Darien Great Island purchase pushed back due to ‘environmental’ and ‘access’ delays

Photo of Verónica Del Valle

DARIEN — When town officials pushed back the review period for their $103 million Great Island purchase, First Selectman Monica McNally gave scant details.

A statement on the town website cited “outstanding issues” but assured the public that officials and property owners reached a mutual agreement.

Initially, town officials expected to complete due diligence and finalize the purchase by Aug. 6 but pushed back the deal by six months. The due diligence period will end on March 6, 2023, as per the new schedule and the deal will close on April 20 of that same year.

Some details surrounding the cause of the date change emerged at a Board of Finance meeting on Tuesday night. Finance Board Chair James Palen told his colleagues that both “environmental” and “access” reviews had prompted the town and its consultants to push back the due diligence timeline. McNally had previously told members of the Darien Representative Town Meeting that the overall process would cover “environmental, operational and legal matters.”

“The intent is to move forward as fast as possible, but diligence — like anything else, any other deal — takes time,” Palen said during the brief discussion.

Tuesday, the Board of Finance voted to transfer $27,493 in city funds to cover “environmental costs” related to the Great Island acquisition during the meeting.

When asked for additional information about the due diligence delays faced by the city, McNally’s executive assistant Linda O’Leary referred The Darien Times to the first selectman’s last statement on the deal.

The Board of Selectmen in June voted to purchase the 60-acre property following months of debate. When owned by descendants of Gilded Age industrialist William Ziegler, Great Island was the largest privately-owned parcel of its kind on the East Coast, defined by its sprawling coastline and dense, undisturbed forest.

McNally also emphasized to the RTM at another June meeting that the town can terminate its agreement to purchase Great Island at any time. The seller would refund the million-dollar deposit paid by Darien.

Still, some board members found the brief explanation provided during the meeting insufficient.

“Will we be read in on the details of the cause of the extension?” board member David Martin — the lone board member to vote against the Great Island purchase — asked.

Palen repeated that the town was exploring environmental and access-related aspects of the deal.

“I was looking for a little more detail than that,” Martin said, especially given the length of the due diligence extension.

Palen told Martin he didn’t think new issues had arisen during the due diligence period. Instead, the town and its consultants would use the extension to resolve existing threads in the property sale.

And later in the meeting, town administrator Kathleen Buch clarified that the town expected no new costs to come from the extended due diligence.

However, completing the Great Island process might not require the entire extension period.

“Although the extended by seven months, that doesn’t mean you need to use the entire seven months,” Palen said.