Last Wednesday night’s Pear Tree Beach Building Committee meeting ended with a surprise twist when several people in attendance stood up and spoke out against some of the proposed upgrades.
Those who voiced concern live at or near Pear Tree Point Beach, which is about eight acres and offers a bathing area, handicap accessible picnic area, gazebo, bathhouse, concession stand, boat launch ramp, and two smaller beaches.
The newly-formed, all-volunteer committee is charged with overseeing the upgrading of the beach. This was the second meeting of the committee, which was attended by about a dozen people.
One person who voiced his opinion was Jim Errington, who said he and many others had only recently heard about the plan for the upgrades and is “concerned” about many of them.
Errington said he met with his neighbors over the weekend, and they are “not happy with some of the objectives.”
“We don’t know what your thinking is,” he said. “We don’t know what the parameters are.”
He requested that before the committee move on to the formal RFP (request for proposal) process, he would like to meet with them for further discussion.
“We’d also like to allow some of our own ideas as to how we can improve our own area,” he said. “We live there. We really want a really attractive beach area. We want to feel a part of the process.”
In response, Mary Flynn, Parks & Recreation Commission chairman, said the news of the proposed Pear Tree Point Beach upgrades has been in the public for a very long time.
“The Parks and Recreation Commission went through a 16-month process,” Flynn said. “We had meetings — sometimes twice a month. We had five public hearings in which we had hundreds and hundreds of people come out and talk about everything that was listed. We publicized it in every way we possibly could.”
Errington, who still looked upset, said he would much rather work “together, and not against” the committee because “down the road,” it’s going to be beneficial for all parties.
Another woman who lives near the beach and did not provide her name, said she doesn’t think any of her neighbors “are on board with the scale of what you’ve been discussing tonight. I can tell you that the neighbors are going to fight this.”
She said it’s “kind of odd” that there’s no one from her neighborhood is serving as a member of the committee “because anybody from our neighborhood knows that it is a park area.”
“Pear Tree Point Beach is an area with families and community members walking and riding their bikes and pushing strollers,” she said. “The traffic flow is heavy, so our concern is for safety reasons. We are shocked that you want this catering hall and everything else done at our little beach.”
Flynn said the Pear Tree committee doesn’t have the authority to change the policy that has “voted on and presented to the Board of Selectmen.”
All those who spoke out at the meeting were advised by the committee to attend the next Parks & Recreation meeting, and voice their concerns in the public comments portion.
Committee co-chairman Randy Tankoos said, however, that changes to the proposed upgrades can still be made at this point.
“There is nothing that is capped in stone,” Tankoos said. “Let’s build something that’s really magnificent for the community.”
Restaurant vs. concession
Jeremy Ginsberg, the town’s Planning & Zoning Director, attended the meeting, to answer questions and make suggestions about the proposed upgrades.
One of the topics that was heavily debated was whether or not restaurants would be permitted at the beach.
Ginsberg said restaurants are not allowed in a residential zone but “accessory concessions” are allowed.
In response to a question of at what point does a concession stand become a restaurant, Ginsberg brought up Darien’s Weed Beach.
“Weed Beach has an accessory concession stand,” he said, adding that it’s open seasonally and not a lot of lot of “heavy” cooking is done there.
Committee member Cheryl Russell was not in favor of advertising that there could be a restaurant built at the beach.
“The word “restaurant” is a “red flag,” she said.
“I think we can take the word ‘restaurant’ out and put in ‘concession,’ ‘catering,’ or ‘an area,’” said Russell, adding, “Or a rental hall space.”
“‘Restaurant’” just sends red flags all over the neighborhood,” Russell continued.
Maintenance vs. renovations
In regard to what constitutes maintenance vs. renovations, Ginsberg said if the job requires a building permit, it counts as a renovation.
Jobs such as painting, installing new carpeting, putting in doorknobs and a toilet seat do not need a building permit.
However, work such as installing new cabinetry and that involves breaking through walls, does need a permit, he said.
Building large walls are “frowned upon,” Ginsberg said, adding smaller walls are more likely to get approved.
In regard to berms, which are a level space, shelf, or raised barrier separating two areas, “the shorter, the better,” Ginsberg said.
Parking lot, flooding
Pear Tree Point Beach is in a flood zone and the parking lot often floods during full moons and storms. Flooding of the parking lot is one of the areas of the facility that needs improvement and the committee will be looking for an architect that has experience with similar concerns and was able to provide solutions to issues such as this, Pam Gery, director of the Park & Recreation Department, told the Darien Times.
When considering elevation of the parking lot, Ginsberg said as more fill is placed in a flood zone, an engineer will be needed to certify that the fill is not causing flooding problems.
He said the elevation for the Pear Street Beach parking lot could be “a foot or two.”
“I wouldn’t imagine you would go much higher than that,” he said. “Everything must comply with flood regulations.”
An RFP will go out to the public to secure an architect to begin work on designing drawings for the project.
According to Gery, an amount of $150,000 was approved to hire the architect.
Pear Tree Beach Building Committee meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month. The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 28.