ridge Hunt Club — now called Highland Farm. There has been much discussion, speculation and information dissemination on the town’s proposed plans of the property.
Much of it is not part of the plan and some of it is being billed as “what could happen” so therefore it is fair game.
Lots of things could have happened at that property, including it being sold to a developer who would see to make a profit vs. taking neighbor concerns and town benefits into consideration. It also could have been a site for an 8-30g development, which would allow a developer to override local zoning for a housing development if it cites a percentage as affordable.
Before Tuesday, here is what is actually proposed:

  • Public access would be dawn to dusk, seven days a week, 365 days a year
  • Ten town-sponsored special events are permitted and five non-profit events per year.
  • The existing lawn would be used for active and passive recreation, with a designated field area toward the center
  • A half-mile stone chip walking path is proposed
  • Two parking lots are proposed for a total of 92 spaces, with one way traffic proposed for narrower entrances and exits
  • A gravel area will house a portable bathroom and 240-square foot equipment shed.

What’s not proposed:

  • Lights of any kind
  • A concession stand
  • Artificial turf
  • Bleachers

What’s next and who can do what

The Planning & Zoning Commission must decide if the standards outlined in Section 1000 of Zoning regs are met. That’s the commission’s job.
P&Z and the Board of Selectmen are not required to commission a study of current field use in town and whether it is adequate. In fact, if the town opts to dedicate the property as designated park land, these plans could be implemented without applying for s special permit.

The Representative Town Meeting does not have the authority to determine whether or not the usage of the property is appropriate. Their role was to approve the purchase (which they did) and any further funding that may fall under their purview. That’s their job.

The purchase agreement for the property was negotiated with the help of the RTM and was altered to allow the creation of athletic fields. That purchase contract also maintains an open space land agreement that prevents most types of development on the property until 2042.

Fundamentally, getting community feedback on town plans such as these is important. However, in the end the decision of the best use of an asset is the owner of that asset — which is the town. We elect leaders to make these decisions that are in the best interest of the largest majority of residents and taxpayers. There are always going to be people unhappy with decisions. They are hard decisions to make. But that’s why we elect leaders to make them.

The Planning & Zoning Commission will hear public feedback on the Board of Selectmen’s special application for Highland Farm on June 19 at 8 p.m. in Town Hall. You can view the town’s plans for the property and related documents on the town’s website at http://www.darienct.gov/pzc.

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