Parking, budgets among topics at OPC meeting
Parking, redevelopment and transportation were among the topics spoken of at the Feb. 26 Operations Planning Committee meeting in Darien.
Board of Education
During the 30-minute meeting, Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman said the board continues to look at transportation in town.
One aspect of transportation pertains to the school bus eligibility policy, which states that high school students who live within a two-mile radius of the school they attend can walk to school and are not eligible to take a school bus. This topic has been brought up at recent Board of Education meetings, with many parents questioning the fairness of the policy.
“The board is inclined to bring in a transportation consultant and look at what the situation is with our busing policy,” Ochman said. “The policy is about 20 years old.”
In addition, the Board of Education passed a proposed budget with a 3.4 percent increase, “which is higher than what we had passed in previous years but it was the reality of where we were,” Ochman said. “We feel it meets the needs of the children, given our fixed cost.”
Board of Finance
John Zagrodzky, chairman of the Board of Finance, said the town remains “on track” for the year.
“We have collected north of 98 percent of the property taxes for the year, and that collection rate compares with what we’ve had previously, so we’re in good shape there,” he said.
He added the building permit revenue is starting to come in for the major projects since they’ve started demolition, “so that’s good,” he said.
The Ox Ridge Building Committee process continues to move forward smoothly, Zagrodzky said. The committee had some design development workshops that were held earlier this month.
Planning & Zoning Commission
Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Steve Olvany said the Planning & Zoning Department did a 20-year study of housing in Darien, which included how much multifamily housing has been built over the last 20 years, and how much of that is affordable housing.
“We will be releasing it to the public,” he said.
He also spoke about the dock on 12 Raymond St., which is in the upper portion of Five Mile River. It’s about 200 feet wide.
“It was approved by the Five Mile River Commission. Then, they rescinded their approval of it. There is a lot of controversy on it,” he said.
In addition, both of the two major projects in the Heights are under construction.
“The underground bathtubs are at least 12 feet deep,” Olvany said. “That will help with a lot of flooding.”
He added that the biggest positive and take away from those projects is that both are being managed and constructed by the same construction company, which is AP Construction.
“So the coordination between the two projects should be very good,” he said.
Board of Selectmen
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said there is a “very modest” decrease in the town’s budget proposal this year. It’s about $5,000, which is a .01 percent reduction.
She also spoke about the construction projects taking place in town, in relation to parking.
“As we are beginning to feel the first waves of redevelopment, and now with the proposed new redevelopment of the Darien Playhouse, it’s brought up for some other downtown retailers’ concerns over downtown parking,” Stevenson said. “I know that that’s something the Planning & Zoning Commission is going to look at because with the change of use, you can understand that movies need parking at night, and if it’s changed to other uses that are more intensive during the day, there are some concerns that parking might be an issue.”
The parking lot behind the Playhouse is shared by the property owners of the Darien Sport Shop and Webster Bank.
“There’s a shared parking agreement that exists with those three property owners,” she said. “It’s private property, so it’s not property that we can go on as a town and enforce.”
However, she said the town will be looking at things it can do to continue to manage downtown parking.
One of those is to come up with a way of finding a plan for municipal parking.
“That’s an easy thing that we can plan for, better signage to direct people to town managed municipal parking — so we’re going to be looking into that,” Stevenson said.
In regard to The Royle — the Darien Housing Authority senior affordable housing project on the Post Road, the wait list should be opening around March 16. At that time, the Housing Authority will be accepting applications for potential residency in the Royle, according to Stevenson.
The big take away, according to Stevenson, is the town should be very proud of the work it has done in housing since about the year 2000.
“Of all the housing units that were developed in Darien, 31 percent of those are affordable, so it far exceeds the state’s mandates,” she said.
The town of Darien is now in the process of collaborating with the town of New Canaan and the city of Stamford to do a watershed study for the Noroton River, “which will be an excellent collaborative project. to help determine water quality in that watershed and things that we all can do to improve the water quality in that watershed, and therefore help improve the water quality of Long Island Sound,” Stevenson said.
The Pear Tree Beach Building project continues to move forward at a slower pace, according to Stevenson.
“The coastal engineers came to their last meeting and presented scenarios that would include the impacts of sea level rise on that particular parcel of land, and began to talk about ways that we can make that town beach park more resilient to sea level rise,” she said. “That should serve as the basis for their work going forward on whatever they’re going to recommend — which may include raising the parking lot, improvements to the boat ramp, and then improvements to the building facility itself.”