First selectman questions Parks & Rec Commission

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
The Nov. 20 Parks & Recreation Commission meeting had a full house.

The Nov. 20 Parks & Recreation Commission meeting had a full house.

Darien TV79

It looks like Darien’s Parks & Recreation Commission has some work to do.

At its Nov. 20 meeting, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson told commission members they have been “floundering taking on the role of really being planners and advocates” in regard to the proposed Pear Tree Point Beach renovations.

The meeting was so crowded it resembled a small concert, with people sitting on the floor in front and others standing against the wall in back.

Stevenson said the Parks & Recreation Commission members have to take “an ownership interest” in the project, since they are its sponsor.

In light of all the public reaction to the project, she further said the commissioners have a decision to make: Either rededicate themselves to the project in the face of community opposition, or not.

If they decide to commit to the project, Stevenson said she hopes the commissioners becomes advocates for the project “and work hand in hand with the committee and with the community to help alleviate the concerns that they are bringing forward.”

She gave the commission some homework assignments, one of which was to go back and look at the original project charge.

“It’s gotten muddied a little bit,” she said, and gave some examples.

The original charge of the project says the committee should rehabilitate or replace the outdated concession and bathhouse building.

“We have a plan that has both of those things, and I think this commission voted specifically to build a new facility. Right now, we have a plan that has a piece of the building that’s rehabilitated and a piece of the building that’s new,” she said. “That’s inconsistent with the decisions that this commission has made.”

Additionally, Stevenson asked commission members to define what concession means.

“What does the commission desire for our public in the way of concessions?” she asked.

She also said they should get a third party coastal consultant to determine if it’s OK to build or rehabilitate in this particular zone.

In regard to the broken drainage pipe that commission members spoke about, she said she considers this to be a maintenance issue. “There’s no reason why that has to wait to be fixed as part of this project.” she said.

Additional topics she said members should discuss include getting the entire facility to be ADA compliant, and not just the dock; and get more information on fixing the boat ramp.

“As we did with Highland Farm, once we have all the answers to these questions, and once you have made a determination of your commitment as a commission to this project, we need to have public information meetings,” she said. “Let the public ask questions of our experts.”

She then said those who are opposed to the project should let the process take its course and provide constructive input.

“It is the community that will make the decision in the end if this is a viable project or if it isn’t something they want to support,” she said.

Project status

The Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee had initially authorized the architects of the project to present an application at a Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing.

However, instead of moving forward with their application, they withdrew it until all Stevenson’s questions are answered, according to Mike Sgroe, co-chairman of the Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee.

Police marine division request

The Darien Police Department has asked the Parks & Recreation Commission to have some police related space on the waterfront of Pear Tree Point Beach, where the town’s marine division is located. They are considering using some space in the new structure that’s being proposed.

Homeland Security said all local law enforcement that patrol waterways must have access to their marine vehicles throughout the course of the year — every hour of every day, according to Darien Police Capt. Jeremiah Marron.

“The three months during the summer are the busiest times for us to be using that type of space,” he said.

At the present time, the marine division has 115 square feet of space allocated to it at the concession building of the beach.

According to Sgroe, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) said the lower level of the Pear Tree Point Beach facility is for storage only.

“From FEMA regulations, we can’t have an office in the first floor of the building,” Sgroe said.

“By definition, the space is not meant to be habitable. It has to be constructed in such a way where those walls are breakaway, so there’s nothing that’s impeding the flow of water,” Marron added. “So, we are talking about carving out some space in the elevated level of the new structure.”

Public comment

During public comment, a handful of residents made additional suggestions to the proposed plans. One of them — Nancy Stein — said it seems “odd” to have a police presence in a two-story structure in a flexible community space, where people are “hanging out.”

Instead, she suggested police have a portable entrance hut where “it’s just yours and it’s easily accessible and noticeable for people who need your services down there.”

Diane Conologue, vice chairman of the RTM Parks and Recreation Committee, said her committee suggests it would make sense financially for further renovation of the concession building to occur in three years.

Bill Van Loan, who serves on the RTM Parks and Recreation Committee, said building an elevator is a very bad idea.

To make his point, he brought up elevator issues the Tokeneke Club is having.

“This elevator is a nightmare for the Tokeneke Club, financially speaking and mechanically speaking,” he said.

“Their elevator is in the same proximity to the beach and the water as what is being proposed here. During hide tides and storms, the Tokeneke Club had to spend $30,000 at one time to repair the damage to the elevator. On another occasion, they had to spend $70,000,” he said. “Tracking sand in and out of an elevator, it will in my opinion, continually have maintenance problems and functional problems.”

Stevenson said she wants to work with both sides to come to a “common vision” with the ultimate goal to improve the quality of living in Darien for everyone, “as well as help support the town’s real estate values overall and encourage families to move to the community.”

Watch the full Parks & Recreation meeting on Darien TV79.