Keeping kids in school, town development among topics at Operations Planning Committee
The goal of the Darien Board of Education is to keep kids in school and remain open for as long as is possible, said Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman, at the most recent Operations Planning Committee meeting.
“Following the metrics laid out by the State Department of Education, one case in a school would not close down the school,” she said.
While school has started with a hybrid model, they’re on track to have a full reopening Sept. 29, with five days of school in person. However, full remote learning will still be available for those who request it.
The Board of Education is going to go before the Board of Finance on Oct. 20 for an in-depth conversation regarding the costs of school in relation to COVID-19.
Ochman said if parents need more information regarding the town’s reopening plan in regard to COVID-19, they can visit the Darien Public Schools website.
“Our plan right now would be for quarantining direct exposure and maintaining schools open for as long as we can,” Ochman said.
Board of Finance
The town ended the fiscal year in June with an overall surplus for the town and Board of Education with about $570,000, said John Zagrodzky, Board of Finance Chairman.
“If you look at all of the major expenditure categories, of all the town departments, every single one of these groups were under budget,” Zagrodzky said.
He continued: “It’s a further testament around how much attention everybody pays to their budgets and their expenditures. There’s a lot of effort to try and make sure that we stay within our budget.”
In regard to town reserves to pay for all the COVID -19 expenditures, at the end of the fiscal year, the fund balance stood at almost 26 million dollars, according to Zagrodzky.
“We have a surplus in that account above the minimum amount we need to keep in the account of just over 8 million dollars,” he said.
Planning & Zoning Commission
Planning & Zoning Chairman Jeremy Ginsberg spoke about ongoing projects in town, as well as projects that will soon be starting.
He said Darien developer David Genovese will get started on the Corbin project. The Corbin District will be a mixed-use redevelopment spanning from Corbin Drive to the Bank of America building on Post Road.
“The first step of that is taking the above ground drainage ditch that runs from Gofer Ice Cream all the way to Old Kings Highway. It will be put underground,” Zagrodzky said. “That work will probably get started late October, and it will take a few months. Once that is done, demolition will take place early next year. There will be a few tenants who will need to be relocated.”
In regard to the Federal Realty project, which involves Federal Realty’s plan to redevelop the eastern portion of the Noroton Heights Shopping Center, the new Walgreen’s will be ready in about a year.
Additionally, he said the Noroton Heights redevelopment project probably won’t get started until after the first of the year, depending on the weather.
The Royle at Darien has one-third of the residents are moved in. They expect full capacity by October, according to Ginsberg.
Board of Selectmen
The town is anticipating processing 8,000 mail-in ballots, up from approximately 1,900 in a typical presidential year, according to Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.
“They’re hiring some extra staff to help with that. The Secretary of State’s office allocated some extra money to municipalities — we’re receiving about $17,000 to help offset the additional costs for processing the election this year,” Stevenson said.
Those who are voting by mail may bring their ballot to the secure drop box in front of Town Hall. Ballots won’t be available until Oct. 2.
The walking path at Highland Farm is being well used, Stevenson said.
“It’s not intended for any motorized vehicles of any kind unless it’s a motorized wheelchair,” she said. “It’s really meant for walking and jogging and passive recreation. No drones, no kites and no hitting golf balls. No dogs off leash.”
The town has applied for a STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) grant to help offset the costs of any landscaping that can be done at Highland Farm.
“We don’t know what the cost yet could be of the plan,” Stevenson said.
Highland Farm will incorporate a pollinator pathway.
Additionally, she said Highland Farm is expected to be the town’s first demonstration public space for not using pesticides and the use of organic fertilizers only.
Stevenson also spoke of the town’s Internet service.
“We need to figure out a solution on how to enhance Internet service for our community,” she said.
She said she has been getting complaints every day about it.
“With everyone working and studying at home, there is not enough bandwidth through the limited number of providers that we have,” she said. “There is another provider that’s beginning to roll out service in certain communities across Connecticut. WestCOG is going to be bringing us information about that.”
Town Hall will be opening in full to the public on Sept. 29.
The Connecticut Senate Democrat proposal that would enable state control of local zoning is “very much alive,” State Rep. Terrie Wood said. It is LCO 3562 .
Some of the proposals in this legislation are:
Eliminating single-family zoning throughout the state.
Requiring 50 percent as-of-right multifamily zoning within a half-mile radius of transit stations and a quarter-mile radius of major corridors, downtowns, and other commercial areas
Allocating 10 percent of the land in every town with 5,000 or more residents to multifamily housing and mixed-use properties
Prohibiting the use of “preserving town character” as a criterion for zoning decisions.
Financially penalizing towns with zoning codes considered segregationist or exclusionary
Allowing local public housing authorities to expand their areas of operation by 15 miles to “high opportunity” areas, including those outside their town boundaries.
Additionally, Wood said many have expressed concerns focused on issues of “one-size-fits-all central control, decision-making, and lack of certainty.”
“There is a real possibility that the state could be taking over the responsibility for zoning in towns from the people who live in them,” Wood said. “If this were to happen, those controlling local zoning would no longer be accountable to the residents of the towns they represent.”