Darien officials reveal visions for Great Island: A croquet court, ice rink, amphitheater

DARIEN — Imagine the possibilities, town officials told residents on Monday.

“I hope you’ll let your imaginations run wild — within reason, though,” First Selectman Monica McNally said during a presentation about the future of Great Island — if the town were to buy it.

Town officials have already dreamed up dozens of potential uses for what they are calling a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase the 60-acre island with its 1.5 miles of coastal shoreline.

During a Monday meeting, members of the Board of Selectmen presented their vision for the island and explained many of the financial details of the proposed purchase. The town has put in a $103 million bid for the 60-acre Great Island, with the purchase intended to be financed by a mixture of public and private funding, officials said.

How should Darien use Great Island? Officials have some ideas

Seasonal ice rink

Art or food festival

Center for Sustainability

Croquet and bocce court

Arts center

Museum

Sculpture trail/garden

Amphitheater

Artist in residence program

Woodland trails

Environmental education

Community gardens

Beekeeping

Coastal ecology

Boating/sailing

Fishing

Climate/water education

Scenic overlooks

While residents are invited to weigh in Thursday on how they could use the island, officials have already let their own imaginations run wild. Think sunset-watching vistas, a seasonal ice rink, croquet courts, a wine festival, amphitheater and community gardens, according to the board’s presentation.

With the help of landscape architects, officials have split the property into four “zones” for various uses — the commons, arts and culture, conservation and education, and coastal shoreline.

“We have no preconceived plan for the ultimate utilization of Great Island,” McNally said. “I like to think we are purchasing an empty canvas.”

Officials did caution that the purchase will mean a financial hit for the town in many ways, though Selectman Jon Zagrodzky said he didn’t believe the impact to the town would be too severe.

While bonding will likely be used to pay for Great Island, officials are fully expecting “private support” to account for a share — similar to athletic fields in town. Private donors have already indicated interest in helping foot part of the bill, Zagrodzky said.

The purchase would mean approximately $7 million a year in incremental debt service, however. Zagrodzky said the mill rate, currently set at 17.2, would likely increase by 0.9 to 1.0.

That results in a taxpayer with a $1.2 million home, for example, paying an additional $665 in taxes, Zagrodzky said.

“$103 million in debt looks like a scary number, it’s a big number,” Zagrodzky said. “But in my assessment ... It's not something that is going to be overly onerous to the average taxpayer.”

Officials said they anticipate some revenue coming from the island. Facilities like the ice rink or a museum space could bring in some funding.

But officials also said they don’t know how much it will cost to develop those facilities — which don’t currently exist — in the first place.

The town also stands to lose around $762,000 in property taxes that the current owners, the Steinkraus family — which has owned the island for the past 100 years — pay on the island. Darien nets $800,000 in existing rental income from nine different structures already on the property, though officials didn’t indicate whether that money could disappear or explain what could happen to existing tenants.

The town has a signing deadline of June 28. But there also is a 75-day “due diligence” period to conduct further assessments, including environmental studies.

“This is something that we're taking very, very seriously,” Zagrodzky said. “A lot of very capable people are looking at it.”