Darien’s top 10 stories of 2019
Scott Hapgood. Pear Tree Point Beach. Swastikas. Plastic bag ban. — Darien has had a big year, both within town and with many issues getting attention outside its borders.
As it begins a brand-new year and the start of a new decade, in no particular order, The Darien Times recounts the 10 biggest news stories in 2019.
1. Hapgood: Hapgood has been charged with manslaughter in the death of Anguillan hotel worker Kenny Mitchel. He and his family were on vacation in April when they said Mitchel tried to rob Hapgood at knifepoint in front of two of his children in their room at the Malliouhana hotel. A violent struggle ensued and Mitchel later died.
Hapgood, who is now considered a fugitive after refusing to return to Anguilla for a court appearance, said he acted in self-defense.
Mitchell’s death and the police handling of the investigation have prompted widespread social media outcries alleging racism and favoritism for white tourists who visit the Caribbean country.
The support for Hapgood has spread beyond Darien with federal lawmakers and even President Donald Trump coming to Hapgood’s defense.
2. Swastikas: Three swastikas were found at Middlesex Middle School. Then, another swastika and a Star of David were etched into a stall in one of the restrooms. There was also a swastika found at Darien High School.
Darien Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley held a meeting of community, religious, school and town officials and leaders to discuss these incidents. The conversation was facilitated by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).
3. Pear Tree Point Beach project: For the past year, hundreds of residents have expressed strong opposition to the proposed $2.5 million project.
Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee members are now considering renovating the building, as opposed to rebuilding it.
There have been dozens of letters to the editor, as well as residents speaking out at meetings and signing petitions in opposition to the proposed project.
4. Plastic bag ban: At the RTM meeting last June, the resolution for the proposed ban on plastic bags passed by an overwhelming vote of 86 in favor. Two RTM members were opposed to the ban and two abstained.
The ban had been the cause of much debate and discussion in town for many months, with strong proponents and just as strong objectors.
The idea for the ban was originally proposed by the environmental group BYO (Bring Your Own) Darien.
In total, since October 2018, approximately 150 letters were sent in to a designated RTM email inbox. Aside from being discussed at numerous town meetings, two public hearings were held on the topic. Dozens of people spoke at them, including a large number of young people.
5. First Selectman Jayme Stevenson was re-elected to a fifth term: In Darien’s 2019 municipal election, on Nov. 5, Stevenson was re-eleacted in a landslide. A Republican, she ran against Chris Noe, a petitioning candidate.
Over Stevenson’s tenure on the Board of Selectmen, she said she has “cultivated the experience and trusted relationships necessary to serve and protect the interests” of residents, businesses and the community at large.
Noe, a registered Democrat who has run for six consecutive times for first selectman, ran with no affiliated party. He has previously run as an “ultra-conservative.”
6. Loss of Marc Thorne and Pat Parlette: Sadly, Darien lost some very special people in 2019, who gave their lives to service and the betterment of society. These included former selectman Thorne and U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps graduate Parlette.
Thorne served as a town selectman from 2015 through the most recent election. He also served on the RTM Finance & Budget Committee, the Consolidated Services Working Group, and the Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee.
Parlette was in the first class to graduate from the United States Cadet Nurse Corps. She served as the 2018 Memorial Day parade grand marshal. In the 1943 Memorial Day parade, she led the Darien High School Band as the first female drum major, so serving as the 2019 grand marshal brought her full circle to the parade 76 years later.
7. Redevelopment of The Royle at Darien: Formerly called Old Town Hall Homes, this development is targeted to be completed by July.
The Darien Housing Authority (DHA) owns the development, a senior affordable housing complex at 719 Post Road.
The prior complex of six buildings and 30 apartments is being demolished and replaced with a new stand-alone building with 55 units. All residents had to be temporarily relocated during the construction.
After 30 years in business, Darien Doughnut on Heights Road closed in August. An independent business, Darien Doughnut sold 35 kinds of doughnuts.
Darien Doughnut was in the Noroton Heights Shopping Center, which is being torn down and renovated into restaurants, retail stores, and residential units.
Longtime Johnny’s and Co. owners Johnny and Lucille Delmonaco sold the salon and retired.
After coming home from the army in 1955, Johnny Delmonaco got his barbering license in 1956 and started to work in the Noroton Shopping Center. In 1960, he opened his own barber shop called Noroton Hair Shop, which stayed on Heights Road for over 40 years in the Linden Cleaners Shopping Plaza.
9. Noroton Heights Shopping Center: This project broke ground recently, marking the beginning of its remodeling.
The project involves rehabing the existing restaurant and retail as well as adding residential units to the upper stories. There are three stories in the development. The first floor is all restaurants and retail and the other floors are all apartments.
The Corbin Project is a mixed-use redevelopment spanning from Corbin Drive to the Bank of America building on the Post Road.
Highland Farm is town-owned land on the site of the former Ox Ridge Hunt Club. The $609,000 appropriation for updates to Highland Farm covers the installation of parking spaces, screening, a storage shed, and walking trails.
10. Car burglaries: Despite continuous cautioning by police, Darien residents continue to leave their keys in their cars. This is resulting in many, many cars continuing to be stolen throughout town.
Police are reminding residents to keep their cars locked and to take their keys with them. This topic was even mentioned by Stevenson at the most recent RTM State of the Town.
2020: The next chapter
The town of Darien is very busy planning a giant bash to celebrate its 200th anniversary. A 200th anniversary logo was created by Darien High School students, and the Bicentennial Committee and Monuments and Ceremonies Commission are hard at work to make sure the year 2020 will be remembered for many years to come.