The construction at Highland Farm will likely begin this week, according to Darien Town Administrator Kate Buch at Monday morning’s Board of Selectmen Special meeting.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting, which lasted about 50 minutes, took place virtually. Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson was the only member of the Board of Selectmen to attend the meeting in person. Buch also attended in person.

The construction at Highland Farm involves the parking lots and the walking trail.

This construction is considered essential under the governor’s Executive Orders, according to Buch, which requires all non-essential construction to cease operation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee

According to Board of Selectmen member Christa McNamara, who is also a member of the Pear Tree Point Building Committee, the town is working with several authorities and resources to assist them in this project.

“The most recent focus for the committee right now is working with regrading the parking lot to correct drainage issues,” McNamara said.

At the most recent meeting, the consultants presented to committee members their thoughts of regrading to alleviate the flooding issues, according to McNamara.

The “reiterated how the flooding issue was going to exacerbate in years to come,” she said.

They are working with Connecticut DEEP, but given the state of current affairs in Hartford, “our consultant team has not been able to meet to follow up,” she said.

According to Board of Selectmen member David Martin, if the area of the parking lot is raised, then that creates a steeper boat ramp, “which has been the issue for launching at lower tide levels in that particular area, so actually raising the parking lot partially remediates the existing issues by itself.”

LOTCIP grant appropriation

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the appropriation of $1,174,000 from the LOTCIP (Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program) grant to professional services and construction.

This grant pertains to the Noroton Avenue and West Avenue Intersection Improvement Project.

This intent of this grant is to significantly reduce the time frame between funding award and approval of the legislative boards, which in turn will assist in keeping the construction schedule on track, according to the Board of Selectmen.

The approval will allow for the expenditure of funds on construction and right of way (easement) acquisition upon receipt of the actual funding from the CT DOT (Department of Transportation).

According to the Board of Selectmen, the scheduled start of construction is intended to begin in the summer for the major excavation and sidewalk work. This schedule and phasing provides an opportunity to minimize any potential impacts to the Darien school system, commuters and businesses.

“We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now and we’re just about ready to wrap up the acquisition of the easements,” Public Works Director Ed Gentile said.

He added that Public Works has come before the Board of Selectmen previously to speak about the easements.

“We’re in the process of getting approval from the RTM right now — but this part will allow us to spend the funds once we obtain them from the DOT.”

After the easement acquisitions have been completed, Public Works will submit the easement acquisition document to the DOT, along with their final design plans.

One the plans have been reviewed, Public Works will send the project out for bidding, and get a contractor.

Once the low bidder has been approved, “we will then obtain the funds from the DOT. At which time, those funds will come to the town and will need to be appropriated,” Gentile said.

“Once we get the money, we can go right into construction, pay off the easement acquisitions, and continue to move this project along,” he added.

Those easement acquisitions items will be put on the next RTM agenda, according to Stevenson.

Budget update

Buch said the governor’s Executive Orders have said that the legislative body shall authorize the budget-making authority to approve the budget.

For Darien, the RTM has to meet to vote to give authority to the Board of Finance to finalize the budget.

“We are working on trying to get that changed,” Buch said.

The town will have to have a virtual RTM meeting and take votes by roll call. There will likely be an RTM meeting sometime in April or early May.

That meeting would include the authorization for the Board of Finance to go ahead and finalize the budget.

The Board of Finance has a meeting planned for April 14.

Tax relief programs

An Executive Order was issued about municipalities being required to provide tax relief programs.

This includes a tax deferral and a low interest deferment option, according to Stevenson.

“We must provide at least one of those programs, if not both. That requires the legislative body to vote to adopt those programs,” she added. “We have to provide guidance to the Office of Policy and Management by April 25 about which programs we’re going to offer.”

That will be another issue that will have to be voted on by the RTM, according to Stevenson.

She added that there will have to be an RTM meeting within the next two weeks to take care of that business.

Ox Ridge Elementary School

On March 5, the Ox Ridge Elementary School Building Committee made a presentation to the Ox Ridge parents and neighbors.

“We are moving forward with construction drawings right away,” said Board of Selectmen member Kip Koons, co-chairman of the Ox Ridge Elementary School Building Committee.

At a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting in early March, an architect was repeatedly questioned by members on many points in relation to the Ox Ridge design plans.

“We are waiting for the estimates to come out toward the end of April. We want to go back to the state in July and have a pre-construction review, which is required by the state,” Koons added.

There are a series of regulatory approvals for which the committee has to go through.

The Architectural Review Board is scheduled to meet on April 21, but this is uncertain in light of the pandemic.

The Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will be May 12.

Construction should begin by the fall of 2020.

All of that is subject to the changes created by the pandemic, according to Koons.

The complete design development presentation will be put on the town website.

The committee is expected to meet again on May 6.

Watch the Board of Selectmen meeting on Darien TV/79.

sfox@darientimes.com