First Selectman discusses projects, budget

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

The year 2020 will bring much change to the town of Darien, in many areas, according to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson on Thursday, Jan. 23, at the State of the Town breakfast.

“Being that the year is 2020, it gives us a wonderful opportunity to not only look back and see where we’ve come over the last 200 years,” Stevenson said, “but to also think about the vision that we have as a town for the future.”

She continued: “We are on the eve of transformation. We’re going to be a little disheveled for awhile but I think it’s all going to be worthwhile in the end.”

The breakfast, which was the January kick-off event organized by the Darien Chamber of Commerce, was held at Ten Twenty Post Oyster Bar and Bistro, and attended by about 60 people.

During the 90-minute event, Stevenson brought up many topics, and then answered questions.

Redevelopment projects

The Baywater Corbin Properties project has received all of their approvals and will likely begin construction this spring, according to Stevenson.

In the downtown and Noroton Heights District, almost 300 units of new housing will be added. In Noroton Heights, there will be over 200 one- and two-bedroom apartments immediately adjacent to the Noroton Heights train station.

“The state of Connecticut is really encouraging towns to embrace the idea of transit oriented development,” said Stevenson, adding that this is when people live right next to trains and buses.

The Corbin District is also a transit oriented development because the train station is a block away.

There has been some building demolition in Noroton Heights, and the first phase of that development for Federal Realty is the rebuild of the Walgreens building.

“The current Walgreens will stay in place. A new building will be built right next door,” Stevenson said. “Then, they will take down the Walgreens building and the old Stop & Shop, and get the massive part of that redevelopment with the housing units underway.”

Police department

There has been a significant change in leadership at the Darien Police Department, with the promotion of a number of people.

The retirement of Chief Ray Osborne “paved the way for Don Anderson to become Darien’s new police chief,” she said. Anderson has been with the town of Darien in the Darien Police Department for 32 years.

The leadership team is now Don Anderson, with Jeremiah Marron and Robert Shreders as the two captains.

In addition, the department is moving to a model of civilian dispatch.

“We always had sworn officers answering the telephone,” Stevenson said. “Now, we are moving to a model where we’re bringing in professional tele-communicators to do that job so that our sworn officers can be out in the community doing what they do best.”

Budget, finances

The Board of Selectman budget process is underway. Town administrator Kate Buch and Stevenson have met with all of the department heads. Buch will present the town budget to the Board of Selectmen on Monday night, Jan. 27.

“I don’t anticipate any significant changes in the Board of Selectmen budget,” Stevenson said.

However, for four years, there has been changes in municipal revenue sharing distributions, according to Stevenson.

“We have set a plan in place to be become fiscally self sufficient,” she said. “We want to be in charge of our own future.”

She said due to the fiscal diligence of the town’s finance leaders, Darien is on a “very, very solid fiscal path. We continue to achieve triple A ratings.”

She continued: “We have strong reserves. We plan for the future. We take care of our town assets. We value our people. We don’t hire indiscriminately. — All of those things really lay the groundwork for a very successful local government.”

Senior living

On the Post Road, there is a large housing development that was the former Old Town Hall Homes, and is now called The Royle at Darien.

It’s one of two housing projects that’s owned and managed by the Darien Housing Authority.

This project had provided 30 units of senior affordable housing. It’s now going to be 55 units of senior affordable housing.

The Residence at Selleck's Woods is another “wonderful new addition to our assisted living and memory care facilities here in Darien,” Stevenson said.

She added that Darien strongly encourages seniors to stay in town.

“As people get older and have the ability to move, we don’t want them to move,” Stevenson said. “We want to keep a community that is from the youngest to the oldest. It makes for a very, very healthy community.”

Ox Ridge, Highland Farms

There is a committee in town that is well into the design and development for rebuilding the Ox Ridge Elementary School.

“It is the last of the town facilities that is not very energy efficient and certainly doesn’t meet today’s safety standards for elementary schools, so it comes with a hefty price tag,” she said, adding the school is going to cost 63 million dollars.

In the spring, the town will also be at work installing two parking lots and an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant walking trail at the newly acquired town property of Highland Farms.

This is the first ADA complaint recreational facility in the town of Darien.

Green initiatives

In the fall, Darien received bronze certification as a sustainable community from the state of Connecticut Sustainable CT Initiative.

The Sustainable CT initiative is about sustainability in all aspects of one’s community, including financial and human service sustainability.

Stevenson spoke about Darien’s transfer stations, saying that there are a wide variety of items that are recycled there including mattresses, paints, light bubs batteries, cardboard, metal, and electronics.

Recently, a group of volunteers started a food composting facility at the transfer station.

“We compost the leaves that get collected throughout town at the transfer station, and give away and resell the compost material,” Stevenson said.

Cross country track, Pear Tree

The Darien Athletic Foundation, partnered with the town and the Board of Education, and built a new cross country track that cuts across the high school property and Diller park.

“It’s a piece of town owned land that was never used for anything,” Stevenson said. “It had wetlands on it.”

Now, the town can host cross country meets.

In regard to the proposed re-development of the facilities at Pear Tree Point Beach, Stevenson said the town’s beaches are part of what makes the town desirable.

“It’s our beaches, our proximity to the Long Island Sound, and all that offers which are a huge selling point for people to consider,” she said, adding that this project has become very controversial in town.

“We were in the process right now of doing a coastal engineering deep dive to really understand what’s happening in that environment,” she said.

Town gas

The town of Darien conducted a large natural gas expansion over the last two years that has connected most town-owned facilities, according to Stevenson.

“It took gas from the Post Road of Leroy Avenue, all the way to the Darien High School,” she said. “It connected on West Avenue the City of Stamford to the Post Road in Darien.”

Now Eversource is marketing to residential customers.

“We put together a great portfolio of town buildings that has allowed a number of residential customers to join in,” she said.

State of Connecticut

The legislative session is about to begin on Feb. 5. It’s a short session and the second year of the state’s biennium budget, “so the only thing that the legislators can do this session are things that relate directly to the state budget,” Stevenson said.

In regard to tolls, the state is considering the idea of tolls for large trucks only.

State Sen. Martin Looney said Connecticut should legalize non-recreational marijuana, according to Stevenson.

“I like to call it non-medical marijuana because I don’t think we should be using drugs for recreation,” she said.

She further said the comment that marijuana is non-addictive is false. “Nine percent of the people that use marijuana regularly become addicted to it and are at risk for using other substances as a result of that addiction.”