Despite some objections right up until the moment of the vote, the $609,000 appropriation for improvements to Highland Farm passed by a large margin at Monday’s RTM meeting, with 61 in favor, 21 against, and 10 abstaining.
The vote passed with approval of a motion to remove the words “comfort station” from the resolution, since the town decided a comfort station is not needed in the area at this time.
The improvements to Highland Farm pertain to the installation of parking spaces, screening, a storage shed, and walking trails.
The Highland Farm appropriation was the only town budget item that had been postponed at the May 13 Representative Town Meeting Public Hearing. All the rest of the 2019-20 budget resolutions passed by a large margin.
Many of those who objected to the resolution said that the proposed improvements hadn’t been discussed sufficiently at town meetings.
Questions that RTM members had expressed in the past pertained to the proposed number of parking spaces, the material used to pave the parking area, the use of Belgium Block, and the cost associated with this.
Others said a building committee should have been formed for the project, in the same way that building committees of other town projects.
All concerns were addressed by town officials at the May 13 public hearing.
Former Darien Housing Authority Chairman Jenny Schwartz had created an online petition called “Vote No on Highland Farm,” which had accumulated 100 signatures in four days.
At Monday’s meeting, RTM member Jay Hardison said results in the town survey taken by the Parks & Rec Commission for its master plan in which 2,500 people participated conflicted with the proposed plan. “That is a huge sampling that is very statistically significant. Only 40 percent were for developing Ox Ridge, 60 percent were indifferent or opposed,” he said.
Hardison went on to say that the neighbors “had no say in this and yet we had a town survey that says the majority of people don’t want athletic fields. I don’t understand why this is being pushed through against everyone’s objection.” He also “speculated” that the editorial on the RTM vote and its purpose in last week’s Darien Times had been “orchestrated” but didn’t elaborate as to why or by whom.
He proposed appointing a committee consisting of 50 percent of the neighbors.
Another person who spoke out against the improvement project was RTM member Theresa Vogt, who said that the 92 parking spaces “aren’t needed. I think we can have fewer spaces.”
Support of resolution
Joanne Hennessy, Planning, Zoning & Housing Chairman said that there was a lot of discussion on the project.
“Everyone who has wanted to have a chance to speak or provide input to the various boards and committees has had that opportunity and they have been heard,” she said. “They’ve had plenty of time for input.”
RTM member David Martin agreed with Hennessy. He said that at “multiple Board of Selectmen meetings and Planning & Zoning meetings,” the Highland Farm improvements were discussed at length and neighbors were allowed to speak their views.
He added, “The bottom line is that Darien residents have had plenty of opportunity to know about the project, know the details about the project, and have input related to the project.”